Jeff Blashill

Previewing the 2019-20 Detroit Red Wings

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(The 2019-20 NHL season is almost here so it’s time to look at all 31 teams. We’ll be breaking down strengths and weaknesses, looking at whether teams are better or worse this season and more!)

For more 2019-20 PHT season previews, click here.

Better or worse: This best hope the Red Wings have for significant improvement is some rapid development from a young player or two (Filip Zadina, Evgeny Svechnikov, Michael Rasmussen) and continued progress from players like Dylan Larkin, Andreas Athanasiou, and Anthony Mantha. Even if all of that works out perfectly there are still significant question marks around the roster. They may not be worse, but they may not be significantly better, either.

Strengths: Not to be overly bleak about this team’s chances, but there are not a ton of strengths here. Larkin has become an outstanding player and even though it seems like he has been around forever, he is still only 23 years old. He is probably just now hitting his prime years and is coming off of a great year. Beyond him, the Red Wings have a ton of draft picks at their disposal, some intriguing young players coming through the farm system, and they hired one of the top general managers in the league (Steve Yzerman) to help try and turn this thing around. Long-term, that provides some hope. Short-term, things still look rough.

Weaknesses: They lack proven impact players, they lack depth at forward and defense, they were 22nd in goals scored a year ago, 27th in goals against, 19th on the power play, 27th on the penalty kill, and 23rd in team save percentage and a lot of the same players responsible for that performance are still there. In other words, there are weaknesses everywhere.

[MORE: Three questions | Blashill under pressure? | X-factor]

Coach Hot Seat Rating (1-10, 10 being red hot): This is an interesting one because the Red Wings have missed the playoffs three years in a row under Jeff Blashill, and while that is not necessarily his fault there are not many NHL coaches that get an opportunity to miss the playoffs four years in a row. Add in a new general manager that might want to go in his own direction and it would not be unreasonable to conclude that his seat is still warm. But he did sign a two-year contract extension after the 2018-19 season, so there is that aspect in play as well. We will put it at a 7 out of 10 for Blashill.

Three Most Fascinating Players: Larkin, Zadina and Athanasiou are three players worth keeping an eye.

Larkin simply because he is the team’s best player and is kind of fun to watch because of his speed. He had a monster year for the Red Wings in 2018-19 and really took a big step toward becoming a player they can count on and build around long-term.

Zadina is the prospect that can really move things along in a meaningful away in the Red Wings’ rebuild. He was regarded as one of the best pure goal scorers in his draft class (maybe even the best) and they were lucky to have a chance to pick him at No. 6 overall. He had a brief cup of coffee at the NHL level a year ago, scoring one goal in nine games. He is still only 19 years old so you don’t want to set the bar too high for him this season, but he is probably the most intriguing prospect with the highest upside in the organization.

When it comes to Athanasiou the intrigue here is simply whether or not he can be a 30-goal scorer again, or if he regresses back to the 15-20 goal player he was before that. He had always looked like a solid player but was one of the few bright spots on the team a year ago.

Playoffs or lottery: The Red Wings have been one of the NHL’s worst teams over the past three years and unless a bunch of young players emerge and become immediate stars, or if the goalies steal a bunch of games, it is hard to see a path for this roster to end their current playoff drought. This is a lottery team.

MORE:
Dylan Larkin on captaincy, getting Red Wings back to playoffs
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Where will Blashill figure in Yzerman’s long-term plans?

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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.

[MORE: 2018-19 season review | Three questions | X-factor]

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.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Red Wings give Blashill two-year extension to continue developing youth

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Another playoff-less spring means the Detroit Red Wings have already begun working on the 2019-20 NHL season. First, they extended goaltender Jimmy Howard and now they’re bringing back head coach Jeff Blashill.

The Red Wings announced on Thursday that Blashill has agreed to a two-year extension through the 2020-21 season. He was hired in June 2015 and has headed up a rebuild that is still on-going, but has some bright spots to it.

Dylan Larkin and Andreas Athanasiou each hit the 30-goal mark for the first time during career years, while Anthony Mantha hit 20 goals for the second straight season, and Tyler Bertuzzi took a big step forward as part of a developing Red Wing core. There’s still plenty of age on the roster beyond this season — Frans Nielsen, Justin Abdelkader, Darren Helm, Jonathan Ericcsson, Trevor Daley, and likely Niklas Kronwall, whose contract expires this summer — but a youth movement is afoot. In general manager Ken Holland’s eyes Blashill is the right choice to continue to lead this transition phase.

“Jeff has done a tremendous job developing our young talent as we continue to rebuild our organization,” said Holland in a statement. “Our young players have made significant strides during his time as head coach and are playing important minutes in key situations. As we continue to build towards the future, we have the utmost confidence that Jeff is the coach best suited to help our prospects become impactful NHL players. He has gained valuable experience as an NHL coach in each of his four years in Detroit and has instilled a work ethic in our current team that makes us hard to play against every night and competitive in every game, which is the identity we want our team to have as we move forward.”

The one solution the Red Wings have yet to find is a goaltender of the future who can step in in a year or two. With Howard’s extension and Jonathan Bernier still under contract through the end of next season, Holland has $7.25M invested between the pipes for 2019-20.

A two-year extension is a short enough leash that a change could be made if things aren’t trending in the right direction. There’s plenty of speculation about Holland’s future as well. He signed two-year deal last April, but his name has been constantly brought up in rumors surrounding the GM position for the Seattle franchise, which isn’t entering the NHL until the 2020-21 season.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Red Wings frustrated with slump, but not looking for excuses

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Detroit Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg put it bluntly after Thursday’s loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

“We aren’t good enough to win games and that’s why we lost six in a row,” he said.

We knew the Red Wings probably wouldn’t be a playoff team again this season, and now they’re mired in a 0-5-1 stretch and stuck near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings. The negative possession numbers (via Corsica), constant penalty taking (tied third-most in NHL with 54) and inconsistent play make that 4-1-0 start seem forever ago.

Andreas Athanasiou’s presence back in the lineup will help, but there are plenty of issues here for head coach Jeff Blashill to try and fix. For starters, he’s turning off the line blender off for now. So the top six will see Zetterberg stay with Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist, while Athanasiou will continue playing with Dylan Larkin and Anthony Mantha.

“We have guys who’ve been elite in this league and we need them to step up and be elite. We need guys, and we have them, to step up and make plays,” he said via the Detroit News.

Blashill is hoping to try and find chemistry in his lines as his seat warms up. His name could be found near the top of “First NHL Coach Fired” lists before the season and his chances of staying in the job certainly haven’t improved through 11 games.

Detroit’s next two games give them a shot at snapping this slide, however. Saturday night they visit the Florida Panthers, who have lost four of their last six games and then have a Halloween home date versus the winless Arizona Coyotes. There are no excuses right now.

“I look at the next game. We better have confidence. There’s no reason not to have confidence,” Blashill said. “We have tons of belief that we can win. To me, not having confidence is an excuse. Penalties are an excuse. We’re in the no excuse business. Let’s find solutions here… Are we frustrated? Sure, we’re frustrated, but it doesn’t do anything. Let’s find a way to a solution right now.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Sheahan on playing for Blashill: ‘Guys will be a little bit more confident’

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Riley Sheahan believes his teammates’ familiarity with Jeff Blashill will help ease the transition for the rookie head coach in Detroit this season.

Sheahan is one of a number of players on the current Red Wings’ roster that played under Blashill with the AHL’s Grand Rapids Griffins.

“You can see the job that he’s done in Grand Rapids and so many of us have played there and played with him, especially the Calder Cup team,” Sheahan told the team’s website. “He’s had so much success everywhere that he’s gone, so I think all of the guys are pretty happy.

“The guys that played with him before know how he reacts to different situations and knows what he expects. I think in that way some guys will be a little bit more confident, which always helps. It’s definitely a good thing.”

Blashill was named the 27th head coach in Wings’ history back in June. The 41-year-old led the Griffins to a 134-71-23 record in three seasons winning a Calder Cup in 2013.

Sheahan, who scored 13 goals and 36 points in 79 games in his first full season with the Wings last year, doesn’t expect much to change systems-wise with Blashill taking over from Mike Babcock.

“I actually thought they were really similar,” Sheahan said. “The system is pretty similar, there are a few tweaks here and there, but I think obviously, Babs leaving that’s tough to deal (with). He’s such a good coach, but Blash coming in, I think there’s a lot of positivity and a lot of happiness with the guys.”

Related: Under Pressure: Jeff Blashill