Lengthy list of pros, cons when analyzing Jeff Blashill’s future with Red Wings

Detroit News

Detroit — Do the Red Wings bring back coach Jeff Blashill? Should they retain Blashill for a seventh season behind the bench?

Or will general manager Steve Yzerman go in another direction as he further puts his stamp on this organization?

Everyone will know, likely, by early next week, as the Wings embark into the offseason in this shortened, pandemic-driven NHL season.

Ask people around the league and you get a long list of reasons to bring Blashill back as the Wings continue on the road to rebuild.

But ask others and they’ll give you a lengthy list of facts why Blashill, 47, should be replaced.

And the interesting thing is both sets of reasons are valid. Which is why Yzerman’s decision will be so interesting and show where this rebuild is, and is going, in Yzerman’s estimation.

Only Yzerman knows what he’ll do, regarding Blashill’s future. But here are some reasons that Blashill should stay and be replaced:

Pros to keeping Blashill

►Done good job, under circumstances: Look, this roster wasn’t likely to compete for a playoff berth. There’s too many holes in the lineup and the talent level overall just isn’t/wasn’t good enough.

The fact the Wings have already surpassed last season’s win total (17) — admittedly, a low bar — and the fact they did it in 18 fewer games is a notable achievement.

Also, this Wings roster won nine games total against Carolina, Tampa and Florida — three of the best teams in the NHL. That’s impressive.

Injuries, COVID-19 and lack of depth were all factors that dragged the Wings down, but Blashill likely got as much out of this team as any coach could have.

►The rebuild is still on: Really, it’s still the early stages of the rebuild.

Some of the bright young lights, such as Moritz Seider, Lucas Raymond and Jonatan Berggren, are all waiting to make their NHL debuts. Joe Veleno just did.

For the last couple seasons, player development has been a prime issue, getting some of the recent draft picks who are likely to be part of the nucleus going forward to become established players.

Veterans on bloated contracts have largely gone away.

A more indicative and representative Wings lineup is likely to come in the next couple seasons. Those are likely more accurate tests of how good a coach, anyone coaching that lineup, is.

Maybe Blashill is still the best fit.

►Team plays hard: Particularly this season, with at least a semblance of a competitive roster, you saw players — veterans and youngsters alike — play hard for Blashill.

You’ve seen it especially in the last several weeks. With nothing to play for, players are giving themselves up to block shots and giving 100% effort in games that didn’t matter for the Wings. That’s a credit to both the players, and Blashill and his staff.

On most nights, the Wings were a tough team to beat. They weren’t an easy game for any of the seven teams in the division.

Players appeared to still back Blashill strongly.

►System worked: It wasn’t exciting and it wasn’t fun to watch, but when the Wings stayed to the largely defensive system, or structure, they were effective.

Blashill identified quickly the Wings weren’t going to win games by simply outscoring teams with a dynamic offensive attack.

The Wings were a significantly better defensive team this season, and it translated to those 18 victories.

It wasn’t a fun system to play, but the players stuck with it.

►Player development: Filip Zadina took a step forward this season. Michael Rasmussen, finally healthy and playing with confidence, has played well the second half of the year.

Adam Erne became an impactful player. Dylan Larkin and Tyler Bertuzzi have grown into proven NHL players under Blashill’s watch.

One of the biggest checkmarks for Blashill when he was hired was how he had developed young prospects.

Blashill won the Calder Cup in 2013 with players such as Tomas Tatar, Gustav Nyquist, Danny DeKeyser and Petr Mrazek on the Grand Rapids roster, and all became established NHL players.

Blashill has, mostly, continued to propel young players.

►Shallow pool of candidates: Fans are clamoring for Carolina’s Rod Brind’Amour, as many other markets are wanting their teams to hire Brind’Amour, who has cultivated the Hurricanes’ roster into a Stanley Cup contender.

But Brind’Amour, without a contract for next season, appears to be close to a new deal, taking his name off the market.

Coaches such as Rick Tocchet (Arizona) and John Tortorella (Columbus) might not be retained, and guys like Gerard Gallant, Bruce Boudreau and Claude Julien are all on the outside looking in.

But all those gentlemen have had success with, generally, older rosters that are playoff-ready, and many haven’t done great in developing younger players or showing patience in them.

In that regard, Blashill fits the bill better.

Cons to bringing Blashill back

►The record: Let’s face it, the Wings haven’t been good for several years now.

Heading into this weekend, the Wings are 171-221-61 (.445 points percentage) under Blashill. They are 1-4 in the playoffs, losing to Tampa in five games in Blashill’s first season in 2015-16.

They haven’t made the playoffs since that elimination.

When you simply look at the record, it’s not pretty. Coaches who had much more success around the NHL have been let go while Blashill, the third-longest-tenured active coach, still remains.

►Played veterans too much: Proponents on social media of forwards Evgeny Svechnikov and Givani Smith and defensemen Dennis Cholowski and Gustav Lindstrom have legitimate points.

Svechnikov and Smith, especially, appeared to be effective in spurts but never really got an opportunity to stay in the lineup and develop further, or show what they can do with longer looks.

Now, the Wings have always had the belief players had to outgrow the American League and show they were ready for the NHL, earning their spot in the NHL lineup.

Maybe some of those youngsters just weren’t deemed ready. Cholowski and Lindstrom finally earned extended looks in recent weeks.

But at certain times, it appeared as if veterans had a longer leash, had more room for error than younger players, and some players’ progress was set back.

►Entering next phase of rebuild: Prospects such as Seider and maybe Raymond will enter the lineup next season and expectations are likely to be a bit higher.

Has Blashill taken this roster, or its core that’s going to be integral for the next phase, as far as it can go?

It seems like this could be a critical part of the rebuild and who the head coach is will be vital.

►Lack of offense: For the second consecutive season, it’s likely the Wings will finish with the worst goals-for average in the NHL.

They were 31st of 31 teams with 2.0 goals per game last season, and head into this weekend last with only marginal improvement (2.15 goals per game).

The power play (10.3%, 30th) continued to be a sore spot, as it has been for several seasons.

It’s up to the players, ultimately, to put the puck in the net. But the coaching staff hasn’t been able to devise a game plan to somehow generate more offense.

►Some players regressed: For the likes of Filip Hronek, Zadina, and it looks like Rasmussen, there are others who haven’t been able to graduate to the NHL on a regular basis under this staff.

Svechnikov, Smith and Cholowski, in particular, haven’t been able to grab spots, be it their own shortfalls or a disconnect with the coaching.

Players like Larkin and Hronek took minor steps back in terms of offensive production this season, and Anthony Mantha was finally traded after long bouts of inconsistency.

►Fresh voice: Given the record and where the rebuild is right now, and likely headed to a new phase, maybe it’s just time.

Maybe it’s best to get a new, fresh voice in case some players have been too comfortable or are beginning to tune out.

This, obviously, would be the time to do so.


Twitter: @tkulfan

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