March 23, 2017
Red Wings expected to fire Blashill;
Gallant, Yzerman to the rescue?
By KEITH GAVE
The Red Wings plan to fire coach Jeff Blashill after his team fails to qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time in 26 years, according to an NHL source with knowledge of the team’s intentions.
That should hardly come as shocking news. But it isn’t Blashill’s fault, by any means. After his team barely squeaked into the playoffs last spring on the final day of the season, Blashill watched most gifted player, Pavel Datsyuk, skate off to his native Russia with a year remaining on his contract with Detroit.
That decision spoke volumes for how Blashill was received in the dressing room in his rookie season as an NHL coach. This season has been worse, marred certainly by numerous injuries to key players but also by a startling lack of preparedness – lethargic starts in far too many games that cost them critical points in the standings.
I was wrong. Based on Blashill’s track record in Grand Rapids and everywhere else he has coached, I thought he was the perfect hire to replace Mike Babcock, who by his 10th season in Detroit had long been tuned out by his players.
I still believe Babcock was spot-on when he called Blashill, 43, “a serial winner.” He’s also one of the finest men you’ll ever meet, someone you’d want coaching your son or daughter. He was just the right guy at the wrong time for this hockey club. And that’s heartbreaking; we all wanted better for the first Detroit-born coach of the Red Wings.
We shouldn’t feel too badly, though. Blashill likely will be the leading candidate for a couple of dream jobs close to home. Red Berenson is expected to end his magnificent and storied career at the University of Michigan, and Tom Anastos has vacated his position behind the bench at Michigan State.
Jeff Blashill is going to be just fine.
And then what for the Detroit Red Wings, you ask? Well, you’re not alone. That’s the dilemma Chris Ilitch and Ken Holland are dealing with as you read this.
One of the NHL’s most adept teams when it comes to marketing the product on the ice, the Red Wings know how important it is to create some buzz as they close shop and move into Little Caesars Arena for the start of next season – after a long summer with no Stanley Cup playoffs.
Though they’re likely to be among the top 5-6 teams in the NHL Entry Draft in June, there isn’t a player among them remotely close to competing for an everyday NHL job next season. And while the Wings’ greatest need is on the blue line, there isn’t a defenseman rated among the top 10 players available in the draft. Just their luck.
So that splash they need to make must be with the new coach. Or maybe a new general manager, and that’s where it gets intriguing.
The one name out there among available coaches – or those who might be available – who can create a bit of a buzz is Gerard Gallant, the former Red Wing who starred during those memorable transition years from the late 1980s into the early 1990s. Gallant was unceremoniously fired by the Florida Panthers early in the season after he led them to the Atlantic Division title last spring. This season, his team was plagued by injuries to a trio of his best players, which hurt.
Gallant is believed to be the leading candidate to be hired by the Las Vegas Golden Knights, and the fact that he hasn’t been yet suggests he might be holding out to see what transpires in Detroit.
But there’s more, and this is a longer shot but one certain to create the hype Hockeytown needs to start that parade to the box office at the new arena. The Red Wings have long been a team to embrace an orderly transition of power, and it has been their plan from the outset that when Ken Holland decides to step aside, Steve Yzerman, the revered former captain and Gallant’s longtime linemate, would replace him.
Yzerman was an understudy to Holland from 2006-10, serving as a Wings’ vice president and alternate governor. Yzerman left in 2010 to take the general manager’s job in Tampa Bay, where his team has enjoyed a nice revival.
With Jimmy Devellano, who mentored Holland for 10 years before Holland was handed the reigns in 1997, concluding his 50th year in the NHL and expected to retire as the club’s senior vice president, there may be room for Holland to step up.
In fact, it’s been widely reported that Mike Ilitch floated the idea last year to “promote” Holland and bring in Yzerman to succeed him, but Holland resisted. This time around, Holland may not have that option; with Red Wings fans, spoiled as they are, growing increasingly disenchanted, the Ilitch family may feel it has no choice.
But as much sense as it may make to bring Yzerman home to Detroit, it won’t be easy. He’s under contract with the Lightning until 2019. And when I use the phrase “home to Detroit” here, I mean it quite literally. In a way, Steve Yzerman has never left. His family remains in Bloomfield Hills, where he and wife Lisa are raising their daughters.
Eventually, Steve Yzerman will be running the Detroit Red Wings. But increasingly it looks as though it will be sooner, rather than later. And he’ll have his work cut out for him when he gets here.