By: Will Burchfield
There has to be a governor, Ken Holland said. There has to be an established authority who can hold others accountable.
It is for this reason that the Red Wings, competitive or not, are so resistant to turning over the team to a host of prospects, rookies and up-and-comers.
“I think that in player development, there’s two philosophies,” Holland told the Jamie and Stoney Show on 97.1 The Ticket. “One is just clear your deck, get rid of all the old players, let all the young players (play).
“The other philosophy, which is my philosophy, is the veteran players are really important because they’re role models, they’re leaders — the Zetterbergs, the Abdelkaders, the Kronwalls. Even as they get longer in the tooth they’re still important in that locker room because they’re there to support, to guide, to mentor those young players, because those old players are really good pros.
“At the same time, those old pros want to play hockey, they want a paycheck…so they’re also there to compete with those young players, to force those young players to dig in at practice, in the gym, on the ice.”
Red Wings fans grew increasingly frustrated with Holland and coach Jeff Blashill as the 2016-17 season wore on. Even as the team faded from playoff contention, both the GM and the coach kept a short leash on players like Andreas Athanasiou and Anthony Mantha, both 22 years old. In Holland’s mind, it was about protecting a culture of competitiveness.
“If those (young players) have a bad game or a bad shift or stretch of bad games or a stretch of bad shifts, that’s where the coach decides that he’s going to take ice time away or maybe sit them for a game as a message that they need to dig in harder,” Holland explained.
The GM, who received a vote of confidence from owner Christopher Ilitch on Tuesday, likened the fight for ice time to a competitive workplace. Consider the potential fallout, Holland suggested, “if you go to work every day for a long period of time and you can work at 80 percent and there’s nobody there to make you push harder. There (has to be) a governor there.
“Again, I think there’s two philosophies and some organizations have just cleared the deck and turned it over to kids, with mixed results — sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. I think a lot of it has to do with the motor that the young person has – different people have different motors – and how hard that person pushes. There’s some young people who have it in there, but we need to drag it out to get them to compete harder.”
This is in keeping with Holland’s comments earlier this season when he said young players have to “build up stock” to warrant greater opportunity. He feels Anthony Mantha, who toiled away in the AHL for more than two years before getting the full-time call-up to the Wings, is an example of someone who benefited from the burden of proof.
“I think the two years that he spent in Grand Rapids were well served. This year he scored eight goals in his first 11 games in Grand Rapids, we called him up and for a long stretch he played with Zetterberg and had a great run. Then as the year went on Jeff felt that he wanted the kids to kind of stand on their own feet a little bit and started to play some of them together. It worked a little bit, it didn’t work and then he chose to healthy scratch, on occasion, some of those young players.
“But I think it’s a part of the process of trying to get these young players to be the foundation, the core of this team when they’re 25 years of age. Athanasiou is 22, Mantha is 22, (Dylan) Larkin’s 20, they still got lots of development to go. They’re going to be really good players, but unless you’re Steve Yzerman or Connor McDavid or Austin Matthews or Patrik Laine and you hit the league at 19, most players need three, four, five years. I look at Zetterberg and (Pavel) Datsyuk as examples of that. They became Zetterberg and Datsyuk when they were 24, 25, 26 years of age, not when they were 20, 21 and 22.”