Detroit — Derek Lalonde was officially introduced Friday as the 28th head coach of the Detroit Red Wings.
Lalonde was introduced by Wings owner and governor Chris Ilitch, and general manager Steve Yzerman, culminating a two-month search for a head coach.
“It’s a huge responsibility and I’m very excited about the challenge going forward,” Lalonde said.
One of the immediate priorities, said Lalonde, is to reach out and contact players to establish relationships.
Lalonde has been an assistant coach for the Tampa Bay Lightning and was originally hired as an assistant coach when Yzerman was the general manager in Tampa.
“Derek obviously fits perfectly in line with his experience, his background as a coach, and his personality, his way with people,” Yzerman said. “Derek fits all the areas that I felt was important for this organization, where we are today and where we are headed in the future.”
The Wings have missed the playoffs for six consecutive seasons, but Ilitch is pleased with the progress that he is seeing within the organization.
“When Steve rejoined the organization three years ago, he was very clear we were going to rebuild the roster in the right way for long-term success,” Ilitch said. “I’m very pleased with the development we’ve seen of some of the players, and bit by bit, through drafting and savvy trades.
“Steve is building a young core, but there’s a lot of work to be done to where we want our team to be.”
Being on the Tampa bench, and playing against the Wings four times per season, Lalonde impressed with the Wings.
“That was a hard team to play against, and that gets you excited, some of the young talent,” Lalonde said. “You see these guys play and the impact they make at a young age, obviously not all the pieces are there but there are exciting pieces to build around that attracted me to this job, also.
“There’s a lot to work with.”
Still, Lalonde feels it is important to “temper expectations”, and focus on the Wings continuing to build.
“We got great in Tampa when we focused on the process, and I know it sounds like a cliche, but to talk about making the playoffs or number on wins, that’s foolish and that can hurt you and go the wrong way,” Lalonde said. “For me, it’s going to be the process. Team defense, special-teams improvement, no different than any other team throughout the league. If we take care of the process, and do the little things, if our team defense improves, then we’ll be improved.”
Lalonde feels communication is his strength as a coach, beginning with his start as a college coach.
“It’s a different relationship,” Lalonde said. “You’re recruiting young (players) and telling moms and dads you can trust them with me. It’s a different bond and relationship and I carry that with me. I care about the guys and then when those hard conversations come about, there’s some trust there.”
Lalonde replaces Jeff Blashill, who was relieved of his head-coaching duties after the season ended.
During his time with the Lightning, Lalonde helped the team clinch four straight postseason berths, highlighted by back-to-back Stanley Cup championships in the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons.
In Lalonde’s first season behind an NHL bench in 2018-19, the Lightning earned their first Presidents Trophy after setting a franchise record with 128 points, while tying the NHL’s single-season record of 62 wins previously set by the 1995-96 Red Wings.
In all, Tampa Bay compiled a 192-77-10 regular-season record and a 46-26 postseason mark with Lalonde on its coaching staff. Lalonde was named an assistant coach by the Lightning on July 12, 2018, when Yzerman served as the team’s vice president and general manager.
Lalonde, a Brasher Falls, New York native, has an impressive coaching resume, which includes some Michigan ties, having begun his coaching career in 2003 as an assistant at Ferris State. Three years later, Lalonde moved on to the University of Denver.
Lalonde won the USHL’s Clark Cup in Green Bay in 2011-12. Lalonde guided Toledo to two division titles (Toledo is a Red Wings’ ECHL affiliate), including being named coach of the year in his first season after Toledo improved by 58 points, still the largest improvement in ECHL history.
Lalonde then moved upward to the AHL, where he guided Iowa to its first winning season in franchise history in his first year with the Wild. Lalonde worked for two seasons as head coach of the Wild, from 2016-18, posting a 69-58-17-8 record with Minnesota’s primary affiliate.