Blashill Still Has Lessons to Learn and a Team to Mold - One Year Was Never Going to Be Enough
There’s been a lot of talk about whether the man behind the Red Wings bench is the right one for the job. Questions about player deployment and questions about the ability of the coach to adequately prepare is team for games on a nightly basis have been brought up frequently as the season has progressed. Some have wondered if these things mean the Wings would be better served moving on from Mike Babcock as head coach.
Wait, Babcock? You mean this isn’t about Jeff Blashill?
Well actually, this is about Jeff Blashill. Namely, this is about why Jeff Blashill’s tenure as head coach of the Red Wings is still in its earliest phases, and why calling for his firing now, after one full season at that position, is far too premature.
Let’s take a look back at the year the man behind the bench had.
Blashill started off the season trying to implement a similar system than the one that was successful in Grand Rapids, with mixed results. We saw a shutout of the Maple Leafs in the first game of the season, a very well-coached comeback in Carolina the next night, but a brutal 5-3 loss the next week to the same Hurricanes squad.
We saw the team go through ebbs and flows in the early goings; injuries to Brad Richards, Kyle Quincey, and Mike Green; the return of Danny DeKeyser and Pavel Datsyuk; and a 10-8-2 record after the first 20 games. Blashill initially split time between his two goalies evenly, wanting to give both the veteran and the rookie a chance to take the starting job from the other. There was a time the Euro Twins were reunited and made beautiful hockey together. He even split up Niklas Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson, at least until Quincey and Green were both injured in the same game at the beginning of that trial.
When it became clear that the Red Wings didn’t have the personnel, especially on the blue line, to run Blashill’s system effectively and win games, we saw adjustments to a "safer" style. During that time, fight for the starter’s position was clearly won by Petr Mrazek, thanks to his stellar play and Howard’s slump, and Mrazek’s success was the biggest reason for that of the team for much of the winter months (Mrazek went 7-1-1 in January and 6-2-2 in February).
When Mrazek seemingly hit a wall, the Wings were lucky that it didn’t take long for Jimmy Howard to step in and win them some games. Unfortunately, that was also about the time that the team was starting to look desperate. No longer bailed out by Vezina-level goaltending (seriously, the first real article linking Mrazek to a possible Vezina nomination was like, the day before the Valentine’s day game against the Bruins where he got lit up for five goals), coaching and management started to make some decisions most fans disagreed with.
We were pretty excited when Andreas Athanasiou was called up to permanently join the Wings, and the same for Anthony Mantha "for the long term." But when they started to get the same treatment that Tomas Jurco and Teemu Pulkkinen received (read: fourth line minutes, but not Luke Glendening Fourth Line Minutes), we started to get antsy. Why bring up the exciting young kids if we were going to over-rely on the veterans again?
The easiest and most plausible explanation is this: Blashill was doing everything he could to get this team into the playoffs. Just like the team wanted no part of missing the post-season in 2013, in Henrik Zetterberg’s first year as captain, no one wanted to miss in Blashill’s first year as head coach. So instead of seeing the same coach that started Dylan Larkin on the top line on opening night, the one that had Athanasiou called up and playing closer to 9 minutes a night in his first stint in Detroit, we got a coach that looked to be going back on all of his previous ideas and started looking a lot like his predecessor.
You know, the one who popularized the "tie goes to the veteran" cliche. Or the "everydayer" cliche. The one who played Jonathan Ericsson on the top pair, scratched Brendan Smith, sat the kids in favor of veterans or stapled them to the bench late in games.
"(Blashill) has tried too hard to carry himself exactly like Babcock. He's not his own man". Direct quote from a current Wing. Yikes!!!— Justin Spiro (@DarkoStateNews) March 29, 2016
This, of course, was the first sourced confirmation we saw that Blashill was indeed not trying to be his own coach. And it’s one of the reasons why I think we need to give him at least another season before we start calling for his job, because it seems that the Jeff Blashill that we've been frustrated with and whose decisions have baffled us, well, isn't exactly the real Jeff Blashill.
With the pressure of a first year out of the way; with one of the biggest transitions to the youth movement begun with players like Larkin, Athanasiou, Mantha, and Marchenko all seeing time with the team and promises of more next season; with an extended playoff streak to the Wings’ name, let’s give Blashill another chance to figure it out.
Besides, you know who fires their coach after one season? The Edmonton Oilers. And I don't want to be the Edmonton Oilers, because we’re the freaking Detroit Red Wings.