The Grind Line: Naming the Red Wings’ Next Head Coach

What’s The Grind Line? Apart from the once-famous line of Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby, and either Joe Kocur or Darren McCarty, The Grind Line is also The Hockey Writers’ weekly column about the Detroit Red Wings. This week Tony Wolak, Devin Little, Patrick Brown, Kyle Knopp and Delaney Rimer are the muckers who make up THW’s forechecking unit and sound off on Red Wings topics.

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You’ve heard the news.

Jeff Blashill will not be behind the Detroit Red Wings’ bench next season, and now the search for Hockeytown’s next head coach has begun. General manager Steve Yzerman has the ultimate say in who will fill that vacancy, but he did say this during his season ending media availability:

“I’m just going to put a long list of names together from the people that I talk to, from articles that are written with names that come up that…any of you know that I’m not familiar with or that I hadn’t thought of…write [them] all down, do my own background work on them all, and then put together a shorter list.”

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Yzerman asked, so we’re here to deliver. Our panel of writers are here to make their pitch for the Red Wings’ next head coach in hopes that you, and maybe even Yzerman, will agree.

(Editor’s note: this post was written and published before the New York Islanders moved on from Barry Trotz.)

Tony Wolak: Rick Tocchet

I know a lot of hockey fans don’t like the idea of recycling head coach candidates, but hear me out. When he was in Arizona, Rick Tocchet was tasked with leading a less-than-talented team and was able to implement a somewhat successful, hard-working system. I think it’s fair to say that if Tocchet had a more talented squad, he’d still be the Coyotes’ coach.

Instead, Tocchet is a free agent, currently serving as an analyst for TNT. He’d be an excellent choice to be Detroit’s next coach. He has already worked with two rebuilding teams (pre-Steve Yzerman Tampa Bay Lightning and the Coyotes) and can command the room given his personality and accomplished NHL career. Plus, he knows Yzerman from his playing days, so there’s some familiarity there.

Rick Tocchet Arizona Coyotes
Rick Tocchet, Arizona Coyotes (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

In addition, Tocchet has three Stanley Cup rings to his name – one as a player and two as an assistant coach (all with the PIttsburgh Penguins). It’s also worth noting that the Penguins had an outstanding power play under his tutelage. Sure, they had great players, but it was his strategy that they were executing.

Finally, my recommendation would be to bring in a talent developer as the defensive assistant coach, perhaps an associate head coach who would complement Tocchet’s style well.

Devin Little: Ryan Warsofsky

Here’s a fun fact about Yzerman: he has only hired two head coaches throughout his career as a GM, and both of them had zero games of NHL experience when he hired them. While I wouldn’t suggest that he’s going into this search with his mind set on hiring a fresh face, he has proven that he’s willing to take a shot on someone if he feels they are the right person for the job. To that point, he also hired Alex Tanguay as a first-time NHL assistant coach, and Tanguay remains in Detroit despite Blashill’s removal.

Related: Red Wings Signal Beginning of New Era with Blashill Departure

Yzerman’s new assistant GM Shawn Horcoff also serves as the GM for the American Hockey League’s (AHL) Grand Rapids Griffins. While in that role, Horcoff has had a front row seat to see what the Chicago Wolves have done this year under head coach Ryan Warsofsky. With 50 wins and 110 points, the Wolves were easily the best team in the AHL this season, recording the best point-percentage in the league. The Wolves, the AHL-affiliate of the Carolina Hurricanes, also had the best goal-differential in the AHL, a strong plus-67.

Ryan Warsofsky, Chicago Wolves
Ryan Warsofsky, Chicago Wolves (Image courtesy of the Chicago Wolves)

While Warsofsky has never held an NHL head coaching gig, his results have been undeniable. His teams have a .668 points-percentage through 170 games in the AHL. He coaches a style that is similar to the one the Hurricanes play under Rod Brind’Amour, albeit with a few tweaks. The 34-year-old would bring a youthful energy behind the bench that could be explosive for this Red Wings group. Some NHL team is going to give this guy a shot, it’s just a matter of whether or not that team is the Red Wings.

Patrick Brown: John Tortorella

Yeah, I’m going to go there. I wouldn’t go so far as to call the Red Wings “soft,” but there’s no doubt that there’s a fire missing somewhere in the equation. John Tortorella would fix that in a hurry. Blashill was a “player’s coach,” which is almost a necessity during any sort of rebuild, but it’s time for the future stars of this organization to be pushed harder. 

Torts would do that.

I know he can be abrasive, but that’s not a bad thing at this stage. Winning cures all, and with a ton of talent on their roster, it’s time the Red Wings hire a coach that will push it to the next level. Tortorella is a coaching veteran with a 673-541-37 (ties)-132 record to complement his two Jack Adams awards (2003-04 and 2016-17), and he won a Stanley Cup with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2003-04. He’s a proven winner that’s finished with a point percentage above .500 with every NHL team he’s coached, and I believe he can get the team to the next level of its rebuild.

As for whether it leads to a Stanley Cup would be anyone’s guess, but there’s no doubt it would be the shot in the arm the club needs right now.

Kyle Knopp: Igor Larionov

I know this is a long shot, but if the Wings are going to bring in someone without any NHL coaching experience, why not one of the smartest hockey minds around? Bring back Igor Larionov! With Russia currently banned from international competition, the head coach of the Russian Olympic team will be looking for work. Heading into his third season working with the Russian national team, he has plenty of big game experience, as both a player and a coach. 

Igor Larionov Detroit Red Wings
Igor Larionov, Detroit Red Wings (Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios via Getty Images Studios/Getty Images)

Having Larionov come in would offer the stability and hockey smarts of Tocchet, while adding the needed change that Tortorella would bring. It would add nostalgia for fans from the golden era of Wings teams, while providing hope for the future. As much as I wanted Yzerman to go out and get Gerard Gallant last season, I believe bringing in Larionov would do so much more for the growth of the organization. As much fun as Torts would be behind the bench, why risk sending the team backward? Get the best hockey mind you can, and right now, that’s the Professor.

Delaney Rimer: Unrealistically, Sergei Fedorov

Why not get the whole band back together, eh? Bringing Sergei Fedorov behind the Red Wings bench would not only give the team a strong leader to rally behind but would also bring back the winning mentality that Detroit had once been known for. He is currently serving as the head coach of CSKA Moscow of the KHL and just recently won the Gagarin Cup with his team- a remarkable accomplishment for it being his first year as head coach.

While bringing Fedorov home to Detroit might not be the most feasible option, it could be a game changer. He’s a guy who knows what winning is and what all goes into it from practices, to games, to the time in between them. Having a coach with a historically great NHL career to guide and shape this young Red Wings team could provide a firm foundation for the back half of the rebuild.

Who Should Be the Red Wings’ Next Coach?

We want to hear your thoughts! Share your pick in the comments section down below. Thanks for joining us for another grind!