- 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.
Jeff Blashill is out in Detroit after seven seasons and the Red Wings are looking for a new head coach. This will be the first coaching hire for Red Wings’ Executive VP and General Manager Steve Yzerman and obviously he’ll be looking to get it right. Complicating the hire is the fact that there’s a lot of sympathy for Blashill among Wings’ fans and media. There’s plenty of sentiment that the move was way overdue, but also an understanding that the Red Wings’ struggles over the past 7+ seasons aren’t really his fault. He never had much to work with, but a case can be made that he should have done more with what he had. Of all of the major professional sports, hockey is arguably the one where hard work, chemistry and focus can overcome superior talent. That never happened with the Red Wings and that is Blashill’s fault regardless of the shabby talent on hand during his tenure.
What does this mean in the search for a new head coach? For one thing, it means that the Red Wings fans and media won’t be as patient this time around. Detroit is a very savvy hockey market–the fans understand the game on and off the ice and most understood that Blashill took over a team that had literally mortgaged its future in hopes of staying competitive long after their shelf life dictated. Had the Red Wings faced reality and gone into ‘rebuliding mode’ a few seasons after their last trip to the Stanley Cup finals in 2008-2009 (and certainly by 2012 when they were blitzed by the Nashville Predators en route to a 4-1 first round elimination) the wouldn’t be in the situation they’re in now.
Despite the team’s best efforts to the contrary, Yzerman has done a good job undoing the damage of the Ken Holland era. He’s improved the Wings’ financial situation relative to Holland’s legacy of lousy contracts and they’ve drafted very well. Lucas Raymond, Filip Zadina and Joe Veleno are already a nice group of forwards. Team captain Dylan Larkin is just 25 years old–not exactly long in the tooth for a NHL player. Defenseman Mortiz Seider could end up winning the Calder Trophy the year after goaltender finished third. In terms of talent, the team isn’t *that* far away from being pretty damn good.
For that reason, Yzerman could be expected to find a coach with a proven track record to ‘take the team to the next level’. Were Yzerman to hire a replacement without previous NHL head coaching experience the sentiment among Wings’ fans and media could be ‘why not just keep Blashill’. Then again, Jon Cooper had a very ‘Blashill-esque’ pedigree when Yzerman hired him as the Tampa Bay Lightning’s head coach in 2013. All Cooper has done is put up 7 playoff appearances in eight seasons and pick up a pair of Stanley Cups.
DETROIT RED WINGS HEAD COACHING CANDIDATES
Lambert might be the perfect candidate. He’s been a highly regarded NHL assistant that no doubt learned a ton working under Barry Trotz during his time in Nashville, Washington and currently with the New York Islanders. Trotz has been saying that Lane is ‘long overdue’ to get a head coaching opportunity in the NHL for a number of years. The Islanders fanbase loves him–they’ve made a case that he deserves the Red Wings job within hours of Blashill’s dismissal. Actually, this is nothing new since a number of Isles’ fans and media outlets were singing Lambert’s virtues as a potential head coach months ago.
Here’s what we said about Lambert in an earlier article:
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.
Lambert’s rookie year roommate back in 1983? Another neophyte NHL player named *Steve Yzerman*. This picture is too great to not post again:
Rookie Roomates Steve Yzerman and Lane Lambert out do themselves. Hot dogs and mac & cheese. The meal of champions (OK, let’s cut them some slack – they were 18 & 19). #LGRW #RedWings pic.twitter.com/NMykWI09y5— The Hockey Samurai 侍 (@hockey_samurai) December 23, 2021
Lambert deserves this job based on his credentials alone. His long relationship with Yzerman sure won’t hurt his chances.
Torts has been one of my favorite NHL coaches for years. I’d actually like to hang with the guy and there’s not a lot of pro sports coaches I would say that about. When I first heard the ‘Torts to Detroit’ talk I immediately dismissed it but then I read an article that made a hell of a case for Tortorella on the Detroit Hockey Now blog:
Coach style matters greatly to the players and to the general manager who must decide whether he is the right man for the job. Wins and losses didn’t cost Jeff Blashill his job. My read is Yzerman didn’t like, maybe even detested, how complacent the Red Wings looked down the stretch. Yzerman knows this team doesn’t yet have the talent to be a highly competitive NHL team. But he expects his team to push-back against adversity, to have enough pride to avoid being embarrassed, to show their claws when they are challenged.
Tortorella is a notoriously tough coach to play for. That might be exactly what the Red Wings need at this stage of their development. They’ve got the talent….they just need the <f-bomb> mindset.
Bonus: Tortorella is a dog lover.
Once again from Detroit Hockey Now:
The bottom line on Torts: he expects every player to make sacrifices in the name of winning. That means shot-blocking and defensive commitment. He expects his team to be hard to play against in every game it plays. No nights off.
They also made an interesting point–should Vegas throw head coach Pete DeBoer under the bus you could see him in Detroit.
Nothing but love for former Vegas Golden Knights head coach Gerard Gallant. Former teammate of Yzerman but he’s done a hell of a job in New York with the Rangers and could (should) end up winning ‘Coach of the Year’. Detroit has the mix of talented youth and journeyman veterans characteristic of an expansion team and that first year in Vegas worked out pretty well for them. I don’t think New York lets him go.
Brind’amour’s Carolina Hurricanes are heading into the playoffs with the second best record in the Eastern Conference. Three year record of 111-63-15 with the ‘canes. His contract is up at the end of this season and he could be looking for a big raise that might not come in Carolina. Detroit can definitely pay him more.
Fedorov was as good a player as you’ll find during his NHL run and in his first season as a head coach he’s led CSKA Moscow to the KHL Gagarin Cup championship. A number of non-Russian KHL players left their teams after the Russian invasion of Ukraine and two teams–Jokerit Helskink and Dinamo Riga–withdrew from the league for the same reason. Then there’s the question of his relationship and/or endorsement of Russian President Vladimir Putin. You don’t see articles that ask ‘Is Gerard Gallant pro-Putin’. Optics of hiring Fedorov would be extremely tough right now even with his Red Wings pedigree. Wouldn’t be surprised if the NHL privately reaches out and pre-emptively puts the kibosh on Fedorov as a candidate for that reason alone.
One of the ‘Russian-5’ nicknamed ‘The Professor’ for his cerebral approach to the game. Now the head coach of Russia’s Junior team. He’d likely make a great coach but I just don’t see how the NHL would let the Wings hire a Russian coach at this juncture. His relationship with Putin is unclear even though he *did* skate on Putin’s team in an exhibition All Star hockey game earlier this year.