On day one of the Detroit Red Wings’ 2022 offseason, general manager Steve Yzerman wasted no time and reshaped the team in a big way.
Yzerman announced Saturday afternoon that the organization would not renew the contract of head coach Jeff Blashill, as well as assistant coach Doug Houda and goaltending coach Jeff Selajko. Prior to the news, Blashill was the second-longest tenured coach in the NHL, trailing only Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Jon Cooper. In 537 games behind the bench with the Red Wings, Blashill compiled a record of 204-261-72, and posted a record of 1-4 in the team’s only playoff games during his tenure. This was the 48-year-old’s first head coaching gig in the NHL.
The news comes as a delight to fans who have made their displeasure with Blashill well known over the past few years, filling social media with calls for his head. Originally hired by former GM Ken Holland to replace Mike Babcock in 2015, Blashill bridged the gap between the Holland and Yzerman eras over a span of seven years. Now, for the first time as the Red Wings’ GM, Yzerman will handpick Detroit’s bench boss.
Jeff Blashill: “The Rebuild Coach”
Aside from his first season behind the bench, Blashill was unable to guide the Red Wings to the postseason. In fact, his time in the NHL represents the first time in his career where he was unsuccessful in terms of wins and losses. After all, he earned his spot behind Detroit’s bench after guiding the Red Wings’ American Hockey League affiliate, the Grand Rapids Griffins, to their very first Calder Cup championship.
However, Blashill’s inability to guide the Red Wings to the playoffs is a more a product of the declining quality of the Red Wings’ roster during his tenure. When he took over, Dylan Larkin was a rookie, Henrik Zetterberg was the captain of the Red Wings, and Jimmy Howard and Petr Mrazek were battling to determine who the Red Wings’ top goalie was. Since then, many players have come and gone, the Red Wings changed GM’s, and Detroit has been in the process of rebuilding since they selected Michael Rasmussen with the ninth pick in the 2017 draft.
Blashill was given the task of handling the development of the Red Wings’ young players and prospects. Under his tutelage, Larkin has become as bona fide top-six center that can hover around a point per-game, Tyler Bertuzzi has become a poor-man’s Brad Marchand by being as proficient in scoring as he is at being a thorn in the opposition’s side, and Moritz Seider currently stands as the favorite for the Calder Trophy, awarded to the rookie of the year in the NHL. Make no mistake: it wasn’t all bad during the Blashill era.
But there were just as many areas of concern during his tenure as there were successes. Players like Andreas Athanasiou and Anthony Mantha were unable to deliver on their promising potential, Dennis Cholowski never found the confidence needed to become a productive NHL-er, and people are starting to wonder if Filip Zadina is a bust due to his inability to become a consistent producer under Blashill.
On top of that, there were a number of questionable on-ice coaching decisions during his tenure. Blashill had a propensity to play it safe, utilizing his defensive players when the team was nursing a one-goal lead rather than trying to push the pace and try to extend the lead. Players like Mantha and Zadina found their way to the press box as healthy scratches at times, and some of his lineup decisions were curious at best. Top it all off with the Red Wings’ ugly pattern of either starting games late or not showing up at all under Blashill, and you can see why many were eager for a change behind the bench years ago.
A New Era of Red Wings Hockey is Around the Corner
Regardless of how anyone feels about Blashill, the excitement around the future of the Red Wings has never been higher. As has already been mentioned, Seider is the Calder favorite, and he and 2021 top pick Simon Edvinsson represent the future of the Red Wings’ blue line as skilled, sizeable players that should be able to challenge for the Norris Trophy (awarded to the NHL’s top defenseman) in due time. Lucas Raymond posted the most points by a Red Wings rookie since Nicklas Lidstrom recorded 60 during the 1991-92 season. Larkin, Bertuzzi and Jakub Vrana are all in their prime. Alex Nedeljkovic proved capable in goal for the Red Wings this season, and Sebastian Cossa is coming up through the pipeline as the goaltender of the future.
Bright times are ahead. Now it’s time to figure out who will lead the Red Wings into the future.
The Red Wings and Yzerman will have no shortage of potential candidates to take over behind the bench. In our latest news & rumors update, it was mentioned that the team may be looking for a “tough” coach to add accountability to the locker room. Names that were mentioned included John Tortorella, Paul Maurice and current Vegas Golden Knights head coach Pete DeBoer. However, Yzerman hasn’t been afraid to think outside of the box since taking over in Detroit, so it really shouldn’t surprise anyone if he hires someone a bit more unconventional.
A popular name out there is Swedish coach Rikard Grönborg. The 52-year-old boasts an impressive résumé that includes leading Team Sweden to a gold medal at the U18 and U20 World Juniors. He was the head coach of the Swedish National Team from 2016-19, and has coached many name-brand Swedish players including the Sedin twins, Victor Hedman and Erik Karlsson. With the many Swedish prospects coming up through the system, Grönborg could connect with them on a level that Blashill couldn’t, and his reputation for getting the most out of his players would surely be welcome for a team that has a number of players that haven’t lived up to expectations.
Another name to keep an eye on would be former Red Wing Sergei Fedorov, who just recently coached his way to a Kontinental Hockey League championship in his first season as a head coach.
With Yzerman, Lidstrom, Kris Draper and many other former Red Wings up in the front office, it would be a treat to see Fedorov rejoin his former teammates to help bring the Red Wings back to the level the team was at when they all were players. That being said, this is a bit more of a complicated situation as certain higher-ups in Detroit still don’t look kindly on some of Fedorov’s “traitorous” actions, and the current political climate in Russia may restrict Fedorov from pursuing an opportunity like this.
This is a huge turning point in the Red Wings’ rebuild, and picking the right coach is imperative to ensuring this team gets where they want to go. While an announcement could come any day, it should not surprise anyone if this process extends well into the end of Spring. Yzerman will likely want a coach in place by the time of the 2022 draft (July 7), so we should know who Blashill’s replacement is by the end of June.
Farewell, Mr. Blashill
Since Blashill took over behind Detroit’s bench, just 12 of the NHL’s 32 teams have made less than two coaching changes, and two of those teams didn’t exist when his tenure began. Instead of cycling through coaches while the Red Wings lacked talent on the roster, Yzerman elected to keep Blashill around, instilling a sense of stability at a time when it was hard to come by. Furthermore, during a time when “hockey culture” and toxic coaches were being exposed for the harm they do and have done to many individuals, the Red Wings and their fans knew they had a good one behind their bench. Say what you want about his coaching abilities, but his character has never come into question, and that’s a big reason why it should not be surprising if he lands another head coaching gig sometime in the future.
As the first Michigan-born head coach in franchise history, Blashill was dealt an unenviable hand and was forced to make the best of it. This writer has a ton of respect for him because of it, but it was clearly time for change in “Hockeytown”. With Yzerman’s decision to let Blashill go, change and a new era of Red Wings hockey is upon us.
And the offseason has only just begun.
I am a Western Michigan University alum whose passion for hockey knows no limits. Dr. Pepper enthusiast. Catch me and my fellow Red Wings writers’ YouTube show “The Hockey Writers Grind Line” which drops every Saturday.