The Grind Line: New Red Wings Coach in 2020-21?

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, Rachel Anderson, Devin Little, Ben Banfield, and Tony Wolak are the muckers who make up THW’s forechecking unit and sound off on Red Wings topics.

Typically, last place teams move on from their coach after their season ends. But the Red Wings are not a typical franchise.

If no more games are played this season, Jeff Blashill’s career record will stand at 153-194-52 with a .449 points percentage. The Red Wings have only made the playoffs once in his tenure – Blashill’s first year as coach.

Is it time to make a change?

In this week’s edition of The Grind Line, The Hockey Writers’ Red Wings coverage team shares their prediction for Detroit’s 2020-21 coach. Will Blashill get another year to right the ship? Or will there be a new face guiding Hockeytown?

Related: Red Wings: Projecting the 2020-21 Roster – Version 1.0

Tony Wolak: Gerard Gallant

When Steve Yzerman is presented with a great opportunity, he seizes it. It’s how he played the game and how he manages. 

How often will he have the opportunity to hire someone like Gerard Gallant? He’s a former Jack Adams Award winner, more than capable of establishing a team identity, a players’ coach, able to get the most out of his team, and Yzerman’s former linemate, not to mention a close friend. If Gallant wants to return to the NHL next season, he’ll be Detroit’s next coach.

Former Detroit Red Wings forward Gerard Gallant
Gerard Gallant flanked Steve Yzerman for many years in Detroit. (Photo by Denis Brodeur/NHLI via Getty Images)

Gallant’s body of work with the Vegas Golden Knights is outstanding. Frankly, he would still be the coach there if his goaltenders could have stopped a beach ball and Kelly McCrimmon didn’t want to hire his own coach after taking over general manager duties from George McPhee eight months prior. 

Think about it: Gallant guided a group of misfits—who, on paper, were just an OK team—to the Stanley Cup Final in their first year of existence. When will that opportunity come along again?

Related: Making Sense of the Red Wings’ Messy RFA Situation

Rachel Anderson: Jeff Blashill

We can all agree that recent Red Wings teams are a far cry from the dynasty we remember from our youth. The changes in the team over those years have been a major factor in its derailment as a whole, not just Blashill. 

Detroit Red Wings head coach Jeff Blashill
Can Jeff Blashill guide the Red Wings back to glory? (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

When Blashill took the reins, he was not only bombarded with several vets retiring and bad contracts hanging overhead, but a less than ideal development path. The Red Wings’ developmental system is healthy now, but the focus on the development didn’t seem to be as important before.

All that to say, I believe Yzerman and the Red Wings will grant Blashill one or two more seasons as head coach. Though responsibility does fall on him as the primary leader, the team itself was on its way to shambles when he took over. The emphasis of a rebuild and personnel development under Yzerman will not just be for the players but for the staff as well. I think Blashill is still considered a positive influence with considerable knowledge of the game, so another season with him at the helm could prove fruitful.

Devin Little: Jeff Blashill

Hear me out. In all facets of the team, Yzerman should only make moves and bring in people if he’s absolutely in love with them. This is why the Red Wings shouldn’t indulge too heavily in the free-agent market this off-season. And it’s why they shouldn’t name a new coach yet.

Detroit Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman
Will Steve Yzerman move forward with his own coach? (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

I, like many Red Wings fans, have my gripes with Blashill. He maintains a double-standard when measuring the play of young skaters versus seasoned veterans. He is quick to pull out the line-blender, killing any hopes of lines establishing chemistry. Oh yeah, and he’s lost a lot of games while at the helm. 

But for all his faults, he’s also been dealt a terrible hand as coach of this team. Nobody could turn this roster into a playoff challenger, so at least the team is bad enough to be serious lottery contenders. Players like Dylan Larkin, Tyler Bertuzzi and Filip Hronek have seen their games develop nicely under Blashill’s watch. He shouldn’t be judged by his win/loss record; instead, he should be judged by the performance of those he’s in charge of. 

Related: Jack Adams, The Man and the Award

I think until a coach comes along that Yzerman absolutely must have, he won’t let go of Blashill. If anything, this tough season may have endeared Blashill to Yzerman even more. 

Ben Banfield: Jeff Blashill

I wrote about this earlier this year, and given the situation, I still stand by my contention. Blashill is the right coach to lead the Red Wings back to contention. He has been given a terrible hand to work with and is doing a fantastic job giving these players roles to develop into. And for many of the games this season, Blashill has kept the team competitive. 

Coach Jeff Blashill of the Detroit Red Wings
Can Jeff Blashill still get the most out of his players? (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

There has been a lot of criticism of his management of the lines during this season. But what do you expect? Over the years that I have coached different levels of hockey, I can promise you that any coach worth his salt would mix up the lines when the team isn’t winning. That’s what you do – try to find some combination that gives you a mix of offensive production and defensive responsibility that allows the team to win.

With regard to line chemistry, it’s out of Blashill’s control when you have players going up and down to the Griffins and the other half of the team being out with injuries. It’s just not realistic to think that these lines are going to develop any chemistry in those scenarios.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think Blashill is infallible. He has made some mistakes throughout his tenure as the coach. I just think that much of the criticism that he is getting is unfounded, and coming from people who are pining for the Red Wings of old. Those Red Wings are gone, folks. And we need a coach that can help these young players develop into worthwhile NHL everyday skaters. I think Blashill is that coach.

Tim Neral: Jeff Blashill

Coaching in any sport is often hard to evaluate when a team is good because they can be good for so many reasons. When a team is struggling to stay afloat, let alone swim, there are a multitude of shortcomings other than coaching which could be responsible.

Dylan Larkin of the Detroit Red Wings
It’s been a trying season for Dylan Larkin and the Detroit Red Wings. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Good leaders find a way to succeed regardless of the tools they’re given. Having a bad team is one thing, but if it’s still trending that way years later, it demonstrates an inability to coax what you could from established veterans, a stubbornness or unwillingness to adapt play style to what best equips your team to win, and a lingering struggle to foster growth.

If you give a coach a great player and he’s still great afterwards, it’s hard to ever truly know what difference was made. But if you give a coach a player who struggles with fundamentals and see him develop into a responsible two-way linemate, the change is obvious.

Blashill’s had a bad hand for a while but I can’t definitively say it’s improved over the last few years. That’s not a ringing endorsement for job security. With Gallant on the market, it seems a clear improvement is on the table. However, swinging for the fences likely doesn’t change the team’s fortunes in the near future. While I’d gladly welcome the culture change, Gallant can’t turn an inexperienced roster into contention overnight. If you can’t get it over the fence, don’t swing for it. Bite the bullet, keep Blashill another year and re-evaluate in 2021.