Published Feb. 9, 2019
The Wings of change are coming.
I’m not one for predictions, but here’s one.
The Red Wings will overhaul in the off-season, and that overhaul will include a distinctive new look in the front office and a new man behind the bench.
I’m not, as Jim Leyland would say, the Lone Ranger here. I know that I’m not putting forth something that hasn’t been bandied about, but I believe it’s fait accomplit.
Stevie Yzerman is coming home. And Jeff Blashill is going home.
The fact that coach Blashill, in the final year of his four-year contract, hasn’t yet been offered an extension, shouldn’t be a mystery. The Red Wings have no desire to retain Blashill beyond this season.
That’s because they want their new GM, Yzerman, to pick his own coach. Among other things.
Stevie Y in, Blashill out
Book it. Current GM Kenny Holland, whose contract runs through the 2019-20 season, will step aside this summer into a more consultant role–think Jimmy Devellano–and Yzerman, whose contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning expires after this season and hasn’t been extended, will be hired by the Red Wings.
An alternate scenario is that Holland stays through 2020 and then seeks another GM job in the NHL.
Regardless, Yzerman is taking over. Blashill will be out, and Stevie Y will use his clout to hire a big name coach, perhaps one who is currently under contract with an NHL team as we speak.
Someone like John Tortorella, currently bench boss of the Columbus Blue Jackets.
I’m not spewing this forward just to read myself write.
Call it reading the tea leaves, or playing a significant hunch. I might plop a Jackson down on it. You might think it’s worth a Grant or even a Franklin.
Yzerman shocked, but after the shock wore off, it made sense, when he announced last September that he was stepping back from his GM role with the Lightning into a more consultant role in order to fulfill the remaining year on his contract in Tampa.
Not a Tampa guy at heart
Then, he would essentially become a free agent—and thus the most sought after hockey executive in recent memory.
I’ve written it before. Yzerman is no more a Tampa guy, at heart, than Bo Schembechler was a Texas guy. Yzerman took the Lightning gig in 2010 and it was the right thing to do at the time. He was blocked in Detroit, yet had served his apprenticeship to the degree that he was ready to be in charge of his own team. Even a team as lousy as the Lightning, when Stevie took it over.
You know what’s happened since. Multiple Stanley Cup-contending teams in Tampa and the overseeing of a well-oiled hockey machine, from top to bottom. A Cup has eluded him in Tampa but that doesn’t tarnish his look as an executive whatsoever.
Multiple teams would stumble all over themselves to ink Yzerman this summer. The Philadelphia Flyers were reportedly interested last fall, but even the Flyer brass admitted that bidding against the Red Wings, the logo of which Yzerman has branded on his heart, would be a tough deal.
It’s Detroit or bust for Yzerman. He never sold his home in the suburbs, even after moving to Tampa.
Yzerman will be 54 years old in May. For a sports executive, that’s called being in your prime. Yzerman could take the Red Wings job and never work for another NHL team again.
The case against Blashill
As for Blashill, Yzerman might consider retaining him except for a few disturbing items.
One, the development of players who could have taken that next step when Blashill took over in 2015, simply hasn’t happened.
Players such as Gustav Nyquist, Justin Abdelkader, Andreas Athanasiou, Riley Sheahan and even goalie Petr Mrazek are examples of either unrealized potential or becoming stagnant in terms of growth. Or, worse, regression.
Two is Blashill’s reluctance to call out veterans, and instead levy his discipline and benching to just the young guys. Sitting defenseman Dennis Cholowski, a British Columbia native, on a night when friends and family were expected in the crowd in Vancouver, was odd timing.
Why doesn’t Blashill tell someone like Abdelkader, who’s been awful since he signed his big contract in 2016, to watch a game or two from the press box? Anyone can punish a kid like Cholowski. You and I could do that.
Third, is the maddening frequency with which the Red Wings have become unglued in the third period under Blashill, blowing one lead after another.
Full transparency here. I was on board with the Blashill hiring in 2015 after Mike Babcock followed his instincts—and gobs of cash—and moved on to Toronto.
Blashill, who was coaching the Red Wings’ minor league affiliate in Grand Rapids, was traveling a natural path toward Red Wings coach, especially when you consider how often the organization rewards loyalty. Plus, he had led the Griffins to an AHL championship in 2013.
So it would be disingenuous—plus just plain dishonest—to posit myself as having squawked about the Red Wings’ hiring of Blashill from the get go.
But with Yzerman dangling in front of the Red Wings, Blashill’s fate seems sealed anyway. Blashill is 45 years old. He will have other NHL opportunities, even if as an assistant coach.
A PR field day, but also a smart hockey move
Detroit sports fans are crying for something to get excited about. The state of pro sports in Motown is as bad as it’s ever been, and I’m including the awful 1970s.
The hiring of Yzerman would not only instantly vault the Red Wings to kings of the town once again, it would be a solid hockey move.
Don’t listen to the nonsense about Red Wings owner Chris Ilitch not wanting to hire Yzerman, for whatever reasons. And I think Holland would be more amenable to a change now, than he was when it was suggested to him before Yzerman left for Tampa.
Despite my frequent criticism of Kenny, I must admit that he’s laid a solid foundation in the current rebuild—though he was slow on the uptake. Holland has set the franchise up for success for a seasoned man like Yzerman to massage. And Stevie knows it.
Yzerman is too good of a hockey man, too wise and cerebral, to make a career move of this magnitude based on emotions alone. If the Red Wings were an unmitigated disaster, he wouldn’t come home.
But there are enough good, young players, both in Detroit and coming through the pipeline, and there will soon be plenty of salary cap space, to enable Yzerman to do his thing successfully with the Red Wings.
It would be stunning, I believe, if Yzerman took his next NHL job with any team other than the Red Wings, despite any reports to the contrary.
I believe the prospect of winning a Stanley Cup as a GM for the first time, with the same team that he won as a player three times (and one as a front office apprentice), is too good for Yzerman to pass up. It’s too enticing.
And, Mother Hubbard’s cupboard isn’t bare with the Red Wings. There’s enough to work with here. There’s enough to get Yzerman’s signature on a contract, emotions and nostalgia aside.
Change is coming. Significant in nature. Stevie Yzerman is going to join the Red Wings this summer and he’s going to make this town go crazy for hockey again.