Why Steve Yzerman’s unexpected silence on Jeff Blashill shouldn’t be surprising

Detroit Free Press

Yzerman is as deliberate and patient as they come; when he was named general manager in April 2019, he announced he wanted to spend his first year observing. He held off on naming a captain, made low-key signings to patch the lineup and set about steering the rebuild in the direction he deemed fit.

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That included keeping Blashill on as coach, honoring the two-year extension Blashill had signed 17 days before Yzerman’s return.

Now that extension is up, giving Yzerman a free hand to bring in his own coach. Yzerman said last month “Jeff and I will sit down very quickly after the season and discuss that.” The season ended May 8. Their meeting so far has not yielded clarity.

Yzerman and Blashill have a good working relationship, often spending time in Blashill’s office at Little Caesars Arena dissecting performances after games. Blashill was named coach in 2015, at a time when the team was sinking into the rebuild because the playoff streak had left the farm system empty of elite prospects. The Wings advanced to the playoffs in Blashill’s first season, but the streak ended in 2017 after 25 consecutive seasons.

The Wings have gone 172-221-62 under Blashill’s guidance. Last season marked a low point, with only 17 victories in 71 games before COVID-19 mandated a shutdown. The Wings (19-27-10), lost five players to the pandemic a week into the 2020-21 season and a slew of players to injuries, including Tyler Bertuzzi, Dylan Larkin, Bobby Ryan and Robby Fabbri. Still, from Feb. 6 — about a week after the COVID-19 guys returned to action — to the end of the season, the Wings went 17-19-8, matching the record of the playoff-bound Montreal Canadiens.

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Yzerman is not at the point where he’s looking for a coach who can guide the Wings to the Stanley Cup. The Wings need someone who can develop players, as Blashill has done with Larkin, Bertuzzi, Filip Hronek, Filip Zadina, Michael Rasmussen and more.

But maybe Yzerman wants a fresh voice. When he left the Wings’ front office in 2010 to accept the Tampa Bay Lightning GM position, Yzerman hired Guy Boucher for his first NHL head coaching job. Yzerman fired Boucher on March 24, 2013, and, the next day, announced the promotion of Jon Cooper. Yzerman had hired Cooper to coach the Lightning’s AHL affiliate in 2010.

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If Yzerman wants to bring in someone new, he’s likely to consider his former roommate, Lane Lambert, who is an assistant with the playoff-bound Islanders. Lambert was head coach of the AHL Milwaukee Admirals until being named an assistant coach with the Nashville Predators in 2011. He was an assistant with the Washington Capitals during their 2018 Stanley Cup championship and has served under Barry Trotz in New York since 2018.

The New York Rangers made coaching news Wednesday, relieving David Quinn of his duties. Over the weekend, the Columbus Blue Jackets parted ways with John Tortorella, and the Arizona Coyotes parted ways with Rick Tocchet. In total, there are coaching vacancies in expansion Seattle, Arizona, Buffalo, Columbus, and the Rangers.

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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