Opinion: Blashill’s rush to use the line blender hurts more than it helps

The Wings are out to a better start than last season, but Blashill may be back to his old tricks

Expectations for the Detroit Red Wings were not very high entering the 2019-20 season, despite the positivity from inside the locker room throughout training camp and preseason. The team is off to a 3-4-0 start through seven games, a step up from last year when they wandered blindfolded in the dark before notching their first win eight games into the campaign.

Even though their record at this point of the season is better than last year, they have had several disappointing games, specifically the last three, in which they gave up a combined 15 goals.

(Editor’s Note: the rest of this article was written before the game against Calgary)

To this point, the Red Wings have found continued success from their top line of Tyler Bertuzzi, Dylan Larkin and Anthony Mantha—the trio has accounted for 11 of the team’s 17 goals this season—and surprisingly, it’s been the checking line of Justin Abdelkader, Jacob de la Rose and Darren Helm providing what little offense has been leftover.

Is the Wings’ lack of secondary scoring to open the season a concern? Sure. And, as Mlive.com’s Ansar Khan reported earlier this week, it has head coach Jeff Blashill considering shuffling the lines—stop me if you’ve seen this act before. Now, we know that Blashill’s job is to put the best possible lineup on the ice each and every night with the goal of winning hockey games. But, is it that surprising that the Wings are lacking in the goal column in the middle of their lineup? I don’t think so.

The writing on the wall was clear to begin the season that this was another major building year for the young core of this hockey team when GM Steve Yzerman decided to send down the likes of Michael Rasmussen, Evgeny Svechnikov, Joe Veleno and Filip Zadina to Grand Rapids for more seasoning. It’s obvious that Yzerman had a model that worked in Tampa Bay to create chemistry between their young prospects, and he wants that to translate into the Detroit model moving forward, especially with Veleno and Zadina.

When I see a report that says Blashill wants to juggle his lines, I can’t help but think back to last season and how frustrating it was when he did this for a large part of the season, seemingly not allowing his forwards to build any chemistry because it was a short stay on specific lines. There are holes up and down this lineup and again, they’re struggling mightily on the power play to start the year at just 11.1% (26th in the NHL).

According to Ansar Khan at Mlive.com, Blashill swapped Andreas Athanasiou and Taro Hirose on the top power play unit during Wednesday’s practice in an effort to get Athanasiou going offensively. Here were his comments:

Obviously our percentage is no good. I thought our power play was going fine for a while even without (a good) percentage, but now it’s starting to really sputter. Athanasiou is a real dynamic player, can make plays on his own and I think he can do a lot of things with other people, so I’m hoping it helps both units click a little bit.

Tinkering with the man advantage works for me, but when it comes to even strength, why fix something that isn’t broken? You can make the case that the second and third lines are broken, but does moving either Bertuzzi or Mantha down to the second line fix things? Blashill has a stable, efficient top line, and playing with the chemistry hinders the team more than helping it. We know that AA looks more comfortable playing on the wing and  bringing down another winger from the top line may only force Blashill to shift him to a center position that he’s struggled with.

The long-term chemistry of this hockey team is far more important that any short term resolution. It’s clear that the “BLM” line has achieved that and instead of juggling the lines to find added depth like he did so much last season, a better move might be to bring up Rasmussen (five points in three games this year) from Grand Rapids and see if he can provide the type of second line center play this team needs.

It’s obvious that the combination of Valtteri Filppula and Frans Nielsen can’t fit that role on the second line, especially since neither can really skate with AA or Hirose to begin with, and the younger Rasmussen might be the better short term fix that Blashill needs to win hockey games. Regardless, the depth just isn’t there and I don’t think it’s ever going to be this season because the front office wants to practice patience in developing their future stars.

Unfortunately, Blashill’s hands are tied because no amount of line changes is going to make this team competitive for a playoff spot this season. The Wings have five draft picks in the first three rounds next summer, and I believe Yzerman is quite content letting his young forwards develop in the minors a little longer and continue evaluating what this team needs for the future. Settle in Wings fans, there is going to be a lot more losing before this team will be considered a contender.