Published Dec. 2, 2017
The easiest way to dismiss the Red Wings is to say that they’re simply not good enough.
That would be a quick, nice and tidy way to wash your hands of them. On to the next topic!
It’s true that the Red Wings aren’t very good. They weren’t predicted to be very good before the season began, and after coming out of the gate with a 4-1 record, they’re proving the prognosticators to be correct.
They lack several top-flight defensemen. They struggle to score because they don’t have enough “finishers,” as they say in the hockey world. I like to call them “snipers.” Same thing. The goaltending can’t be trusted, no matter how much you’d like to believe in Jimmy Howard. They can’t win in overtime to save their souls.
But what’s the most damning about the Red Wings isn’t their lack of talent. It’s their lack of heart.
Same old tired refrain
“We have to fix it.”
“We have to clean that up.”
“We played stupid hockey.”
“We have to be better.”
These are the same, tired refrains pouring out of the dressing room from the players and the coach after the latest uninspired loss.
The Red Wings like to play 20 minutes of hockey per night. Sometimes they’ll surprise you and play 40. It takes them two games, at least, to cobble together 60 good minutes.
The 20 minutes they play may come in the first period, they may come in the second period, they may come in the third period. And it’s not even 20 consecutive minutes, necessarily.
The rest of the time?
“We have too many passengers,” is how the coach summed up a recent loss.
Jeff Blashill is trying really hard, I believe that. He’s tried calling out young Anthony Mantha. He’s tried withholding ice time from Andreas Athanasiou and Dylan Larkin. He’s tried juggling lines, until he stopped. He’s implored his club, via the media, to step it up.
Nothing’s really worked.
Blashill, to his credit, isn’t delusional. He didn’t arrive at training camp at Traverse City trying to sell the fan base a bill of goods about his hockey team. He didn’t portend that the Red Wings were a playoff team—not even a no. 8 seed. He didn’t take the “Why not us?” mentality that some coaches use when their players aren’t as talented as others in the league—a smoke and mirrors tact to get them to believe in themselves.
Blashill, from the jump, warned anyone who would listen that the Red Wings would have to work their collective asses off to get every stinking point they could muster this season. He knew he wasn’t coaching the 2002 Red Wings.
It’s fair to wonder if everyone was listening to the coach’s warning except the players.
Veteran players free from Blashill’s wrath
I’m not usually one of those “fire the coach” types, especially mid-season. But firing the coach mid-season is a professional sports fetish. And I’m getting close to advising the Red Wings to break the glass and reach for the alarm.
The Red Wings haven’t sacked a coach mid-season since they released poor Harry Neale from his bondage the day before New Year’s Eve in 1985, replacing him with the ill-equipped Brad Park.
In fact, the team hasn’t even canned a coach, period, since they didn’t renew Dave Lewis’ contract after two seasons of following in Scotty Bowman’s skate steps, in the summer of 2005.
But how many times do we have to hear Blashill and his players say the same thing, loss after loss?
Well, what would you have them say, you might ask me.
Good question. Which is why the coach should be on the hot seat.
If the refrain is the same, and if it seems to center around effort and loss of focus during games—which it does, then whose fault is that?
I notice that Blashill has tried a lot, but he hasn’t tried calling out any of his veterans. Instead, he’s picked on poor Mantha, a 23-year-old kid who’s still trying to grow into his body, let alone grow into a consistent NHL player. The coach has picked on Larkin and Athanasiou.
Free from scourge has been anyone over the age of 25. I find that odd.
I understand the desire to challenge the kids and give them a baptism by fire into the ways of the National League. But that’s only who Blashill has publicly called out. I haven’t seen any reduction of ice time from players who have more than three years’ tenure in the NHL. For example, I haven’t heard Blashill say—not once—that Justin Abdelkader needs to step it up. And Abbie has been a passenger too often since inking his big contract a couple years ago—a contract that I endorsed.
I haven’t seen Blashill park Jonathan Ericsson’s butt on the pine despite one goofball play in his own zone after the other.
I haven’t heard Blashill wonder where his veteran leadership is.
It’s easy to hold young players’ skates to the fire. And it’s fine to do so, to a degree.
The Red Wings aren’t very good. That’s true. But they also don’t bring forth a total effort very often. That’s true, too.
Too much bad, unfocused hockey
The other night against the Canadiens at Little Caesars Arena—their new home and where they rarely win—the Red Wings played a decent first period then came out for the middle stanza in a fog. You half wondered if they consumed a huge meal in the dressing room during the intermission.
The Canadiens, who haven’t been world beaters this season and who were missing some key players, looked like the Firewagon Hockey Habs of the 1950s or 1970s. They skated circles around the dazed Red Wings.
The reporters needn’t have bothered to enter the dressing room afterward for quotes. They only needed to cue up their saved recordings from any game of their choosing this season.
Jeff Blashill in his third season of coaching the Red Wings. He’s following a tough act in Mike Babcock, but too often, the team hasn’t responded to Blashill. It may not be his fault. But when was the last time a coach got fired because things were expressly his fault?
Country Club culture
The Red Wings appear to need a new voice. They appear to need a swift kick in the hockey pants. It’s fair to theorize that too many “key” players don’t respect the coach as they should.
The Red Wings right now are victims of their own winning, Kumbaya culture. The culture where everyone is a Red Wing for life and gets a job after their playing days are done, should they want one—even the fourth line players. The culture where no one gets fired and pluggers like Luke Glendening get awarded fat contracts. The culture where there’s no true fear for your job. The culture that merely points to the Winged Wheel on the sweater and thinks that’s enough. The culture where you merely promote the minor league coach instead of conducting a real search.
The Red Wings are run like a country club in a league that requires a less privileged atmosphere from time to time.
You can’t only call out the kids while the veterans get off scot-free, for example.
Since this is a culture issue, the coach can’t solely be at blame. Culture starts at the top of an organization, not at the middle.
So what I’m proposing isn’t likely.
I’m proposing that the Red Wings let Jeff Blashill go and look for a coach—outside the organization with zero ties to the Red Wings (not even a fan of the team as a kid)—who won’t put up with the nonsense we see on an almost nightly basis. Someone who couldn’t care less if they ruffle the feathers of Justin Abdelkader or Jonathan Ericsson or Gustav Nyquist.
I’d suggest John Tortorella but he’s not available. But someone like Torts, who whipped the sad-sack Columbus Blue Jackets into shape almost immediately when brought in midway through the 2015-16 season.
I don’t think Red Wings GM Kenny Holland—who is also quite complicit here—has the temerity to fire Blashill, a friend. Especially not during the season.
But he should.