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Is Ken Holland Really Steering this Team back on Course?

Will there be more Championship banners on the horizon or has the GM dug himself a deep hole?

Detroit Red Wings Stanley Cup Victory Parade Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

There’s been much speculation as to whether or not Ken Holland will return next season as the general manager of the Detroit Red Wings. He just achieved a career milestone on Feb. 2, passing Jack Adams as the winningest GM in Red Wings history, with his 914th victory. Holland has been around the block more than a few times when you start to look at the select few front office leaders around the league that have a comparable body of work to him—he’s been the Wings’ GM since 1997.

There was talk a couple of years ago about if he should receive an extension, and now here we are approaching the 2019 offseason with no sign from Chris Illitch if he will in fact return or not Adding fuel to the fire was Steve Yzerman’s sudden resignation from his GM duties with the Tampa Bay Lightning earlier this year.

Personally, I’ve been calling for Holland’s proverbial head for a few years now and wasn’t entirely sold on him being the one to see this rebuild through. Yes, the Wings are in a rebuild. You, reading at home, might understand this, but oftentimes I wonder: does Holland actually understand this?

See, I’ve always had this love/hate relationship with Kenny because he was part of the front office that constructed a winning product for so many years and brought four Stanley Cups to Detroit during his tenure. But, he also makes me want to pull my hair out at times when the discussions start about keeping the veteran core together and this sense of loyalty to those same players, even if it means stunting the potential growth of a young prospect.

It’s as though he doesn’t realize or can’t accept that the ship has sailed on the old days in Hockeytown (yes, I’m still calling it that). Nicklas Lidstrom retired years ago under Mike Babcock’s watch, then Pavel Datsyuk fled to Russia. Henrik Zetterberg‘s departure was the most recent domino to fall.

The veteran core that was intact seven or eight years ago isn’t here, and the collection of veterans now couldn’t hold their jockstraps, quite frankly. Justin Abdelkader and Darren Helm don’t have that same spark as when they first entered the league and Niklas Kronwall is a shell of his former self that delivered thundering hits on the blueline. It’s a new era that features young guns led by Dylan Larkin, and it’s time to accept it.

Earlier this week, the thought of bringing Niklas Kronwall back next season (if his body permits it) became a topic of discussion and I thought to myself, WHY? In his 31 Thoughts piece, Elliotte Friedman touches on the Wings not wanting to trade Kronwall because of their admiration and respect for what he’s done over his career. Fine. But, let’s not get caught up in career milestones looking ahead to next season and forget the number of poor contracts Holland has signed in recent years to impede the development of previous prospects.

For years, the Wings have let young players grow stale in the minors because there was no way to push through crowded veterans on the roster. Again, an opportunity for a new defenseman to crack the lineup will be blocked if Kronwall plays one more year in an attempt to reach 1,000 games. I’m not on board with it. Let’s let Filip Hronek, Dennis Cholowski or Joe Hicketts have their due. What’s wrong with that?

This team is so close to ridding themselves of key veteran contracts — Gustav Nyquist, Thomas Vanek, Jimmy Howard and Kronwall combine for roughly 17.8M in cap relief this summer — and while I’m not saying to part ways with all of them, it’s a chance to steer this ship back on course.

Now, Holland did mention earlier this week that he wants to give a player like Filip Zadina the chance to join the team in March and I’m all for that assuming it’s not for more than nine games to burn a year of his entry-level deal. This is the type of forward thinking that this team needs going into next season, the younger players getting their shot, but what I don’t want is Holland trapping this team into more long-term extensions for aging veterans. Especially when he gets the idea that he wants this team to be competitive and contend for a playoff spot next year.

Holland sat down with Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press and had this to say:

I like the development of our kids. It looks like we are developing an identity of speed and competitiveness. But we have to be better. We’ve been moving kids onto our team and we expect another kid or two will push onto the team next season, either at the start or during the season, but you can’t have a team full of young players and think you’ll be competitive.

This team just isn’t ready to compete for that spot in 2019-20, and I think it would be detrimental to its future to bring in more veteran pieces (or keep others) in hopes of being closer to a playoff spot. For me, the prospects toiling in Grand Rapids now would provide more of a challenge to opposing teams than some of the veteran core taking the ice each night. See, this is my problem and it’s the Holland conundrum: He just simply can’t give in to the rebuild whole-heartedly.

Sure, it looks like the Wings will miss the playoffs for a third straight season, but they’ve played teams hard this year and been in a lot of hockey games. I would say they’ve been competitive since November after the dreadful start to the season. The young guys have come along nicely and that’s the team I want to watch moving forward, not the same old veterans that Holland wants to rely on. Do you need a happy medium? Maybe. But, to say that you simply can’t be competitive with a group of younger players doesn’t make sense to me.

The majority of the league has moved towards a youth movement, and it’s time that Holland wakes up. It’s not 2009, it’s 2019. If he can’t commit to a younger core then he’s not the man for the job.