General manager Steve Yzerman stands to make his biggest imprint yet on the Detroit Red Wings as he installs a new coaching staff.
Three years after inheriting Jeff Blashill and a year after extending him once, Yzerman signaled the rebuild is onto its next stage with Saturday’s news that Blashill’s contract would not be renewed. Blashill was 204-261-72 (with a .447 winning percentage) since being promoted in June 2015. Associate coach Doug Houda, in charge of the defense and penalty kill, also was let go, as was goaltending coach Jeff Salajko. Alex Tanguay, hired last summer to coach the forwards and power play, remains on staff.
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Yzerman is likely to have a new coach in place at the latest before the July 7-8 draft.
Yzerman made an incredibly successful hire while he was GM of the Tampa Bay Lightning, bringing in Jon Cooper in 2013. (Yzerman’s first coaching hire, Guy Boucher, was less successful, and relieved of duties after three seasons.) At the time, the Bolts had missed the playoffs two straight years, and had in place an elite defenseman in Victor Hedman and elite center in Steven Stamkos. Cooper coached the Lightning to the Stanley Cup title in back to back seasons, and will soon be going for their third-straight.
Yzerman had a chance to hire former linemate Gerard Gallant two years ago, when he was fired by the Vegas Golden Knights in January 2020. Gallant was free until he accepted the New York Rangers offer in June 2021.
Yzerman could look to another former teammate in Lane Lambert, a fellow 1983 draft pick who cohabitated with Yzerman their rookie year with the Wings. Lambert has been an associate coach under Barry Trotz with the New York Islanders since 2018-19; before that, Lambert was an assistant with the Washington Capitals, where he won the Stanley Cup in 2018 before leaving. Lambert broke into NHL coaching with the Nashville Predators in 2011-12, after four seasons as head coach with Milwaukee in the AHL.
[TROTZ’S VIEWS: Stanley Cup champion coach says Lane Lambert ready for head coaching job]
Lambert, 57, could be just the fit: Trained under a respected coach in Trotz, well-respected, and someone who would not cost in the $4-5 million salary range that upper-echelon NHL coaches command.
If Yzerman wants a coach with a proven NHL track record, those available include John Tortorella, Paul Maurice, Dave Tippett and Joel Quenneville. Tortorella, 63, has been head coach with the Columbus Blue Jackets, New York Rangers, Lightning, and the Vancouver Canucks, and led the Bolts to the 2004 Stanley Cup. Tippett, 60, has coached the Dallas Stars, Arizona Coyotes franchise, and the Edmonton Oilers, and won the Jack Adams Award (coach of the year) in 2010. Quenneville, 63, coached the Chicago Blackhawks to three Stanley Cups, but had to resign from the Florida Panthers this season after questions regarding his role in dealing with a sexual abuse scandal during his time with the Blackhawks.
Hiring his own coach is a significant move for Yzerman, but he will need to give the new guy a stronger roster than the one that wilted down the stretch this season. That Blashill would not return for an eighth season was clear even before the Wings were eliminated from playoff contention on April 9, as they went through a 4-13-3 stretch after sitting at 21-20-6 on Feb. 13.
The Wings have a budding elite defenseman in Moritz Seider, and project to have another on the way in 2021 first-round pick Simon Edvnsson, who is expected to compete for a job next season. But the Wings still need to improve at every position, and at the very least, need a second-line center, top-four defenseman and No. 2 goaltender to strengthen their chances for next season, regardless of who the new voice will be behind the bench.
Contact Helene St. James at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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 Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.