Detroit — This is shaping up as a busy offseason for the Red Wings and general manager Steve Yzerman.
But Shawn Horcoff has plenty on his plate, too.
Horcoff, the Grand Rapids Griffins general manager/Red Wings assistant GM, has some important hires and roster tweaks to do of his own.
First and foremost is finding a head coach. Horcoff didn’t renew the contract of Ben Simon, ending Simon’s five-year run guiding the Griffins.
Grand Rapids missed the American League playoffs the last two seasons. The Griffins finished with a 28-36-8 record this season, which marked the fewest wins in a single season in franchise history.
“All of our coaches’ contracts were up, so it’s not like anyone got fired. They just did not get renewed,” Horcoff said during his end-of-season press conference. “They’re hard workers and they’ve faced some tough situations over the last couple of years. The last couple of years haven’t been great, so you have to look at the entire organization and start from scratch.”
Horcoff wouldn’t speculate on any possible replacements for Simon. But one name that has consistently emerged over the last month is Toledo’s Dan Watson. The Walleye are also a Wings minor-league affiliate and are in the ECHL Western Conference finals.
“We’re going to be patient,” Horcoff said. “We’ll make sure we’re looking everywhere we possibly can to get the best possible candidate.”
Then, there’s the Griffins’ roster.
A combination of injuries on the Wings’ roster, which necessitated call-ups from Grand Rapids to the Wings, exposed a lack of enough depth on the Griffins.
Horcoff is intent on finding veteran players who can strengthen the Griffins, while also helping along a Grand Rapids roster that will likely have some youth to it.
“Watching the team, the league, and getting to know the American League on a much deeper level, it’s depth,” Horcoff said of what’s needed in the AHL. “You really need depth because you have to survive the injuries that happen with your own team and in the AHL. You have to survive it.
“And if they happen to be happening at the same time, you can really find yourself in a situation where it’s tough to win.”
Depending on how the Wings’ training camp evolves and who wins available jobs, the Griffins could have an intriguing but inexperienced lineup.
Forwards Marco Kasper, Carter Mazur and Cross Hanas, defensemen Simon Edvinsson, Albert Johansson and William Wallinder, and goaltender Sebastian Cossa all saw varying amount of time in Grand Rapids this season and could get more seasoning in 2023-24.
“It’s important to have veteran leadership, guys that not only play well on the ice but also do things the right way off the ice,” Horcoff said. “When you have a young team like we do, it’s important for them to look up to the players and their peers around them.
“It’s important for us to surround them with guys that do things the right way. Just having the value of a veteran voice in the locker room that’s been through it before is very important.”
Cossa, who had an impressive rookie pro season in the ECHL with Toledo, could solidify a position the Griffins struggled with. Grand Rapids went through eight goaltenders this season.
“Goaltending would certainly be a part of that,” Horcoff said of Grand Rapids’ struggles. “We lost a lot of games that we shouldn’t have lost.”
Yzerman, in his season-ending media conference, stressed the importance of having a winning environment in Grand Rapids.
“It’s really important for the development of our players,” Yzerman said. “We didn’t put together a good enough team this year, (and) we didn’t put together a good enough team last year. We had some position players on the team that underperformed for us. We’re hoping to fill those spots, whether it be with our own prospects or going out and signing some free agents that can help the team down there.”