Detroit Red Wings promote Dan Watson from Toledo to head coach of Grand Rapids Griffins

Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Red Wings filled the coaching vacancy in Grand Rapids from within and promoted Dan Watson.

Watson was named the 12th head coach of the Griffins Wednesday, roughly two months after the Wings announced Ben Simon’s contract would not be renewed. Watson, 43, has spent the past six seasons as head coach of the Wings’ ECHL affiliate, the Toledo Walleye. He guided them to a 45-19-3 record this past season and to a 9-4 record in the Kelly Cup playoffs. He has been with the organization for 14 seasons, including spending two seasons (2014-16) alongside now Wings coach Derek Lalonde, who at the time was head coach of the Walleye.

The hire was made by Wings assistant general manager Shawn Horcoff, who serves as GM of the Griffins. Watson, Horcoff said in a statement, “established a tremendous winning culture during his six years as head coach in Toledo through his work ethic, communication skills, and the relationships he built with his players. Dan’s passion for player development and familiarity with the Red Wings organization will be vital assets, and we’re confident his experience will lead to the continued growth of our players in Grand Rapids.”

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It was Horcoff who announced less than 24 hours after the Griffins’ 2022-23 season ended that Simon would not return as head coach. The Griffins went 28-36-8 and missed the playoffs, but Simon did not have much of a roster – one of his best players, forward Jonatan Berggren, was called up early in the season, and by the end, so was Simon Edvinsson. The goaltending faltered, and the defense was young.

Watson never missed the playoffs during his head coaching tenure with Toledo, reaching the Kelly Cup Final in 2019 and 2022 and leading the team to division titles in 2017, 2018 and 2022. In 2016-17, he was given the John Brophy Award as the ECHL’s Coach of the Year in his first year as head coach, when the Walleye won the Central Division behind a franchise-record 51 wins and reached the western conference final.

Coaching the Griffins is an important job within the organization: It’s where draft picks including Berggren, Edvinsson and Moritz Seider got their starts in North American professional hockey. It’s a hugely important developmental league, where, for example, goaltender Sebastian Cossa, a first-round pick from 2022, is expected to continue his growth next season.

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 latest book, “On the Clock: Behind the Scenes with the Detroit Red Wings at the NHL Draft,” is available from  Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.

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