It really seemed like Jeff Blashill had been cruising along under the radar. The all-caps calls for his firing have been dwindling since the Red Wings recovered from the brutal beginning of the season and have been kind of fun to watch.
Still painful, but kinda fun, like reluctantly chuckling at your own misfortune after you trip up the stairs and then fumble your keys and then drop your groceries and then bump into the corner of solid furniture and break your 4th favorite glass.
That kind of fun.
Some potential reasons why the fanbase has tapped the brakes?
Distracted by Shiny Objects
Dylan Larkin is a religious experience. Gustav Nyquist is the perfect wingman. James Tiberius Howard continues to James Tiberius Howard. Niklas Kronwall is going out in a blaze of vintage Kronwall glory. The battle to be crowned King of Almosts between Luke Glendening, Darren Helm, and Justin Abdelkader continues. There are all kinds of things to latch onto in an otherwise dismal season.
Waiting for Divine Yzervention
COME HOME STEVIE. A large chunk of the fanbase is ready to hunker down and wait for Stevie to come home and clean house. The clock is ticking as our older kids are getting closer and closer to their prime and the defense and goaltending is still a Big Problem but how can you not believe in the power of Steve Yzerman and his glasses?
Caring is Hard
No shame in tuning out. If someone is a fair weather fan, let them be. At least they’re admitting it. Probably weird for their families to see the goblin-like creature that usually can be heard screeching at a glowing screen acting like a proper human.
Embracing the Tank
Lose for Hughes, etc. No further explanation required.
That brings us to present day.
The Cholowski Chronicles: Cleary Cabana 2k19
In general, there’s nothing wrong with having a player enjoy the view from the press box when they’ve been unperforming. Watching the game from a different angle, having a day or two to hit the reset button and come back ready to beat down any challengers for their roster spot, this is a strategy that has worked out positively many times.
But then there’s Jeff Blashill’s version of The Red Wings Way™
We’ve seen it with Mantha. We’ve seen it with Athanasiou. Rasmussen hasn’t gotten the full effect, but he will. Zadina definitely will. Benchings of young players that seem less constructive and more of a public shaming.
Sometimes the healthy scratch strategy does have guys coming back burning up the world - see Exhibit AA. Maybe Blash’s approach is to make his players perform well to personally spite him.
And when I say “players”, I mean “players under the age of 25”.
If that’s the case, go ahead and pencil in Dennis Cholowski for the Norris Trophy.
It was supposed to be a homecoming. It was supposed to be a rookie’s first chance to play in front of his family and friends. Remember when Anthony “Spare Parts” Mantha scored his first goal at the Joe against his hometown Habs with all his friends and family watching? Iconic.
What could be more motivating for a player than knowing your family and friends are in the building to see firsthand all the years of hard work and sacrifices pay off? And it’s Vancouver, not exactly driving distance from Detroit. It’s a once in a season chance.
According to Jeff Blashill, what’s even more motivating than all that is being a healthy scratch.
We’ve all run the gambit from grumbling to ranting in reaction to Jeff Blashill’s seemingly unorthodox player nurturing methods. Did he cross The Line with the benching of Cholowski in Vancouver?
It feels petty.
It feels cruel.
It’s a moment Cholowski and his family will never have back.
And for what?
The stakes have never been lower for the Wings to skate away with two points. We’re heading into the All Star break in a position where we should be signaling the Carpathia for rescue. If the Wings can lose while having tried their best, that’s a win-win situation all around.
Whether or not Cholowski was slumping enough to deserve to be benched is irrelevant. In fact, I agree that Cholowski has been making some costly errors, but tough to argue he’s the worst of the bunch. I don’t even want to hear fingers touching keys if it’s going to be a +/- stat reference.
In any case, Blashill said the only reason he hadn’t benched him yet is because we were out of healthy defensemen. Enter Danny DeKeyser who, Gord help us all, actually had a pretty good first game back in Calgary.
It is utterly baffling. How could Blash have done anything but wait one more game? He couldn’t let a kid who came out of nowhere and slotted into a lineup that heavily favors ancient relics have his moment? Again, how could anything be considered a slump breaker more than having your family in the crowd?
Sure made the FSD plans a bit awkward with what they had already filmed.
Seriously, did Cholowski steal Blash’s lunch out of the fridge? Kick his dog? Make fun of the Blashspot? Fill his car with Peeps? Go back in time and dump his books in front of the girl he liked?
No matter what standard bland explanations may come out - if someone has the audacity to confront him with a question about it - nothing short of Cholowski actually being unhealthy seems like it will justify this action.
So, What Now?
I predict nothing changes and I suspect most of you feel the same - whether we want to or not.
I place myself in the category of being too distracted by shiny objects and the memeability of Jeff Blashill to have had strong feelings about him getting the boot. Figured I’d ramp back up when it came time to get a new contract. Now I’m getting swept back into it on the fresh wave of anger that’s rolling through the fanbase.
Maybe I’ll go back to the chill state of waiting it out, but I’m not sure this is a forgivable offense. I hope I’m proven wrong and Cholowski was hit by a meteor or had the plague or some other reasonable explanation.
But right now?
I’m ready for Dan Bylsma to take over.
How about you?