Patience is virtue for the Detroit Red Wings. General manager Ken Holland certainly thinks so.
After the trade deadline had passed, Holland chatted with reporters on the deals that were made and what’s next. Regarding his decision to trade established players for draft picks and rely on the Red Wings’ young core, Holland shared (with the Detroit Free Press):
When you are building through the draft, it’s going to take time. I’m preaching patience.
He’s right – patience is necessary for a rebuild. Step by step, the Red Wings are moving through their process to return to contention. It takes time.
So, what’s next for the Red Wings’ rebuild as the season winds down? Let’s dive in.
Red Wings Rebuild: On the Ice
Though the Red Wings are near the bottom of the standings, their 24-and-under contingent has stepped up significantly this season. Detroit’s “future” accounted for 57.71 percent of the team’s pre-trade deadline goals this season. Whereas, last season, the 24-and-under group registered only 35.85 percent of the Red Wings’ tallies.
Down the stretch, they’ll be given the chance to establish themselves as go-to players in a variety situations. Coach Jeff Blashill shared with reporters that the opportunity is there:
I think there’s a whole bunch of guys that think with more opportunity we can put this organization in a better spot. Well, here it is, man. You got lots of opportunity. So show us what you got. (from ‘With the door now closed on one Red Wings generation, the new one’s charge takes center stage’ – The Athletic Detroit – 2/28/19)
For someone like Dylan Larkin, this is a given. But for players like Tyler Bertuzzi and Filip Hronek, who are still trying to solidify consistent roles with the team, this development time is crucial. Andreas Athanasiou is another good example – he’ll finish out the season at center so the organization can evaluate where he fits best in the lineup.
At some point, Filip Zadina will be sent back to the Grand Rapids Griffins to maintain exemption from the upcoming Seattle expansion draft. (He can only play nine games with the Red Wings this season – anything more and he’ll have to be protected.) But until then, Blashill will test him in top-six minutes as an early audition for next season.
Whether Athanasiou or Zadina, progress over these next few weeks won’t be defined by points and wins, but rather player development. Everyone will be asked to address specific aspects of their game that could use improvement. For Athanasiou, it will be to improve his defensive zone play and help create more controlled zone exits. For Zadina, it would differ – he may be asked to create more offensive opportunities, play a faster game, and not get caught out of position in his own end.
But overall, everyone needs to compete. Every night. The recent game against the Montreal Canadiens is a good example of the opposite of what the organization wants.
Red Wings Rebuild: Off the Ice
While recapping the trade deadline, Holland shared some praise for Blashill, who’s now likely to get a contract extension from the Red Wings. The organization has seen enough development from their key players to warrant such a discussion.
There’s a lot to unravel here. First, it shows that the franchise has faith in Blashill and how he motivates his players. It also brings to light the confidence they have in Holland running the show as they move into the future. Finally, it puts a damper on the Steve Yzerman-to-the-Red Wings rumors.
If Holland is allowed to retain Blashill, then his job is safe. Organizations don’t let lame duck GMs make coaching decisions. Yzerman may still return, but an advisory role instead. Regardless, Blashill’s future is directly tied to Holland’s and this is certainly something to keep an eye on.
In the meantime, Holland and his staff will be busy scouting for the 2019 NHL Draft. The Red Wings will likely have a top-five pick and three second-round selections to draft high-impact players. The 2018 class of Zadina, Joe Veleno, Jonatan Berggren, and Jared McIsaac was quite a haul – the 2019 class could be on the same level, if not better. Holland and company need to do their homework, though, to make sure that happens.
While losing brings the Red Wings a little closer to the cellar—and, thus, the best chance to secure the top selection in the draft—the team needs some organizational wins before the campaign ends to help their rebuild. Progress in the development of Larkin and the rest of Detroit’s young players will go a long way in their quest to return to contention.
What should the Detroit Red Wings accomplish by the end of the season? Share your thoughts below.
Tony Wolak is based in the Washington D.C. area and covers the Detroit Red Wings for THW. As a former junior and college hockey player, Tony has a unique perspective on Red Wings topics.