Ken Holland, this defense is your mess; clean it up or ship out

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This season’s Detroit Red Wings team is a mess; I don’t think I’m out of line saying that.

After an unexpectedly pleasant 5-1-0 start to the season, including a shootout victory over the Ottawa Senators, the Red Wings have garnered just 3 points in their last 7 games, going 1-5-1 in that stretch. Many will point towards our last off-season and gripe about the lack of moves that the Red Wings’ brass made to shore up our shortcomings, but the ineptitude can be traced as far back as 5 years ago now.

May 31st, 2012. A sour day in the Motor City, as arguably the best defenseman to ever lace up and hit the ice, Nicklas Lidstrom, announced his retirement from the NHL. Many Detroit faithful knew the day was rapidly approaching, but also thought the Red Wings captain had at least a few more years under his belt before hanging them up. In 1,564 NHL games, Lidstrom notched 264 goals and 878 assists, good for 1,142 career points (.73 points per game). Add to it the fact that of those 264 goals, 132 were scored on the power play; that’s an astounding amount of offense for a blue-liner.

You might be asking, what in world does this matter? Well, look at the Red Wings’ current blue line. With the possible exception of Mike Green, (1 G, 10 A in 12 games), there really isn’t anyone that can put up the secondary scoring from the back end that the Wings so desperately need, and definitely no one on the back end that can piggyback the power play. While it’s a near-impossible task to replace a player the caliber of Lidstrom, Ken Holland has had over 5 years now to stitch something together on the blue line even somewhat resembling an NHL-caliber defense, and he’s barely even gotten a cohesive unit together.

Adding to the loss of Lidstrom in 2012, the Wings also lost Brad Stuart to free agency, trading his negotiating rights away to the San Jose Sharks; they lost their #1 shutdown pairing on the blue line. And who did Holland find to plug the giant, gaping holes on the back end? Carlo “Glass Bones” Colaiacovo, Kent Huskins, and eventually Danny DeKeyser. While DeKeyser has been an adequate defenseman for Detroit thus far in his career, the former two signings were basically sticking bandaids on a leaking dam. Add to it the fact that he traded away Huskins to the Philadelphia Flyers the following March of the same season, and it looked like he essentially did nothing.

But you might be saying “You can’t fix an entire blue line in just one season, that’s an unreasonable expectation”. Alright, fair enough. But let’s fast-forward through the next 3 years of free agency. In the off-season for the 2013-14 season, the only defenseman Holland signed was an unknown college kid by the name of Colin Campbell, who has since played 4 seasons with the Grand Rapids Griffins, currently in his 5th year with the team. No help on the back end there.

In 2014-15, Holland signed no defensemen through free agency whatsoever. He managed to land Marek Židlický through trade with the New Jersey Devils by sending them a conditional 3rd round pick in the draft, but Židlický’s best days were already behind him, being 38 years old at the time of the trade. And finally, for the 2015-16 off-season, arguably the only “win” for the Wings blue line in recent memory, Holland managed to land top defensive free agent Mike Green. He didn’t come cheap, at $18 million over 3 years, but it was something. With the dumpster fire that is Jonathan Ericsson, the aging and decline of Niklas Kronwall, and the kids from Grand Rapids that cycled in and out of the defense corps frequently, there was still no cohesion on the back end.

How is it, with all the faith that die-hard Red Wings fans have in him, that on top of the mediocre free agencies the Wings have had over the past 5 or so years, that Holland has also failed each year to make any kind of impactful trade? Not only have we lost valuable assets time and time again with no real gains, but we’ve also managed to lose possible trade bait players to waivers thanks to Holland’s mismanagement of our roster. (See, Andrej Nestrasil, Teemu Pulkkinen, Alexey Marchenko, Landon Ferraro). In fact, care to guess at what/when the last actual impactful trade Ken Holland has made for the Red Wings was? Brad Stuart from the Los Angeles Kings in February 2008. That’s right. It’s been almost 10 years since the last worthwhile trade Ken Holland has made.

Before his departure to become GM of the now-juggernaut Tampa Bay Lightning, Steve Yzerman was reportedly offered the job as Red Wings GM, as long as Ken Hollan accepted a higher up position with the organization to make the spot available to The Captain; but he declined. The Detroit News’ Greg Kruppa said it best:

“When Steve Yzerman left the front office to manage the Lightning, Mike Ilitch said he had approached Holland about moving up in the front office to make room for Yzerman as general manager.

Ilitch said Holland declined.

Now, Holland’s tasks are formidable and mounting, and his joke several seasons ago that Lidstrom’s retirement might hasten his own is less humorous.

He faces fierce urgency in a hot kitchen, likely to get only hotter.”

Looking at the state that Tampa Bay is in now with the acquisition of Yzerman as their GM, and the lowly state the Wings have fallen into with Hollan opting to stay at the helm, it begs a very simple question: What the hell, Holland? You wanted so badly to stay in control of this team’s future but managed to fail spectacularly thus far. You need to be held accountable for Detroit’s shortcomings since you decided to send away someone who was eager to take your spot and improve this team from the inside out. Either get your ducks in a row or gracefully bow out from the Red Wings’ brass. You’re the epitomic example of “what have you done for me lately?”, and Wings fans everywhere are getting sick of asking the same question year in and year out.