Editorial: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Detroit Sports Nation
The Detroit Red Wings enter tonight’s tilt against the New York Islanders tied for last in the Eastern Conference, and we’re already into early February.
Head coach Jeff Blashill was promoted to the position after a successful tenure with the Grand Rapids Griffins, and he was expected to take the Red Wings to the next level, especially considering he had coached several current Wings when they were Griffins.
But a constant barrage of poor line combinations, unchanging sub-par offensive and defensive play, and zero repercussions for underachieving players have all made it clear – Blashill isn’t the man for the job. His lack of success with the same players he previously coached could be attributed to the fact that he’s simply not prepared to coach at the NHL level.
It would be a difficult decision to part ways with the man who was hand-picked to succeed former coach Mike Babcock, but the overall well-being of the team needs to come first. Just earlier this week, we saw a prime example of another team making that difficult choice.
The St. Louis Blues were viewed as a solid Stanley Cup contender in the Western Conference coming into the season. They came within a handful of wins of the Cup Finals last season and were expected to build off that experience this year. But poor goaltending and overall underachievement resulted in veteran coach Ken Hitchcock being relieved of his duties. Here’s the kicker – Hitchcock had already announced before this season that he intended to retire at the conclusion of the 2016-17 campaign.
It was a tough conversation for Blues management to have with Hitchcock, telling him that he was being fired despite knowing he intended to retire in a few months time. But the success they were expected to achieve this year has been absent, and the NHL is a business.
Jeff Blashill is an upstanding person. A good family man, active in the community, and he’s hosted family members of fallen police officers at Joe Louis Arena before games. He grew up a Red Wings fan and always dreamt of leading the way behind their bench.
Unfortunately, being a good person doesn’t carry any weight in the NHL standings. If that were the case, this year’s version of the Red Wings would be right up there with the legendary 2001-02 Stanley Cup winning squad.
Since his elevation to the head coaching position in 2015, nearly every player on Detroit’s roster has taken a step back offensively – the most notable players being Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist. The pair had been viewed as Detroit’s new offensive threats, having both come within a few goals of scoring 30 each in 2015. This season, they’ll both be lucky to even hit 20.
Meanwhile, his bizarre line combinations have left fans scratching their heads. Fourth line grinder Luke Glendening routinely sees time on one of Detroit’s top two lines, while speedster Andreas Athanasiou and Anthony Mantha have seen their ice time reduced.
The latest baffling decision came during Detroit’s 4-3 loss to New Jersey on Tuesday night. The Devils were shorthanded with just over two minutes to play, and the Red Wings had the chance to tie the game and earn at least a point in the standings. But for this critical point in the game, Blashill elected to send out maligned forward Riley Sheahan (zero goals, -18 in 48 games) to try and get the tying score.
That just can’t happen.
Of course, many will refer to the fact that Blashill is simply working with what GM Ken Holland is giving him, and that’s a fair point. That being said, it still doesn’t excuse Blashill’s poor utilization and roster decisions.
The Red Wings would be wise to part ways with Jeff Blashill and try and entice former player-turned-coach Gerard Gallant to come aboard. Gallant was let go by the Florida Panthers earlier this season and is considered to be a leading candidate for the expansion Vegas Golden Knights position. He took over a Panthers team and oversaw vast improvements that culminated in the Atlantic Division title last season.
Detroit could also give a shot to Todd Nelson, who is currently the bench boss for the Grand Rapids Griffins. However, as Detroit is finding out, success in the AHL (like Blashill enjoyed) doesn’t mean it will transition to the NHL level. One thing is certain, however. The Jeff Blashill experiment hasn’t worked the way it was supposed to, and Detroit needs to explore other options.
As stated, he’s an upstanding guy. But that doesn’t win you hockey games.