Fans of the Detroit Red Wings have foreseen the team’s 2017-18 struggles coming for several years now, in fact, many have held their pitchforks and torches at the ready equally as long. After back-to-back embarrassing performances against the Montreal Canadiens and in the midst of a seven-game losing streak the veil is beginning to be lifted in Hockeytown.
And what is being revealed is not inspiring, but it’s also not surprising.
Head coach Jeff Blashill’s job-security is now being questioned in the media for the first time, a topic that fans seem to be near equally divided on. However, general manager Ken Holland has recently declined to comment on Blashill’s future in multiple interviews. Craig Custance of The Athletic comments on why Holland has chosen to remain silent on this subject:
Really, it’s a no-win situation. If he throws his support behind Blashill, it ends up looking like the typical ill-fated endorsements that often end up precluding a coaching change.
In theory, he could come out and say that Blashill is the coach no matter what until the end of the season to put to rest any speculation. But again, there’s no benefit to boxing himself in like that.
(Craig Custance, The Athletic, “Red Wings debacle in Montreal raises questions about direction of the franchise,” Dec. 4, 2017 [Paywall])
As sports fans, we all know that coaches tend to be the fall-guy who takes some temporary heat off of the front office before it’s personnel becomes next on the chopping block, which could very well end up being the case for the Wings before the end of the season. In all fairness to Blashill, his team’s shortcomings can’t be completely placed on his shoulders. He has won at every level he’s coached at, he just may not currently have the right tools for the job in Detroit.
If his players give up on him or tune him out, like they certainly appeared to do against Montreal, that is something that cannot continue on as the norm.
It was no secret that some players didn’t like Mike Babcock’s coaching style during his tenure in Detroit, but he was still able to coach his players up and get the most out of them. Under Blashill, it seems as if the team is unable to find and/or play with any inspiration. Perhaps it’s lack of elite talent or lack of proper motivation. Perhaps it’s both.
Gregg Krupa of The Detroit News addresses the Wings lack of talent, an issue that may have once been hard to stomach but is now more and more apparent as the season progresses:
Character brought them their last playoff spot. It made the last 20 games they played last season somewhat more respectable.
An admirable trait it is, especially among players like Zetterberg, Kronwall, Abdelkader, Larkin and Jimmy Howard. But is not enough for the Red Wings to save themselves.
They simply are not very good.
It’s an honest and truthful assessment from Krupa. The team is not among the NHL elite nor has it been for quite some time, and may not be for several more seasons. It’s not been a widely kept secret for those in the know, it’s just the proverbial chickens are now coming home to roost on a much larger scale.
Sure, the Red Wings still have a have a roster that can occasionally rally and pull off an occasional thrilling victory or two, but to do so on a consistent enough basis to eventually earn a chance to legitimately contend for the Stanley Cup in the spring requires a completely different level of competitiveness that this team currently does not possess.
A successful structure starts and is upheld by the design of a good architect. Holland, who helped Detroit maintain their success during the pre-salary cap era, is watching all that he’s built slowly begin to crumble. A little over a quarter of the way through his final contract year he’s facing down a coaching decision, a mostly underwhelming roster, and a fairly unanimous public outcry for him to let a fresh set of eyes take over and rebuild his life’s work.
Ultimately, it will be the Ilitch family who must decide to intervene to make the proper changes to help restore their father’s beloved Red Wings back to a contender. The family can continue to give Holland their complete vote of confidence and ensure the team’s current trend to continue over the next few years, or they can realize it’s time to change a few things up with some new blood. It certainly won’t be an easy or quick fix either way, nor do I think fans expect it to be, they just want it handled correctly.