Hockey

In Defense of the Detroit Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill

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The Detroit Red Wings lost a recent game by a score of 11-2. The Pittsburgh Penguins have two of the most talented players in the NHL Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. This is yet another reminder of just how far the Red Wings have to go in their rebuild. There are less than 20 games left in the 2021-22 NHL season. Head coach Jeff Blashill is under contract for another season after signing an extension with the Red Wings in May of 2021.

The Red Wings have lost 8 of their last 10 games. This includes the 11-2 loss to the Penguins. Amidst this, it was reported by Frank Seravalli of Daily Faceoff that there has been “considerable friction” between Blashill and some of the younger players. Whether or not this is true, it would be more of an indictment of both sides of this reported tiff if they were getting along great. The fact that this is coming out now may be the work of an agent trying to spin the story of the struggling Red Wings for one side or the other.

The Red Wings made the Stanley Cup playoffs 25 years in a row from 1990 to 2017. The streak was often extended by the team acquiring veteran players to make it into the playoffs. The downside of this is that the Red Wings would have to trade away their young talented prospects and draft picks to acquire these players. This is the main reason that the team has only made the playoffs once under Blashill. The team has also not had luck when it comes to the draft lottery when they do finish towards the bottom of the league.

The Red Wings falling to fourth in the 2020 NHL draft lottery may have been a blessing in disguise. The team would select Lucas Raymond out of Gothenburg, Sweden. The left-winger ranks third in scoring on the Detroit Red Wings behind Dylan Larkin and Tyler Bertuzzi with 20 goals scored and 30 assists for a total of 50 points. For comparison’s sake, the number one pick in that draft, Alexis Lafreniere, is also a left-winger who has scored 15 goals and added 10 assists for 25 points in 66 games played for the New York Rangers.

I have previously written that goaltender is not a position of need for the Red Wings. That was before the number one goalie for the Red Wings Alex Nedeljkovic gave up four goals in just over 20 minutes of play against the Penguins. Calvin Pickard replaced Nedeljkovic before leaving the game with an undisclosed injury. This was the 14th time that the Red Wings switched goalies during the 2021-22 NHL season, most in the league.

Thomas Greiss, who has been the backup goalie for most of the season will also miss some time with an upper-body injury. The 36-year-old has struggled this season. For the second straight season, Greiss may not reach the 10-win mark. The Red Wings will need to rely on a veteran goaltender to back up Nedeljkovic in the time it takes for Cossa to mature into an NHL-ready goaltender.

The backup goalie position needs to be addressed in the near future. Sebastian Cossa is a young goaltender in the Red Wings’ prospect pipeline. Drafted 15th overall in the 2021 NHL draft out of Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, the Red Wings will have to wait a while before Cossa can join the team. The 19-year-old is currently playing for the Edmonton Oil Kings of the Western Hockey League for the time being.

The Red Wings made the playoffs during Blashill’s first season as head coach but have missed the playoffs in every season since. This was with the team that former head coach Mike Babcock built. Babcock left the Red Wings to take the head coaching job with the Toronto Maple Leafs. When Blashill was hired Babcock called him a “serial winner.” Blashill has a record of 188-253-70 in his seven seasons coaching the Red Wings.

Blashill has been a successful coach at every level in hockey other than the NHL. The Red Wings roster during his time as head coach has some part to do with this. From the Grand Rapids Griffins in the AHL to the Indiana Ice of the USHL, Blashill has proven that he can win at every level of professional hockey. The 48-year-old from Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan has been a good steward of the Red Wings team during their rebuild.

Blashill deploys a low-event style of hockey. This is due to the lack of talent on the Red Wings roster. The lack of depth in the defensive corps of the team is the chief reason that Blashill has employed such a style of hockey. The team does not have the roster to play the game like the Florida Panthers, for example, who have routinely scored seven goals in games they have played. This is where the Red Wings need to aspire to be but it will not happen any time soon.

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