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 identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Detroit Red Wings.
When Steve Yzerman took over the reins of the Detroit Red Wings this past spring, he backed head coach Jeff Blashill, who had just received a two-year contract extension from the soon-to-be outgoing Ken Holland.
There was a sound reason for the new deal. Blashill, despite only seeing the playoffs once in the four years he’s been the team’s bench boss, was handed a bag of old parts and ones that were still being developed and told to make something good out of it.
That kind of ask takes time and Blashill has been given it. Known for his ability to develop younger players, something Yzerman alluded to when he gave his inherited head coach that vote of confidence, Blashill appears to be the right guy to at least get Detroit predominant pieces to the next level.
But Yzerman know has his eyes squarely on the man leading the troops from ice-level. And contracts for coachings mean very little. Blashill’s leash will be as long as Yzerman permits it to be.
Yzerman knows how to build a winner. He did so as GM of the Tampa Bay Lightning from 2010-2018. And he knows what a good head coach looks like, whether it’s Jon Cooper in Tampa or Scotty Bowman, the GOAT and the man who Yzerman won his three Stanley Cups under as a player.
Blashill faces the pressures of any coach in a rebuild. There has to be tangible progress seen on the ice. The young core needs to get better and move into leading roles.
But Blashill also faces the pressure of not being Yzerman’s hand-picked bench boss. He could very well earn that title, of course. But he could also fall victim to the realities of a new GM coming in and wanting his fingerprints everywhere.
Despite their record last year, Detroit made tangible progress with those young players. Four of their under-25 forwards had career years in the goal department and there’s another wave of young talent to come.
Blashill is doing something right with the tools he’s been given, and apart from that young talent, there’s not much else there. Detroit finished the season strong with seven wins in its final 10 games.