The media has been having a field day with discussions about the future of Jeff Blashill as the coach of the Detroit Red Wings. Based on this season’s mass firing of underperforming coaches, it’s understandable why people think it could be a possibility. However, the Wings wouldn’t succeed in this rebuilding phase with any other coach.
General manager Steve Yzerman isn’t the kind of guy who follows trends for the sake of following the crowd. Yzerman is renowned for his patience, and dogmatic adherence to process-driven results. When he took over the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2010, that franchise was in a similar state as the current Red Wings. They had four players who were potential stars and a pool of nonperforming veterans, with little talent in their pool of prospects.
That sounds like this season’s Red Wings.
Yzerman has many options should he choose to replace Blashill. Peter Laviolette is available, a coach who has had a successful career after rebuilding teams such as the Carolina Hurricanes, Philadelphia Flyers, and Nashville Predators. Yzerman could also bring Mike Babcock back. While not a popular option amongst the players, he is a winning coach, having delivered the Stanley Cup to Detroit in 2008.
There is a rumor going around that Yzerman could pick his former roommate, Lane Lambert, currently an assistant coach under Barry Trotz with the New York Islanders. He won a Cup with Trotz with the Washington Capitals, so he has experience winning at the highest level. (from ‘Steve Yzerman could tap ex-roommate to lead Detroit Red Wings out of darkness,’ The Detroit Free Press, 02/23/2020)
Lastly, Blashill’s assistant coach Dan Bylsma could step up. After leading the Penguins to the Stanley Cup Final, he had a short, unsuccessful stint with the Buffalo Sabres, before coaching with Blashill in the 2017 IIHF World Championship and then agreeing to sign on as his assistant coach.
Any of these coaches would do a fantastic job at the head of the Red Wings.
Blashill Remains the Best Option
Blashill is a teacher at heart. That likely comes from his father, a professor at Lake Superior State University. Teams that are as young as the Red Wings need someone to lead them who focuses on learning and getting better, rather than a tactician. Any other coach would have given up on this team by now. But Blashill understands the long game, which is why the Red Wings will return to glory with him at the helm.
At the beginning of the season, the Red Wings had the least talented team in the NHL, by far. Blashill has kept them competitive throughout the long grind of the NHL season, a season that has been marred by injuries to several of the team’s top players. Call-ups from the AHL are a regular occurrence this season, but these young players haven’t had enough time to develop at that level before being thrown to the wolves in the NHL.
Meanwhile, Blashill maintains a stoic demeanor and focuses on raising the competitive level and skill of the team. His press conferences after games sound as if they’re on repeat:
“We’ve got to be better.”
“We can’t make that many mistakes at this level of play.”
“Those guys have to go out and make decisions (on the ice) and make the right plays.” (from ‘Losses mount along with speculation about Jeff Blashill’s future with Red Wings,’ The Detroit News, 11/05/2019)
When considering if Blashill should go, you only need to listen to what he says to become convinced that he is the right guy to lead the team forward:
“You’re constantly thinking about how we can get better. That’s what most coaches do. That’s what we all do. We’re trying to find ways to get better, and so are the guys in this room. “
“Our guys don’t want to go out and do that (lose). We want to be better than that. Our job is to try to be solution-based and find solutions, and part of that is to design a practice that will win a game tomorrow.”
Blashill Isn’t Quitting on the Team
That’s not the speech of a guy who has given up on his team. Blashill is working with underperforming players and still putting a team out that could win any night.
Yzerman has been watching all this intently. He watches every practice and discusses the ins and outs with Blashill after every single one. If Yzerman thought that Blashill wasn’t the right guy, he would have let him go already. The replacements are available.
He’s not going to make the change. The changes are going to happen at the player level and may take a couple of years to get all the pieces in place. But when the Wings hoist the Cup again, don’t be surprised if Blashill is out on the ice with them participating in the celebration.
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I am a University of Phoenix graduate, with 15 years of hockey coaching experience. I live in Michigan’s Upper Penninsula and play hockey at least twice a week.