Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Detroit Red Wings.
For even more analysis of the Red Wings, check out the rest of PHT’s offerings:
1. Will Ken Holland remain committed to the rebuild?
Between the trade deadline and draft weekend, the Red Wings got out their hardhats and did some real work in rebuilding. Getting some serious assets for Petr Mrazek and especially Tomas Tatar put Detroit in a nice position, and they knocked it out of the park – as far as we can ever know with teenage prospects – at the 2018 NHL Draft.
It’s long felt like there’s been a tug of war for Holland between competing (and now, merely saving face) and making the painful-but-necessary moves to replenish Detroit’s talent.
Such thoughts resurfaced in early July when the Red Wings signed 30-year-old Jonathan Bernier, 32-year-old Mike Green, and 34-year-old Thomas Vanek, with Green getting two years and Bernier inking for three.
Those aren’t “end of the world” decisions, yet it’s tough to make much of an argument for the upside of those deals, either. Strong play from Green and Vanek may only increase the odds of Detroit falling in puck purgatory: too good to land a blue-chipper like Jack Hughes, too bad to contend.
Worse yet, every shift that goes to Green and Vanek could instead go to a developing player who could be part of a (hopefully) brighter future.
2. Graduate or marinate?
Which brings us to another key conundrum: should young players make the jump to the NHL in 2018-19?
Of course, it’s foolish to paint such a topic with broad strokes when each situation should be handled on a case-by-case basis.
For instance, it makes a lot more sense to graduate a player from a lower level to the NHL when you’d burn a year off their entry-level contract either way, as would be the case with older prospects.
More pressingly, the Red Wings must determine if a player would gain anything from spending another year in the AHL or junior, or if they might stunt their growth by staganating. Conversely, the Red Wings could also throw off the rhythm of a player’s development if they play at the NHL, but only sparingly.
Some of the NHL’s biggest successes have come off the back of players producing at an elite level while still on their rookie deals. The Blackhawks’ 2010 Stanley Cup run is one of the prime examples, as Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews won it all in the final year of their entry-level contracts. The Red Wings might want to let some of those slide for when they’re in a better position to succeed.
Even that premise has its counterpoint, though.
For instance, a player of Filip Zadina’s brilliance and creativity could serve as a vital balm for bummed-out Red Wings fans slogging through what could be a trying season. During a rebuild, teams often sell hope, and Zadina could put at least a few extra butts in seats.
Heck, you can even galaxy brain it and wonder if a slower start (jumping right to the NHL, rather than heading in a year or two later with added muscle and seasoning) might open the door for a cheaper second contract.
You’d be pushing the envelope as far as speculation is concerned with some of that stuff, but let’s be honest; these are the type of questions the Red Wings should be asking if they want to succeed in revamping their roster.
3. Is Jeff Blashill the right coach for Detroit?
Since taking over as Red Wings head coach from Mike Babcock, Jeff Blashill has won one playoff game. The Red Wings have missed the playoffs two seasons in a row after their historic run (which, truthfully, was stretched out a bit longer than maybe it ideally should have been).
To blame Blashill for the Red Wings’ slippage is to ignore roster rot that rapidly lowered this franchise’s expectations. Instead, management is better off judging Blashill by how well he develops young players, deals with lower times, and generally presses the right buttons.
While it’s silly to lay the tough times on Blashill’s shoulders, it’s perfectly fair to evaluate him based on his viability going forward.
For one thing, a rebuild can be especially tough on a coach. For another, it’s often said that a coach’s voice tends to lose its resonance as time wears on. That’s especially true if a team is doing a lot of losing, as that voice tends to raise to a counterproductive yell.
(Not judging, it’s only human to not like losing.)
Both Ken Holland and Jeff Blashill are right to look over their shoulders during these years. If the Red Wings decide that one or both need to go, it wouldn’t be wise to delay such a decision. The 2018-19 season could play a big role in such choices, even if there’s only so much either the coach or GM can do about the team’s chances of accomplishing anything particularly meaningful on the ice.