Steve Yzerman was afforded time with Detroit Red Wings rebuild. A new coach speeds that up

Detroit Free Press

Steve Yzerman has time. He intends to take it.

Maybe not so much with finding a new coach, but absolutely with building out his roster.

This is how it goes when you captained the team that broke a 42-year drought in Hockeytown. This is how it goes when you help re-establish a city to its historic place in the NHL.

Yzerman did that as a player. And if that were the only thing on his resume, that would give him grace enough.

But Yzerman took over the Detroit Red Wings with a whole lot more in his bag. He is the architect of the two-time Stanley Cup winning Tampa Bay Lightning. This gives him time, too.

No wonder he didn’t sound in a rush Monday afternoon when he met with reporters to discuss his decision not to renew head coach Jeff Blashill’s contract.

No, he doesn’t want to wait until training camp to hire his replacement.

But he doesn’t want to wait another three years to get the Wings back to the playoffs. That’s my timetable, by the way, not his.

Yet it’s fair to say if he’s meeting with reporters this time of year three seasons from now and he’s talking about exit interviews with his players, he’ll feel a lot more pressure.

But right now? He’s not interested in giving a timeline for when the Wings will get back to the playoffs.

“The danger becomes you start to get a little impatient, desperate — not sure what the right word is — then you do something stupid … I don’t need any help doing something stupid,” he said.

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Self-deprecating humor aside, Yzerman is right that impatience is the enemy of building something that lasts. He showed that in Tampa. Heck, he learned that in Tampa.

“Any time I’ve tried to force a trade, force a signing, I’ve regretted it,” he said. “For me, I’ve got to show some improvement. I believe we’re showing some improvement.”

Maybe that isn’t as obvious on the ice, or certainly in the standings. But it is clear when Lucas Raymond flashes down the ice or when Moritz Seider checks someone across Woodward.

Yzerman’s got a couple of pillars in the young forward and defenseman. He’s got a couple other good players, too — Dylan Larkin, Tyler Bertuzzi. He’s got more prospects coming and a few other solid pieces and the clear-eyed understanding that the roster is still nowhere good enough to truly compete for a playoff spot, let alone a playoff run.

How many “foundational” pieces does a team need to make a run, he was asked?

“I’m not sure,” he said, after mulling over the math.

This, he does know:

“You need a bunch of good players to win.”

The Wings don’t have enough, especially on defense, nor enough offensive players who contribute without the puck. Yzerman should know. His career — and the Wings’ Cup runs — didn’t start until he learned to play both ends of the ice.

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The push to become a more complete player came from Scotty Bowman, who replaced a good coach in Bryan Murray. Yzerman is looking to make a similar move now.

He was quick to credit Blashill on Monday. He praised his organizational skills and acknowledged Blashill had to lead teams that got thinner on experienced talent, often because prospects were favored over veterans.

That happens in a rebuild. Which is why Blashill got so much time to oversee it. Still, at some point a general manager needs to see progress, which is what Yzerman didn’t see the last couple months of the season.

“We had gotten to a point where fundamentally, with and without the puck, we had regressed,” he said. “We’re at a point now where I felt like, ‘OK, I’ve got to see if bringing in a new coach and coaching staff can make a difference to get us back and get us going in the right direction.’”

Yzerman could have done this a year ago. He doesn’t regret not doing it. He has his reasons. For the first couple months of the season, his decision looked smart.

Then it didn’t.

That’s how it goes with young teams trying to find themselves. Now Yzerman has to find a coach who can better identify how to help this group, because the roster isn’t likely to change all that much.

A few free agents here. A couple there. Possibly a trade. More likely not.

He is sticking with the long view and the draft and hoping that the prospects keep finding their way to Detroit. That’s how he built it in Tampa. That’s how he’s building it here.

His track record gives him time. So does his iconic status. Though even those only last so long.

And while Yzerman is right to keep showing patience and everyone wants something sustainable, no coach is going to lead the current roster to a parade. Whoever he brings in may make a difference, but Yzerman will have to make a difference, too.

“Good coaches,” he said, “adjust (to their players) and find a way to make it work.”

Good general managers give their coaches good players. Yzerman has got to find the former and keep finding the latter.

Or sooner or later, the time dries up.

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

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