Expecting the Expectations: Taking Stock on the Wings Leadership

Winging It In Motown

As a fan, when is it fair to start expecting more from GMSY?

I want to thank MNYooper for this comment in our Quick Hits from Thursday because I’ve been stuck on it since then. I responded to that and it led to a good conversation, but I wanted to unpack it a bit and take the opportunity moving forward to actually set where expectations are. As a long-time internet user, the prompt is usually done from the perspective of a fan ombudsperson who is asking permission from a generally optimistic crowd to rain a little bit on everybody’s parade.

That wasn’t the case with MNYooper’s comment, but I do want to have somewhere I can refer back to when we do start getting the loaded version of that question.

I’ll start by offering a fair background: I have NEVER been the first fan to turn on somebody in a leadership role in the organization. When the first calls for the rebuild rang, I fired back. When the capability of Ken Holland to run a team after the 2012 lockout was called into question, I preached patience. When Jeff Blashill’s team ended the playoff streak and mired in mediocrity, I was among the last to lose patience.

I don’t see a reason for anybody to expect anything but a rosy picture from me here with the Red Wings on the precipice of an era of growth. I want to promise now that the time to question anybody in the organization is any time. Kill your idols, kids; we’re in the real world.

Derek Lalonde – Head Coach

What’s the feeling right now:

Hopeful? Excited? Cautiously optimistic?

Derek Lalonde has never coached a single Red Wings game. I really don’t want to fan police here so I’ll say if you can’t garner hope for the new guy in the situation Lalonde is in, then you and I will probably be best served enjoying the Red Wings separately.

What are the realistic expectations:

Lalonde has told us what to expect. He wants the Wings to be harder to play against. He wants the goals against to go down. He wants them to be structured. He wants them to win more games than they did last year. He wants “THE PROCESS.”

How close to turning on him are you:

Save for something coming out that would make me morally unable to root for him, I’m as far away from out of patience with the brand new guy as you can get.

Where are the red flags:

Lalonde has said that setting a public goal on number of points or a strict timeline for the playoffs is a bad idea. I agree with him, but accept that the cynic’s take on this is that it changes the color of accountability from black-and-white to gray.

That’s a lot of color metaphors I jammed in here.

Steve Yzerman – General Manager

What’s the feeling right now:

This one is tricky because the jealous crybabies who aren’t Red Wings fans are full of shit thinking they wouldn’t have the same opinion if it were their team (looking at you, fans of the Leafs during the immediate post-Kessel era). That said, the only useful thing that the haters have ever done here is provide two good reminders:

  1. They’re going to say outlandish shit about you whether or not you’re being reasonable
  2. Blind allegiance to a guy’s past is indeed pretty dangerous

Yzerman’s not perfect, but in my own mental composition of what “the plan” should have been since he’s taken over, he matches what I think a smart GM would do pretty damn well.

What are the realistic expectations:

Yzerman is going to have a lot of work to do in this season because the Red Wings are positioned at a crossroads where some REAL big decisions are coming due in ways that we haven’t had to worry about. So far he’s put together a promising lineup that’s being built around youngsters who should make them more competitive and the longest contract he has on the team’s books is a five-year deal that pays middle-six dollars.

Yzerman’s captain and one of his best scoring forwards are approaching UFA. His other top scoring threats are either two years away from free agency or still developing. He’s got one stud defenseman currently paired with a guy that we’re all hoping just remains a reliable part, a hodgepodge of guys fighting for more consistent blueline duty, and is again waiting on prospects to fill out. In goal, we’re looking at the same picture.

Yzerman is running out of runway to put long-term commitments for this roster on the books and has more than $8M in unused cap space to play with.

How close to turning on him are you:

I’m not particularly close to turning on Yzerman. I think it would take a colossally obvious ugly misstep for me to grab a torch, but I’m not so far away that my “trust the Yzerplan” is going to be dead-eyed and monotonous. So far the majority of the moves he’s made have made sense even with hindsight.

We’re embarking on a new season of “we’ve trusted you so far and you’ve gotten us here” and I think that’s a reasonable place to be. The team’s gotta keep moving forward.

What are the red flags:

The problem with the cult of personality is that it tends to credit a questionable move as a 4d chess play and there are few positions like the GM where you have to so wholly trust the appeal to authority due simply to the lack of knowledge about what alternatives were even possible to a move. For instance, I’m uncomfortable with the term and salary of the Ben Chiarot deal. Is there an actual better option we had? No clue!

Chris Ilitch – Owner

What’s the feeling right now:

I don’t trust the guy. As a matter of fact, I only brought him into this argument so I could offer what might be my most-common defense of Steve Yzerman as the GM.

What are the realistic expectations:

I want to believe when Mike’s heir talks about how much he loves his dad’s Detroit sports empire that he’s motivated to win because the Red Wings winning is cool. My realistic expectation is that his goals of having a winning Wings club align with mine for different reasons.

How close to turning on him are you:

I’ve already told you that he’s my scapegoat for the GM.

What are the red flags:

The Red Wings carried over $11M in unused cap space last year and sit at $8M right now. Those are inefficient numbers for a team in a position to convert current assets (cap space) into future assets. There are a number of reasons for a team not to waste unused cap space, especially when the majority of salary dumps that are the most-attractive are also those that take longer than I’d want them to take; however, tight purse strings are also a potential reason for that.

Dylan Larkin – Captain

What’s the feeling right now:

I like Larkin. I think he’s a good choice for captain. I think he takes his job seriously and gives it his all. I think he cares a lot and skates the line between letting that motivate him and letting it hurt him.

What are the realistic expectations:

On the ice, I expect a season output wise very similar to what he did last year. I expect him not to get suspended for punching a guy and I expect that him shutting it down early last season to get healthy will pay dividends this year.

I also expect him to sign a long-term deal at slightly below open-market rate and to give boring captain-speak answers to the press all year in good games and in bad.

How close to turning on him are you:

I know there are already a number of fans who don’t think he should be captain and think that his captaincy is a detriment to the Wings taking the next step. I wholeheartedly disagree. In thinking what it would take for my opinion on him to change, it would likely be a complete change to his attitude on the ice and with the press.

The most-realistic criticism I’m likely to give Larkin this season remains the one I’ve been giving him: he can’t let his emotions get the better of him.

What are the red flags:

Larkin is entering that UFA age without a contract so far and has spend his entire career with a team that kicked off a rebuild right as he was arriving. There are a lot of potential distractions for a guy in his position and a lot of very short-range decisions that can create long-term consequences.

So there you have it, the forever-apologist’s baseline for calling into question the team’s direction. As always, you have my permission to question whether something said or done was really the best thing for that person to have gone with and you even have my permission to turn on any or all of them on a dime. But, if you ask me when I’m willing to do so, this will be a good reference point to figure out where they stand.

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