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Steve Yzerman’s Familiar Coaching Crossroad

He picked the right Guy last time.

Detroit Red Wings v Pittsburgh Penguins Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images

Steve Yzerman has been here before. He’s pulled a franchise out of the gutter and brought them to the top of the NHL, both as a player and an executive. Now he’s at a familiar crossroad in Detroit and last time he was at a similar intersection, he ended up kicking the right Guy to the curb. Can he do it again?

I could go on some long-winded rant about the state of the Red Wings and how we got to this point, but I’m not going to. I could sit here and rattle off hundreds of words about why I think Jeff Blashill is a bad coach, but I’m not going to do that either. Coming into this season, I think we all expected the team to improve. For a while, that appeared to be the case. Early in the season, even when they lost, I could usually pull a positive thing or two from the game. I’m having a harder time doing that lately. Instead of ranting about coaching or poor performance from certain players, I’m just going to draw some comparisons to a key moment in Yzerman’s tenure in Tampa and how it reflects the situation we are in right now.

Yzerman fired head coach Guy Boucher in the early years of his GM career after the team seriously slumped at a time that they expected to begin competing for a title. That firing in 2013 left some questioning Yzerman’s motive and plan with the Bolts. Jon Cooper was promoted from the AHL club and took on role as Tampa’s bench boss. It’s taken some time and more heartbreak, but Tampa eventually got to where it needed to be and has the hardware to show for it. Funny enough, Boucher’s firing came around March 2013, almost a decade ago.

Twitter interaction from Bob McKenzie and Ray Ferraro around that time:

I can’t sit here and say these two situations are the same, but I can say that there are some grim comparisons. Boucher’s firing came after the Bolts were pelted by the Ottawa Senators on a Saturday. They allowed four goals in less than eight minutes and eventually lost 5-3. Boucher was canned the next day. Fast forward to today, Tampa is defending back-to-back titles under Jon Cooper. It worked out for Tampa in the long run, even though it took plenty more pain to clinch a title (don’t forget about that embarrassing 1st-round defeat at the hands of the Columbus Blue Jackets).

McKenzie pointed out that Yzerman wanted to wait out the season to make changes to Tampa’s coaching, but had no choice but to make that move as things were rapidly getting worse. I’m left wondering... What’s stopping this sort of decision in Detroit right now?

The numbers speak for themselves. Jeff Blashill’s career as an NHL coach has been dismal so far. They have allowed more than seven goals NINE times this season. As noted above, that is the worst we’ve seen from any team in over two decades. Yes, this is a rebuilding team with a lot more developing to do, but how can you develop a team into a contender when you’re getting the shit kicked out of you constantly? I’ll tell you one way to NOT develop your team: Flip-flop goalies constantly, trot out the same tired and uncreative power-play scheme over and over again, and the list goes on.

Steve Yzerman is, by all means, the best thing to happen to the Detroit Red Wings in decades. He has drafted well to this point and has gotten the most out of his “assets” as possible. He handles trade deadlines well, he works well in free agency, and he says all the right things... But clearly this coaching regime isn’t working out, and clearly something needs to change. I get why a GM wouldn’t want to fire a coach at this point of the season, but are we going to let things snowball first? I’d argue that the snowball has been rolling for weeks, if not months. If we keep waiting, does this potentially impact the development of some of our blue-chip youth?

The Spin

Clearly Steve Yzerman is ready and willing to make a wholesale change given his history with the Boucher firing, but let’s not forget that Yzerman stuck with Jon Cooper through some pretty dark times when Tampa was supposed to be competing for championships every season. Now, I can’t compare the two situations. Nope, not gonna do that. Tampa is and has been a completely different scenario than these Red Wings.

Another thing to consider — who is going to take over? Are there any candidates out there that Yzerman has identified? Probably. The issue is that it’s impossible to get a read on the guy. Yzerman plays the cards close to his chest, and currently all signs would point to him riding out the rest of the season with Blashill, regardless of how ugly it gets. Then, in the offseason, there will be a lot of reflection and consultation.

What would I do if I were GM of this team? Personally, I would have fired the head coach after that 10-7 loss at home against Toronto at the end of February, so maybe it’s a good thing I’m not GM. I’m far too knee-jerk and that’s probably because I’m a fan. Steve Yzerman isn’t a knee-jerk kind of guy but one does have to ask at what point are things so bad that you need a change, regardless of what point we’re at in the season. Clearly he can do it, and did so in Tampa. Again, I can’t compare both situations because I believe both teams were and are at different crossroads. But, I mean, look at how this season has shaken out. Started great, saw tons of improvement only to have the bottom fall out once goaltending started to dip.

How many more seasons of this can we endure? Rebuilding is tough and I trust Steve Yzerman with this roster.. But I’m still a little suspect on how he will handle this coaching situation. I’m ready to ride out the rest of the season with Blashill as coach.. But I am not ready to do it again next season.

To sum this up: Steve Yzerman needs to decide if he wants Jeff Blashill to be Guy Boucher or Jon Cooper. Maybe that decision is more difficult than we think, but it’s a decision that needs to be made nonetheless.