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Jeff Blashill Won’t Return As Detroit Red Wings Head Coach

James Murphy
by in NHL on
  • The Detroit Red Wings have announced that they will not renew the contract of head coach Jeff Blashill.
  • Blashill just completed his 7th season as head coach of the National Hockey League (NHL) team.
  • Assistant coach Doug Houda and goaltending coach Jeff Salajko will also not return next season.

The Detroit Red Wings have announced that they will not renew the contract of head coach Jeff Blashill. Also sent packing are assistant coach Doug Houda and goaltending coach Jeff Salajko. The announcement was almost ridiculously terse:

Detroit Red Wings executive vice president and general manager Steve Yzerman announced today that the team will not renew the contracts of head coach Jeff Blashill, assistant coach Doug Houda and goaltending coach Jeff Salajko. Blashill recently completed his seventh season as head coach of the Red Wings and has spent the last 11 seasons with the organization. Houda and Salajko have served in their respective positions for the last six seasons.

The official release wasn’t much longer than the text on the graphic that broke the news on Twitter:

Blashill made it through 7 seasons in Detroit despite missing the playoffs in six of them. This was largely due to the fact that the Red Wings’ nosedive in recent years clearly wasn’t his fault–the team essentially mortaged its future during the successful years before Blashill came on board. Most of the blame has fallen on previous GM Ken Holland who–as the Detroit News put it— ‘handed out too many bad contracts to marginal veterans’. A secondary problem was that the Wings would never admit that it was time to rebuild. They didn’t develop much in the way of young talent so they had to sign free agents which perpetuated the problem.

That gave Blashill the ‘benefit of the doubt’ and given the meager talent that he worked with for much of his tenure he didn’t do a bad job. That said, the Wings never posted a winning record under Blashill and never made the playoffs. Former GM Holland left in 2019, and new GM Steve Yzerman has done a decent job of clearing the books from some of their sketchy and financially reckless legacy deals. At 32-40-10, the 2021-2022 Wings weren’t terrible but that only got them 26 points away from the final playoff spot.

Blashill’s originally came to the Wings’ organization as an Assistant Coach before assuming the head coaching role with the AHL Grand Rapids Griffins. He quickly turned the Griffins into a powerhouse, winning the Calder Cup championship in his first year at the helm. In three seasons in Grand Rapids, Blashill compiled a record of 134-71-23 but was ‘summoned’ to take over as the Red Wings’ head coach following the departure of previous head coach Mike Babcock to the Toronto Maple Leafs on June 4, 2014.

Detroit gave Blashill a lot of time, though not always a lot of talent. That’s the general opinion of postmortum among the Wings’ fans and media following his firing. Oddly enough, Blashill was the second longest tenured head coach in the NHL at the time of his departure–very strange given the Wings’ lack of on ice success. Blashill annually had what one Red Wings blog described as ‘one of the least talented rosters in the NHL’ but even so there’s a case that he never got the most out of even the marginal talent on hand. Hockey is a game where hard work, chemistry and focus can frequently trump talent but that dynamic never appeared with the Red Wings.

At this point, Detroit media and fans are working a theory that GM Yzerman already has a replacement in mind: New York Islanders’ assistant Lane Lambert. Lambert is a highly regarded assistant and has been linked with head coaching vacancies for years. The Wings have a nice group of talented forwards and working with the forwards is his primary job with the Islanders. He’s also well versed as a defensive coach due to a long association with Barry Trotz that included serving as an assistant on the Washington Capitals’ Stanley Cup winning team in 2018. Lambert had a credible but brief NHL career, entering the league in 1983 and playing six seasons. That leads us to the ‘intangible’ that might get him the Red Wings job:

His roommate–Steve Yzerman had a much more successful NHL career–as in 692 goals in 22 seasons, three Stanley Cups, his #19 jersey hanging in the rafters of Little Caesars Arena and enshrinement in the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. As we noted above, he’s now the GM of the Red Wings. Lambert is an excellent coach in his own right, but in this case the connection with Yzerman could seal the deal.

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