| Detroit Free Press
Jeff Blashill on prepping the Detroit Red Wings for 2021 season
Jeff Blashill discusses preparations for the Detroit Red Wings’ 2021 season. Filmed Dec, 28, 2020.
Helene St. James, Detroit Free Press
Training camp promises to be interesting for the Detroit Red Wings, and not just because it’ll be short and coming four months late.
The Wings are allowed to officially start activities Thursday, granted a four-day head start because they were not part of the playoff bubble last summer. The Wings had the indignity of being the only team mathematically eliminated when the NHL succumbed to the pandemic and paused March 12.
Now players have two weeks to convince coach Jeff Blashill that they should be in the lineup when the Wings open a divisionally realigned, 56-game season Jan. 14 by hosting the Carolina Hurricanes.
“It’s going to be fluid as we go through the season,” Blashill said in a Zoom call this week. “We’re going to try to figure out who is going to give us the best chance to win Game One and then we are going to continue to judge as we go along.”
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Figuring out lineups
The lack of exhibition games is likely to lead Blashill to reunite Dylan Larkin with Anthony Mantha and Tyler Bertuzzi because that’s a line that has reliable chemistry. It’ll be trickier to sort out the rest; what’s the best fit for newcomers Vladislav Namestnikov and Bobby Ryan? Robby Fabbri may get a look at the second-line center position, but Namestnikov can also play center and wing. Maybe he clicks with Filip Zadina.
“We’ll try to get lines that make sense and stick with them as best we can,” Blashill said. “Chemistry matters a lot. The more time together, the better.
“We need more scoring depth throughout our forward group, for sure. We need to get more out of more people.”
Goaltending will be split between Jonathan Bernier and Thomas Greiss, with Kevin Boyle appearing as the front-runner for the third-string job, at least while Calvin Pickard is still playing in Austria.
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Defense pairings could take some tweaking. Returning from last season are Filip Hronek, Alex Biega and Patrik Nemeth. General manager Steve Yzerman added three newcomers in Marc Staal, Jon Merrill and Troy Stecher.
Danny DeKeyser is expected to be available, although no one is quite sure how effective he will be considering he has not played since October 2019, when he was lost eight games into the season to a back injury that required surgery.
“I don’t know that I would put a percentage on where Danny is at,” Blashill said. “But I know even if he feels absolutely perfect, it still has been a long, long time since he has played and it is going to take a while to get the kinks out. I don’t think that for me to envision the Danny DeKeyser that started last year will be the Danny DeKeyser that starts this year — I think that would be very wishful thinking.
“We have to expect Danny to work himself back into all those situations. But I do anticipate Danny being ready for camp. I don’t anticipate anybody not being ready for camp, but this, more than ever, is a day-to-day world. You might come in one day and three guys might have to sit because they have potential symptoms and you are just waiting to see if those symptoms become positive for COVID. We are just going to have to be fluid and be ready for different challenges.”
Blashill’s thoughts on ugly 2019 record
Last season was challenging for the Wings, who secured finishing at the bottom of the standings when they lost to the Hurricanes on March 10. Some teams would have brought in a new coaching staff in response, but Yzerman recognized that the Wings lacked depth (injuries decimated their lines and defense pairings), and Jimmy Howard struggled so much he only won two times in 27 games.
Still, winning only 17 games out of 71 is a bad look.
“I am very aware of what our record has been and, from a wins and losses standpoint, it hasn’t been good enough,” Blashill said. “I appreciate every day that I get to coach hockey for a living. That’s a pretty special thing. It’s a super fun and rewarding job, and to do it at the very highest level against the very best is awesome.
“The fact that our organization has made decisions that have kept me here in the position I’m in — we understand there is no quick fix. That’s just not the reality of what happens in sports and especially in the position we are in. We are trying to get to a better tomorrow. I have committed to our group that we are not taking any shortcuts. We are going to try to do this right and build this the right way and I am committed to that.”
Contact Helene St. James at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter. Her book, The Big 50: The Detroit Red Wings is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.