Why Steve Yzerman should (and shouldn’t) keep Jeff Blashill as Detroit Red Wings coach

Detroit Free Press

Based on what Steve Yzerman said at the trade deadline, he’ll deliver his decision on the Red Wings coaching situation as soon as next week.

Asked about Jeff Blashill’s future with the Detroit Red Wings on April 12, Yzerman replied, “Jeff and I will sit down very quickly after the season and discuss that.” The finale is Saturday. The Wings are expected to gather for a team picture Monday or Tuesday, at which point the general manager traditionally addresses the media.

Blashill had just been extended for two years a few weeks before Yzerman replaced Ken Holland on April 19, 2019. Yzerman endorsed Blashill at the time, and has continued to do so on multiple occasions.

Now the two years are up, and the Wings are out of the playoffs for a fifth straight season: Will Yzerman clean house behind the bench?

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Here is a look at the case for and against Blashill.

In Blashill’s favor

The Wings were in decline when Blashill was named coach in June 2016. Their 25-season streak of making the playoffs ended in 2017. There has been no superstar defenseman since Nicklas Lidstrom retired in 2012, no star forward since Henrik Zetterberg retired in 2018. The Wings haven’t had a No. 1-overall pick, missing out on defenseman Rasmus Dahlin in 2018 (he went to the Buffalo Sabres) and local forward Jack Hughes in 2019 (New Jersey Devils). Even last year, when the Wings were the worst team in the NHL, they were pushed back to fourth, as the New York Rangers went from the playoff bubble to selecting forward Alexis Lafreniere.

In 2019-20, goaltender Jimmy Howard struggled to such an extent he only won twice in 27 starts. Blashill played Jonathan Bernier as much as possible; none of the third-stringers worked out. The Wings limped through the year, with a roster that included Mike Green, Trevor Daley, Justin Abdelkader, Christopher Ehn, and Brendan Perlini; none are still playing in the NHL. At the end of last year, Yzerman noted Blashill should not be blamed for the Wings’ last-place finish.

This year, the depth the Wings hoped they had coming into the season lasted one game. Five players contracted COVID-19 a week into the season; by the time they emerged from quarantine protocol, Tyler Bertuzzi was done for the season. Bobby Ryan was done at the end of March, Robby Fabbri was done April 3, and Dylan Larkin on April 20. That’s a huge loss of offensive manpower.

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While there have been routs here and there, the Wings, on the whole, have worked hard under Blashill. There has never been chaos in the locker room. His players respect him. From all appearances, he has a good relationship with Yzerman.

There’s also the fact that Blashill doesn’t command the higher-end salary of more experienced coaches, and that’s not an insignificant factor at a time the coronavirus pandemic has left teams scrounging for revenue.

Lastly, there’s this: If Yzerman didn’t think Blashill was doing a good job developing the players who are key to the rebuild — Larkin, Bertuzzi, Michael Rasmussen, Filip Zadina, to name a few — there’s no way Yzerman would have kept Blashill behind the bench.

In favor of making a change

Missing the playoffs five straight seasons would cost many a coach his job, but nothing in Yzerman’s history indicates he’ll make a change just to make a change. It comes down to whether Yzerman thinks Blashill is the right guy to continue coaching the rebuild. The Wings don’t project to be a playoff team next season — not even with Moritz Seider on defense and Joe Veleno joining the youth movement up front. They should be better than this season’s team, though, the way this season’s team was better than last season’s.

Yzerman isn’t yet at a point where he’s looking to hire the guy he thinks can coach the Wings towards Stanley Cup-contender status. His old linemate and longtime buddy, Gerard Gallant, has been available for more than a year, and Yzerman hasn’t bit. Is there an in-between coach Yzerman has in mind? We should know shortly.

Contact Helene St. James at hstjames@freepress.com. 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 AmazonBarnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail. 

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