Following the conclusion of the disappointing 2016-17 Season, the Detroit Red Wings gathered one final time at Joe Louis Arena to clean out the dressing room before parting ways for the summer.
For the first time since 1990, the Red Wings failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Scoring was down all year, the team’s powerplay was woeful, and several players continued to underperform under second-year head coach Jeff Blashill. One would think that these factors would culminate in changes being brought to the team in the interest of getting back to contending.
We saw it all around the NHL. The Los Angeles Kings fired head coach Darryl Sutter and GM Dean Lombardi after the team missed the playoffs for the second time in three years, despite having won the Stanley Cup in 2012 and 2014 with both of them at the helm. The Dallas Stars chose not to bring back coach Lindy Ruff after a poor year, despite having been one of the top teams in the NHL in 2015-16. The Vancouver Canucks fired coach Willie Desjardins after missing the playoffs. And during the regular season, the St. Louis Blues fired coach Ken Hitchcock – despite him having said he planned on retiring at year’s end.
Left and right, NHL teams are making changes following subpar performances. But the Red
Wings are apparently fine with standing pat because no changes are being made to the coaching staff or general manager position.
“Ken Holland is our GM now and into the future,” Chris Ilitch told reporters, expressing full confidence in the maligned executive. The question that Red Wings fans everywhere are asking in unison is – “Why?”
Holland has drawn the ire of fans in recent years with the way he’s managed the team. The contracts that he’s given out to players who haven’t earned them, the refusal to commit to a re-build, the emphasis on maintaining the playoff streak rather than gunning for the Stanley Cup, and of course, his infamous gaffe during last year’s offseason press conference, saying that “less can be more exciting”.
Fans of the Red Wings certainly don’t subscribe to that type of thinking. They want the team to return to Stanley Cup contention, and back to the days where the season was considered a failure unless they were the last team standing.
The salary cap world has certainly made that more difficult, but it hasn’t stopped other teams from achieving the ultimate goal. The simple fact is that the game has passed Ken Holland by. He was widely regarded as the best GM in the NHL when he had Mr. I’s open checkbook to play with. But since the implementation of the salary cap in 2005, he’s found it more difficult to navigate through as the years have progressed.
As stated before, the contracts he’s handed out to players like Johan Franzen, Justin Abdelkader, Darren Helm, Stephen Weiss, Jonathan Ericsson, Niklas Kronwall, and others have handcuffed the club’s finances.
Meanwhile, Jeff Blashill has failed to get the most out of his players. It was believed he was perfectly suited for the role as he had led several current Red Wings to the Calder Cup championship while with the Grand Rapids Griffins. That, combined with puzzling roster moves like consistently giving more minutes to the struggling Riley Sheahan and benching youngsters Andreas Athanasiou and Anthony Mantha have all equaled subpar success.
The fact that the Red Wings have elected to stay the course with the current coaching and management personnel is a troubling shift from the practices of Chris Ilitch’s father, who accepted nothing but winning.