Detroit – Tuesday was Sept. 1, which in normal years would be a touchstone on the hockey calendar.
Players would begin skating informally, getting ready for another NHL regular season. Around the Red Wings organization, people would be ready to head to Traverse City for training camp.
But this hasn’t been a normal year. So Tuesday, coach Jeff Blashill was preparing for another day during this pandemic-induced long offseason, talking with his coaching staff and watching more Stanley Cup playoff games.
With no certain day to shoot for to begin training camp.
“Your internal clock is ready to get after it,” Blashill told The Detroit News. “But right now, it’s continued preparation.”
The NHL tentatively has set Nov. 17 as the beginning of training camp, with a Dec. 1 start to the regular season.
But with pandemic concerns still strong, most analysts believe that schedule could be pushed back about a month.
Blashill isn’t thinking about that necessarily. He’s more concerned right now about how the Red Wings can get better, issues around his team, and the continued development of young players.
Blashill took time Tuesday to talk about the state of the Red Wings with The News.
►Question: Normally, by this time, there would be real anticipation over the new hockey season. Instead, we’re watching the second round of the playoffs. Is it a bit strange?
►Answer: “It’s a different feeling for sure. Just not knowing the timing of what the future holds. There’s nothing from a day-to-day basis, we just don’t know when we can get our hands on players and get to work. But that’s across the board in the world today.”
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►Q: How difficult is the uncertainty right now – not knowing when camp will begin, when you’ll start playing games?
►A: “Uncertainty is tough in life, it’s just reality. Uncertainty causes angst among people and causes stress and there’s no doubt uncertainty in these times, probably at an unprecedented high for everybody. With that said, pertaining to our situation, I’ve heard the dates floated about, but certainly there’s nothing written in stone and one of the things the NHL has done in their original Return to Play is not committing to anything before knowing it was really possible. So, right now, from a planning perspective, we have to make sure we’re prepared for the earliest possible start and if that gets delayed, at least we’re prepared, and that’s how we’ll go about it.”
►Q: We asked you after the season was announced over, how important would it be for you guys to have a sort of a mini-camp, since you have been off the ice since March 12. I’d imagine that is still important for your team?
►A: “We’re at a disadvantage, without a doubt, in the sense that we haven’t skated since March 12 and the other teams, even the teams that were out of the picture quick in the return to play, spent a number of weeks prior to that as a hockey team. So certainly we’d love to be able to do some stuff ahead of camp. Potentially, camp will be shortened this year compared to other years, so it’s even more important for the individual players to be as ready as possible.
“You can skate on your own and skate in skill development that a lot of guys do during the summer, but it’s not the same as having multiple other people on the ice with you. We’ll see how that shakes out, but we’re hoping to get some time.”
►Q: By this time, players are on normally deep into their training, right?
►A: “Yes, but obviously every situation is a little different in terms of what is allowed, and ice rinks haven’t been fully opened (in many cities). In those situations, guys are finding a way to get ice (to skate). Most guys are in a pretty good situation from a lifting standpoint. Guys probably took more time than normal to rest their body, and recover, which can be a advantage.”
►Q: You have to think the young players – Filip Zadina, Moritz Seider, Filip Hronek, among others – that have been assigned to different European teams will benefit from the games and practices they’re able to participate in this autumn?
►A: “We don’t know for certain who will be able to play and who won’t and how much, and it’ll depend on our season and when we’ll start, so some of that is uncertain. But what this allows is the guys who’ve been assigned to European teams, it allows for more structured training and on-ice sessions, and those things are important. We can’t have that over here (currently), and obviously a number of those guys, maybe all those guys, are young players that are really important to the organization and that’s a positive. Some of their situations, in terms of access to training and to ice, that type of environment is much better than some of the situations over here right now. It’s great for them to take full advantage of that.”
►Q: Danny DeKeyser (back surgery) should be ready to go whenever camp begins, right?
►A: “We fully anticipate Danny will be ready to go and at 100 percent, and that’s an important piece for us. He’s a real good defenseman in this league and plays a lot of important minutes for us, and having a healthy Danny DeKeyser puts us in position to be a better hockey team.”
►Q: Can you even fiddle around and draw up a potential lineup right now, given we haven’t even gotten to the draft and free agency yet?
►A: “Yes, to the sense as we review free agents, and Pat Verbeek (assistant general manager) and Mark Howe (director of pro scouting), and their staff, they are watching UFAs (unrestricted free agents) that are out there that would be able to be added to our team. (We examine) where is the biggest need, where’s the best fit, and what we are looking for as a coaching staff. Eventually we’ll see where everything shakes out and you make adjustments as needed.”
►Q: Still, it looks as if this will be a younger team, generally speaking, again next season.
►A: “There’s an excitement with that. There’s unknowns, but there’s an energy level with that. We have some good young players in our system and now the question is how good are those young guys going to become and how quickly do they become that?”
►Q: There was a lot of talk last week after Robby Fabbri re-signed and whether Fabbri would play more center this season. You played him there a little more right before the season stopped. Do you plan on using him at center this season?
►A: “I’m a fan of Robby, he’s a very competitive person. When he came in he did a good job. He competes hard and he wants to win bad, he wants to be part of the solution long-term. He’s a good player that hopefully that can continue to grow as he gets more opportunity.
“When he came here, I asked him, knowing he played center in his draft year, played center all his life, what his preferred position was. Obviously he wants to play and can play either position, center or wing, but if he had his preferred position, it would be center. It’s really hard to get a top-two line center in this league. There’s not a lot of guys in the UFA market that would necessarily be that.
“He likes to have the puck in the middle of the ice and he has good playmaking and scoring ability and he’s going to grow into that role. As it stands today, he’ll get that opportunity (to play center). The roster isn’t necessarily set until the year starts, and let’s see how the roster looks, but that’s our plan today.”
►Q: What have you thought about the playoffs this summer?
►A: “What’s impressive, probably it has just reaffirmed what I believe, what I know: The best way to win is play efficient hockey, and efficient hockey is two-way hockey where you can create as many chances without giving many up. The teams that are real good at both ends of the rink, that understand you have to check real well and defend real well, and when you defend real well you ultimately get your offense from that. When you look at the teams left, you have teams with good two-way forwards, every team has good to great defensemen, and your goalie has to play real well. It’s been reaffirming to watch.
“I would also say the NHL has done a great job. It’s very entertaining, they’ve done a great job with atmosphere, I’ve talked to people in the bubble and the game atmosphere is real good given the fact there’s no fans in the building.”
►Q: Has there been any more talk about naming a captain or is there a timeline to do that?
►A: “I haven’t talked to (general manager) Steve (Yzerman) in a while. He made those comments (about likely naming a captain this season) at his postseason review and I’ll let those stand on their own. I don’t have a timing for any of that, and it really hasn’t been something we’ve discussed quite a bit. Right now there’s a lot more other things at play that we’re focusing on.”
►Q: You mentioned the bubble. There’s already rumblings that next season could begin in a bubble format, with divisions housed in four bubbles. Any early thoughts of doing that?
►A: “For somebody that has been out since March, I would love to work and we just want to play and be part of that day-to-day invigoration of doing our jobs. From where I stand, I would do anything to be part of a process that would give us an opportunity to coach and play in this league. Now, I haven’t been in the bubble in the last two months as a number of teams have, and I don’t want to speak for them. But for me, personally, I would do anything to just get back going.”