DISCLAIMER: In this article, I put aside all of Kyle’s expertise, analysis, logic, and logical reasoning.
So, it happened again. Loyalty to organizational veterans and favorites won out once more over the possibility of bringing new blood to the Red Wings. Should we have expected anything different, given the last decade of Red Wings hockey?
Bringing back both Blashill and Holland is a slap in the face to fans. Loyalty moves such as these might have gotten the organization by in the old days, but how has that fared for us in the Salary Cap Era?
Let’s start with looking at Blashill. Over 3 seasons as the Red Wings’ resident bench-barker, we’ve had a single joke of an appearance in the playoffs. Part of that is surely attributed to roster construction, but we can jump on Holland’s moves in a few paragraphs.
Blashill, over the better part of his 3 seasons here, has displayed puzzling coaching thought processes. Remember the decision to kill the line blender? That was fun, lasting less than 24 hours after he publicly admitted that guys need to stick with their lines to build chemistry.
And how about being harder on the kids than on the veterans? It’s real great for you to explain to Mantha why you’re being hard on him, Jeff, but why not be just as hard on the vets when they make mistakes... unless you can’t control them the same way you can control one of the kids? It doesn’t exactly inspire confidence when you don’t think the old-timers are listening to the coach... Do you think Scotty Bowman (or any coach worth his salt) had problems controling, teaching, and correcting his veteran players?
The process we were sold on when Blashill arrived was that he was good with developing kids and young players. If a good coach is supposed to trust the process and find a way to make things work, then why did Blashill seem to shy away from the process? Why yield to aging and increasingly ineffective veterans for the better part of 3 seasons when things got tough or a kid had a “teaching moment”/screw-up? Either the process is broken, or the coach is broken.
Ken Holland is no more worthy of pulled punches than Blashill is. Arguably, his retention is the more egregious of the two (possibly because getting rid of Holland most likely results in getting rid of Blashill as well). How many burdensome contracts are we under because of Ken Holland?
I’ll concede the point that not all our contract troubles are his fault - nobody could have predicted Franzen’s situation, and Stephen Weiss admitted to playing hurt while keeping it a secret from team doctors. That’s not Holland’s fault.
But I don’t buy the idea that other bad contracts were all at the behest of Mike Illitch. Yes, Mike was a big hockey fan and believed in two things above all else: loyalty, and playoffs. Maybe Holland was pressured into some of these contracts - it’s not out of the realm of possibility. However, I’m a big fan of the Game Of Thrones quote “sometimes, loyal service means telling hard truths”. I don’t believe that Ken Holland couldn’t see the hard truth of some of these signings, ones that were so obviously ill-advised that fans everywhere saw it immediately. This means that if he wasn’t too stupid to know better, then he was either too spineless to stand up to ownership or too impotent to make his opinion heard. None of those three scenarios are acceptable.
And what about this “over-ripening” of prospects? This might have been a valid option in the Original 6 days, but this is a 31-team league now. There are bad teams (and even some good teams with weak organizational depth) that are forced to play their best prospects early and often, meaning the guys we keep in the AHL are facing talent that won’t help them ripen into NHL-ready players. It may be a chicken-vs-egg thing, trying to figure out if guys like Brendan Smith fizzled out on their own or if the over-ripening strategy aided their demise. But if we have to seriously ask the question, then it’s not impossible that Ken Holland’s strategy could have ruined a few players rather than help them.
When you make mistakes like these in the real world, you don’t get the option of fixing it. Saying “oops... but I can fix it” is a luxury we afford children. As fans, we deserve better than being stuck with the guys who helped make the current mess this team is in. We deserve a coach who will stay true to his word and his system, and will hold all players to the same high degree of accountability. We deserve a GM who has the intestinal fortitude to stand up to ownership directives that are obviously bad ideas. After 20 years of Ken Holland, almost a decade of borderline irrelevance, and enough years of Jeff Blashill already, we deserve new blood, new ideas, new voices, new attitudes. We deserve something other than loyalty from Chris Illitch: we deserve a return to results.