What Steve Yzerman is looking for in new coach of Detroit Red Wings

Detroit Free Press

Steve Yzerman plans to conduct a wide-open search for a new coach as he looks for someone who can push the team towards greater competitiveness.

Yzerman is poised to put his biggest imprint on the Detroit Red Wings since he was named general manager in April 2019 as he searches for a new coach. Jeff Blashill was let go Saturday, the day after the Wings capped a 32-40-10 season that was marked by first-half success and second-half demise.

“There are areas of the game we need to improve upon,” Yzerman said Monday. “I’m hoping a new coach, a new voice, a different approach, maybe a different way of doing things, we can improve our team play and the play of our players individually. We are not going to get rid of every single player here. We have some very good players but they have to improve in a lot of different areas.”

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Yzerman emphasized he is open-minded about who his next coach will be.

“My experience is there are different personalities and different ways of coaches being successful, and I intend to look at all different avenues, different leagues and different backgrounds, of coaches,” he said. “I’m not going to restrict myself to any particular resume in who I determine the next coach will be.

“I’m just going to put a long list of names together from the people that I talk to, from articles that are written with names that come up that any of you know that I’m not familiar with or that I hadn’t thought of and write them all down and do my own background work on them all and then put together a shorter list of guys that for various reasons I think I’ll really want to talk to and we’ll go from there. But I’m not going to restrict it to any particular experience or lack of experience for that matter.”

Veteran coaches on the market include Joel Quenneville, Dave Tippett, Claude Julien, and John Tortorella. Lane Lambert, an assistant who trained under Barry Trotz with the Washington Capitals and New York Islanders, seems poised to run his own bench. Yzerman didn’t put a timeframe on it, but indicated he’d like a guy in place by the draft, which is July 7-8.

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Whoever ends up on his short list, Yzerman is first and foremost looking for improvement in team defense. The Wings have an NHL-worst 3.56 goals-allowed average during the three seasons Yzerman has been GM, and ranked 31st this season at 3.78.

“We have struggled defensively,” Yzerman said. “Is part of the reason personnel? Yes. But we’ve been unable to, with the group we’ve had, specifically in that area, to get better, to get our team both individually and collectively, to play (like) a sounder defensive hockey team. It’s been three years we’ve been trying. It hasn’t been from a lack of discussion, a lack of effort on our coaching staff’s behalf. We just haven’t been able to do it.

“With a new coaching staff coming in and with some potential changes, my expectation will be that we improve in that area.”

Yzerman complimented Blashill on the program he ran, calling him, “a good hockey coach. Under the circumstance where I’m trying to rebuild this team, we’re trying to add prospects, add draft picks, and in turn we’re letting our veterans go, as opposed to re-signing them — I say this sincerely, Jeff did an outstanding job leading this organization in a very difficult circumstance.

“Can you imagine having to sit here every day and answer your questions after the games and say it with dignity and be supportive and be positive. It’s a really hard thing to do. You cannot judge Jeff Blashill on the Detroit Red Wings’ record — I think you judge it on how he ran this program and conducted himself and was extremely professional in that.”

All that said, Yzerman sees the Wings ready to become more competitive, even as the roster needs bolstering at every position.  That will come via incoming prospects (defenseman Simon Edvinsson and forward Jonatan Berggren are both expected to compete for jobs next season), free agency, and trades.

Yzerman reiterated the need for patience, saying it’s impossible to put a timeline on when the Wings will be back in the playoffs. For now, he’s focused on a timeline that brings in a new coach.

Contact Helene St. James at hstjames@freepress.com. 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 AmazonBarnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail. 

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