Comparing Illitch's Decision to Release Dave Dombrowski to Red Wings Reality
Well, this was unexpected, but the Detroit Tigers have relieved general manager Dave Dombrowski of his duties with the MLB club, and have promoted assistant GM Al Avila. Dombrowski was on the butt-end of a four-year contract with the Tigers, and was believed to be entertaining the thought of moving onto a different team after the season. The 2015 season was that of a frustrating one for the Tigers, as they started off to a hot 11-2 record, and have trended downwards ever since. This brought the team to the inevitable decision to sell at the MLB Trade Deadline, sending pitcher David Price to the Toronto Blue Jays, slugger Yoenis Cespedes to the New York Mets, and relief pitcher Joakim Soria to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Every trade returned prospects for the Tigers, the majority of them being pitchers.
So what does this have to do with the Red Wings? Well, as we all know, Mike Ilitch owns the Red Wings, and they're a team who is in current limbo with their "reload on the fly" tactic. Unlike the Tigers, the Wings have an abundance of promising prospects who are all bound for NHL time in the coming years. The Tigers have been chasing a World Series title ever since Dombrowski joined the team in 2002, and pulled them out from the gutters of the MLB. In 2003, the Tigers lost a record-setting 119 games. Dombrowski managed to form the team into a American League Pennant winner in 2006.
Once upon a time, before the NHL had a cap system in place, Mike Ilitch was much like how he is with the Tigers now with the Wings. Money never an option, go out, and put the best team on the ice as possible. With that, general manager Ken Holland managed to achieve four Stanley Cup Championships, four Presidents' Trophies, and playoff appearances in every single season since he was named GM in 1997. However, the Red Wings playoff performance has been on steady decline in recent years. With an aging core of players in Pavel Datsyuk, Johan Franzen, Niklas Kronwall, and Henrik Zetterberg that is to be expected. With the reloading path being taken, we've seen a surge of young talent like Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, Riley Sheahan, Xavier Ouellet, Alexey Marchenko, Petr Mrazek, and top prospects in Dylan Larkin, Anthony Mantha, and Evgeny Svechnikov knocking on the door to start their NHL careers. Are these players good enough to pick up where the Euro Twins and company left off? Is Ken Holland walking a tight rope by putting so much stock into the "reload?"
Think about it, Ken Holland has three years left on his contract. He's likely bought himself a little bit of leeway after hiring a brand new coach in Jeff Blashill, who has never been a head coach at the NHL level.
The Tigers and Dave Dombrowski went all-in every year for the past half-decade, and fell short every time. For a competitive GM and owner, it's never an easy decision to wave the white flag, and fold the season by selling your big-name players for prospects. Despite having an expiring contract, Ilitch decided to part ways with Dombrowski early just one week after selling at the deadline.
The Red Wings have been a team who spends to the cap every year since the system was implemented, and in recent years have had disappointing and very lackluster playoff appearances. Could this mean that eventually we could see the reload-on-the-fly plan get scrapped, and Ken Holland opts to go for a full traditional rebuild? The Tigers aren't necessarily going full rebuild, as they'll likely be big spenders in the winter, but the parallels are there. I don't think we'll see a decision for a full rebuild anytime soon. Give it, say, three years before that happens. The Red Wings are still very much contenders in the NHL with signing free agents like Mike Green, and players like Dylan Larkin posed to push for a spot on the big stage. However, if we do see the rebuild plan put into action, will Holland survive it?
At the end of the day, Mike Ilitch is committed to winning, and providing whatever he can to his teams to make this happen. The question is, how many more years can the Red Wings have early round exits in the playoffs before Ilitch decides something needs to be done? Ken Holland has earned his right to stay, and is likely the best general manager in all of hockey, but something's got to give. I think that over the next three years, if we keep seeing the same results, the decision to fully rebuild this organization will happen. Whether or not Ken Holland will be a part of that rebuild remains to be seen, but I wouldn't bet on him being relieved of his duties. There's too much history and companionship between Holland and Ilitch. Nevertheless, the Red Wings need to shape up, or there will be some big decisions to be made in terms of rejuvenating the club back to it's playoff winning ways.