In keeping Jeff Blashill, Steve Yzerman is asking for your trust. He has earned it

Detroit Free Press

Steve Yzerman is keeping his coach. He has his reasons. They probably aren’t yours.

Mostly because it’s harder for you to see them. Which means, for some of you, your thoughts about Jeff Blashill sticking around another year … or five — Yzerman declined to say how long he was extending his contract — may pit your desire to see Blashill fired against your faith in Yzerman.

It’s a tough spot. Though it wasn’t for Yzerman, especially when you consider what the former Detroit Red Wings star values in a coach:

“We can drive ourselves crazy if we get overly emotional,” Yzerman said Tuesday afternoon. “I like (Blashill’s) methodical approach to this.”

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He said plenty more, for sure; he answered questions for almost an hour. And we’ll parse a little more in a moment.

For now, though, focus on the central reason Yzerman is keeping Blashill: His demeanor. This is also to say his patience, his calm, his open-mindedness, his lack of ego, his connection with the players.

And in a sport defined by random bounces, where so many “favored” teams go down in the playoffs, where the margin for error is thinner than any other team sport —save, maybe, for soccer — the vibe can be crucial.

This isn’t to say that figuring out lines and line changes and the strategic attack of a power play don’t matter. Of course, they do, and when Blashill and Yzerman look for a coach to replace Dan Bylsma — who was in charge of forwards and the power play but won’t be returning next season — that’s the first thing they’ll discuss.

Still, Yzerman focused on Blashill’s personality and demeanor because he thinks the coach’s qualities are directly related to the team’s effort on the ice, and that they are critical to a young, developing roster.

“Jeff is a level-headed guy,” Yzerman said. “Some coaches are really, really fiery. Jeff Blashill is himself. I like the fact that he’s not trying to impress me or impress you. He just does his job.”

At the moment, that job is to guide and teach and keep the competitive spirit aflame. That spirit was obvious to anyone who watched the Wings play the final six weeks of the season. Or at least it should’ve been.

Eventually, Blashill will be judged by wins. But not until the talent improves. Yzerman made that clear when he said he could change the coach year after year, but it doesn’t matter unless he finds more players that can put the goal in the net.

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“You need good players,” he said.

By extending Blashill, he acknowledged the franchise doesn’t have enough of them. Obviously, it’s his job to find them. And, as he does — and he should, judging by his track record — the pressure on Blashill to win will increase.

Here’s betting that ramps up a bit next season, barring injury or pandemic-related issues. For while Yzerman is right to bet on a coach who inspired the kind of effort — and defensive improvement — we saw this season, at some point the proof has to show up in the standings.

How long Blashill gets is hard to say. Though Yzerman gave us a clue when he said “we’ve got a long way to go. And we recognize that.”

In other words, he is asking for patience, and for trust. He has earned both. Not because he won Stanley Cups here as a player, but because of how he built a winner in Tampa, and because this is only Year 2 of his time in Detroit.

If this were Bob Quinn extending Matt Patricia after five losing seasons, then by all means, toss your jerseys in the trash. Yzerman, though, gets the benefit of the doubt, even as he wouldn’t share details of Blashill’s contract.

Such discretion is no doubt designed to hold off extra external pressure. Not that Blashill felt it.

He got off social media a while ago. Besides, he said, he has “very, very thick skin.”

So does Yzerman. It’s necessary for the job, especially for this job, especially when you bring back a coach that hasn’t had a winning record in half a decade.

It’s not often that coaches keep their job after so much losing. And Yzerman understands his choice won’t be popular with part of the fan base. But, again, what he sees is different than what you see. His measurement of success is different, too.

Yzerman returned to rebuild an iconic franchise. In two years, he has overseen improved defensive play and goaltending and has refashioned a roster that was beset by thorny contracts. With each move, he gives himself more room.

It may not have felt that way in keeping Blashill. But that’s exactly what he’s done. The team is a long way from competing for the Stanley Cup. Which means asking whether Blashill is the coach to lead them there is moot.

Maybe he is. Maybe he is not.

What we do know is that he is a coach who can inspire an out-manned team, and that his teams are beginning to show mental toughness. Yes, the offense needs to get better. Lots better. And, yes, the power play was the worst in the NHL.

Like any good coach, Blashill will spend the offseason looking for ways to improve it. That starts with hiring Bylsma’s replacement. As Yzerman noted, Blashill’s willingness to learn and experiment is one of the reasons he kept him.

“You make your decisions and sometimes they’re good and sometimes they’re not good and you learn from it, and you move on,” Blashill said Tuesday.

Yzerman has learned a lot, too. That sometimes change is necessary. That sometimes not changing is more so.

Contact Shawn Windsor: 313-222-6487 or swindsor@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @shawnwindsor.

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