Derek Lalonde plans to make the Detroit Red Wings harder to play against. Here’s how

Detroit Free Press

Derek Lalonde couldn’t sleep Wednesday night and was catching up on “Peaky Blinders” when he got a text message from Steve Yzerman. That led to a conversation deep into the night — and, ultimately, a new relationship.

It’s a heady endorsement for Lalonde that he was Yzerman’s choice to push forward the Detroit Red Wings. It’s a heavy assignment: The Wings flirted with the playoff picture last season only to crash as games intensified and better teams showed how far the Wings still have to grow.

Lalonde was introduced five days after the Tampa Bay Lightning, for which he was an assistant for four years, lost the Stanley Cup Final in Game 6. Lalonde, 49, takes over a team where it would be a step forward to finish at .500, but to him, the Wings and Lightning have something in common.

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“Tampa in a different spot, we were in win-now, but it was the same type of things that got us to Stanley Cup champion, the same type of habits that we are going to look to improve on here,” Lalonde said. “If you do those things, it should take care of itself. It’s the process and then the outcome kind of takes care of itself.

“We want to be a team that’s hard to play against. Playing as many times as we did over the last couple years, we saw parts of that, where they were hard to play against. They were not giving us an inch. I think our goal is to be more consistent. I reference Tampa — yes, we were in a different situation, but we didn’t get to another level until we played like that. To me, that translates no matter what your personnel is.”

That sentiment should sound familiar, because “trusting the process” was a phrase often used by Lalonde’s predecessor, Jeff Blashill. It was the lack of seeing it translate on the ice that led Yzerman deciding he needed to install someone new behind the bench. 

Lalonde’s resume includes serving as an assistant coach at Ferris State and as a head coach at the USHL and ECHL level. He coached the Toledo Walleye to a 50-15-5-2 record, claiming the Brabham Cup as the ECHL’s regular-season champions. Before being hired in Tampa in 2018, Lalonde was head coach for two seasons in the AHL with the Iowa Wild. During his tenure (69-58-17-8), the Wild posted team records for wins, home wins, road wins, fewest losses and total points in a season.

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“Two things I really kind of focused on were, do I go with an experienced former head coach, or go with a fresher face, someone who is ready to take that next step to the NHL,” Yzerman said. “Ultimately the second part was, what type of personality, how they run their program. We use that term ‘player’s coach,’ and ultimately I decided taking all that into account, Derek’s personality, the way he runs his program, the environment that he has created at all the stops along the way — Green Bay, Toledo, Iowa, being a part of a very successful organization in Tampa, I felt like for all the things I was looking at, ultimately he became the best fit for our team.

“Ultimately, part of the reason the Tampa Bay Lightning have had such success recently was the way they played and part of the way they played, they really buckled down and focused on a good, solid style. They became a good checking team. I think it’s important talking to Derek, I understand his value as a coach and the way he wants to do things. I’m very confident and comfortable that his approach and his ideas will translate on the ice for us.”

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Lalonde laughed when asked if he’d have any downtime this summer: He won’t. Over the past week he dealt with the disappointment of losing to the Colorado Avalanche (he did say they were “the better team”), flying to Detroit for an interview on Tuesday, back to Tampa, then back to Detroit. He was headed back to Tampa on Friday, planned to drive to his home in upstate New York, accompanied by his dog (his wife and kids are flying), and then meet his new team in Montreal for next week’s draft.

Then he wants to meet with his new players, in person or virtually.

“First impressions are huge,” Lalonde said. “I want to get to know their why — what drives them, what do they want out of themselves, what do they want out of this team.

“I’ve been a relationship-based coach my entire career. That first conversation with each individual is going to be very important to establish those relationships and start that part the player-coach relationship. Then I need to get a staff together.”

Lalonde inherited assistant coach Alex Tanguay, who was in charge of forwards and the power play. The Wings need a defense/penalty kill assistant, and a goaltending coach.

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“A huge priority will be that D coach,” Lalonde said. “That’s something we’re going to work on here, especially with our young, exciting D corps coming up, I’d like to check that off. And then just start driving forward.

“I want to win. I probably ultimately don’t accept this position if I don’t see winning somewhere along the way and being a big part of that. But my why is getting this process in order the right way. Emphasizing the right things that are going to lead us to being successful going forward.”

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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