By: Will Burchfield
Here’s an unavoidable fact: The Red Wings have tumbled down the standings since Jeff Blashill took over for Mike Babcock behind the bench.
And here’s the truth behind it: Blashill isn’t really to blame.
He inherited an aging roster at the close of a great era. He inherited a farm system with little NHL-ready talent. He inherited a transition, one that’s still very much in flux.
These facts can be easy to forget when the Wings made it look so easy for all those years under Babcock and Scotty Bowman, which is partly why Blashill has come under fire at times over the past two seasons. But Ken Holland has never considered removing Blashill from his post.
“I think there was a time when you guys (the media) were thinking it, but not when I was thinking it,” Holland told 97.1 The Ticket.
Blashill, 44, is under contract with the Red Wings through the 2018-19 season. Through two and a half seasons he’s compiled a record of 90-82-31.
“This is the best hockey league in the world,” said Holland. “It’s a fine-line league. Jeff’s in his third year and I think that he’s a much better coach today than he was when he first got here three years ago.”
That much has been evident this season. Though the Wings are 13th in the East and five points out of a playoff spot near the midway point, they’ve been a much tougher team to play against compared to last year. What’s more, it’s clear Blashill’s message is still reaching his players.
“It’s experience,” said Holland. “It’s being in the league on an everyday basis, traveling, playing teams, looking at the other team’s lineup, looking at your own lineup, evaluating your own players and seeing what the league is all about. It’s a process.”
Blashill was the second-youngest coach when he entered the NHL. But he’d had success at every level, from college to the AHL, and Holland believed it would translate. On top of that, Blashill had coached many of Detroit’s up-and-coming players in Grand Rapids. Holland trusted him to oversee their development in the NHL.
Three years later, several of those prospects are playing prominent roles on a Wings team that’s forging its way into a new era.
“He’s a very good coach, a great teacher. His players get better under him,” Holland said. “I just think it’s the evolution of a young coach.”
As for Holland, who’s been heavily criticized himself the past few years, the end may be near. His contract as Detroit’s GM expires after this season.
Asked about his future, the typically long-winded Holland said, “I’m not really worried about it. I’ll leave it at that.”
But as long as he’s around, it’s a safe bet that Blashill will be as well.