Detroit — Jeff Blashill is returning to coach the Red Wings.
The team announced Tuesday it will bring back Blashill, 47, for a seventh season.
General manager Steve Yzerman announced Blashill has agreed to a contract extension — the length was not disclosed — and that assistant coach Dan Bylsma will not return next season.
Blashill has coached the Wings for the last six seasons, missing the playoffs the last five years. Blashill has a lifetime record of 172-221-62, and is the third-longest tenured current NHL head coach, while presiding over a difficult Wings’ rebuild.
Yzerman liked the direction the team took this season, and the way it competed on the ice.
“I feel our team is collectively very competitive,” Yzerman said in a Zoom call with media. “We played hard and our players play hard, and that’s a reflection of the coaching staff, that they (the staff) have the respect of the players and that was important.
“The other part is, Jeff has shown a willingness to work with transitioning our young players into the lineup and being patient with them, and not handing them a position or ice time, but really forcing them to earning it and guiding them along and being firm, yet patient with our young guys. We’re rebuilding and trying to move more young players into the lineup.
“It’s important to have a coach that has a calmness and a willingness and patience to have these younger players go through the growing paints of playing in the NHL.”
The Wings finished seventh in the eight-team Central Division with a 19-27-10 record. After a ragged 4-12-3 start, as COVID-19 decimated a lineup missing five regulars, the Wings finished 15-15-7 in their last 37 games, despite injuries to forwards Dylan Larkin, Tyler Bertuzzi, Bobby Ryan and Robby Fabbri, which deprived much of the team’s offense the latter weeks.
But the Wings remained competitive, and the way the lineup worked and persevered was impressive — and Yzerman recognized noticeable progress.
“We got a long way to go, and we recognize that we have a lot of work to do in all areas,” Yzerman said. “But I watch our team play and I like the competitive fire that our team shows. They work and compete real hard and throughout the course of the season, I saw progress being made, specifically watching some of our young players take on bigger roles within a game.”
Yzerman has learned more about Blashill in the two seasons the two have been together, and come away impressed with the way the head coach goes about his work.
“He’s very passionate about his job, very serious about his job, has great attention to detail and is has a great work ethic,” Yzerman said. “He’s very well prepared every day, every practice is very well thought out. I’ve enjoyed working with him.
“He’s comfortable speaking his mind, sharing his thoughts, and for a manger and coach relationship to debate and discuss (is vital).”
Yzerman and Blashill met several times last week and discussed expectations, Blashill’s assistants, and the future.
“That communication is critical between a coach and general manager and being on the same page is critical, and I’ve enjoyed that part of it,” Blashill said. “You gain a better understanding of each other’s direction and thoughts and that’s a positive.
“I’ve been a Red Wing for a long time now and in this seat for a good period of time and I love being a Red Wing. I love being part of this organization and probably more importantly, I want to continue to see this organization, see this team, get to a better tomorrow.”
In Blashill’s estimation, there’s a job that hasn’t been completed yet, and he wants to be part of the job’s completion.
“The job isn’t nearly complete,” Blashill said. “I’m aware of where we’ve been the last number of years and I want to get us back to a much better spot. Any coach will tell you you’d love to have the opportunity to grind and push and find ways to continue to make strides as a team and organization, and I’m very aware of what I’ve been part of, a part of a rebuild.
“My eyes were wide open that there would be struggles. But my job is try and push us and help our young players become the very best they can be.”
Both Yzerman and Blashill were pleased with the improvement the team showed defensively, and on the penalty kill.
But, both pinpointed the Wings’ struggles offensively, as an area that needs to improve going forward.
“We need to score more goals, to improve offensively, and that’s easier said than done,” Yzerman said.
After finishing last in the NHL a season ago, the Wings made noticeable improvement this shortened 56-game season.
“We’ve been through tough times and to get a chance to continue to lead this team is something I’m grateful for,” Blashill said.
Yzerman wouldn’t disclose the length of Blashill’s contract.
“I’ve kind of made it my own policy to not discuss or announce the term of any of my staff’s contracts,” Yzerman said. “I don’t think it’s something I want to share with anyone, or intend (to). I haven’t in the past and I won’t moving forward.”
There will be at least one change in Blashill’s staff, with Bylsma leaving.
Bylsma will go in search of other NHL opportunities — he’d like another opportunity to be a head coach, after leading Pittsburgh to a Stanley Cup in 2009 (over the Wings) — while assistant coach Doug Houda (defense/penalty kill) and goaltending coach Jeff Salajko are expected to return, though Yzerman wouldn’t cement that possibility.
Bylsma oversaw the forwards and power play — a unit that ranked 30th in the NHL and has struggled under Bylsma in his two seasons with the team.
“In his heart, he’s a head coach and he wants to be a head coach,” Yzerman said. “That’s the biggest reason for him leaving.”
Yzerman and Blashill with both have a hand in choosing Bylsma’s replacement.