When the Detroit Red Wings let go of four unanswered goals to lose to the Chicago Blackhawks 4-2 on January 5, 2020, Jeff Blashill once again had to see his name appear on the chopping block. It’s been a familiar refrain for the last year and a half, and with each subsequent time Detroit fans have called for his dismissal, the arguments for keeping him have gotten weaker and weaker.
All you have to do is look at the standings for this year to see what a disaster it’s been for the Red Wings. They have won only 10 games and gotten 23 points in the first half and change of this campaign. They are fourteen points behind the second-to-last team in the Atlantic Division (Ottawa) and thirteen points behind the second-to-last team in the league (New Jersey). Their goal differential is almost double that of the second-worst team. They are on pace to be the second team behind the 2016-17 Colorado Avalanche in the salary cap era to have a point percentage under .300, and they would still finish around two points worse than the Avalanche’s 48. There are not enough superlatives to really explain just how consistently bad the Red Wings have been, which honestly sucks for what was once one of the proudest franchises in the NHL.
Everyone knew that Steve Yzerman’s first year as general manager of his former team was going to be rough. He was saddled with some of the awful contracts left behind by Ken Holland and a roster consisting of very few quality players. In a league where the top teams all have at least ten impact players on their regular roster, the Red Wings had about four players who could be considered sure things. With little to work with and limited cap space to really improve the team, the Red Wings had little choice but to rely on the prospects and fringe players and hunker down for an invariably rough season. Even then, no one was expecting…whatever this is. When even Detroit’s own color commentator Mickey Redmond sounds disappointed, that’s a sign of a problem.
To be fair to Yzerman, however, he’s only just begin to put his stamp on the team. A trade to land a reclamation project in Robby Fabbri has seen moderate success so far. Exiling career Red Wing Jonathan Ericsson to the AHL has shown that Yzerman will not reward loyalty, unlike Holland. Moves like this show that there is promise with Yzerman’s vision of the team, but it will take quite a bit of fat-trimming to really be able to put it into practice. The question is whether Blashill has a place in that vision or not.
Blashill’s first year as coach of the Red Wings was fine enough. They snuck into the playoffs by claiming the third playoff spot in the Atlantic Division over the Boston Bruins. The Red Wings were eventually blown out of the playoffs by the Tampa Bay Lightning, but there was hope that the early optimism Blashill had going for him would carry over to reality. Since then, however, the Red Wings have not been able to get more than 80 points in any of Blashill’s other three seasons. After making the playoffs for 25 straight seasons, Detroit has not seen playoff hockey for the last three years and are all but mathematically guaranteed to make it four. With Yzerman not being blinded by loyalty to the organization, Blashill’s job status has never been on shakier footing.
The odd part is that Blashill hasn’t been a victim of a trend yet. As if following the trend of the Blues and Craig Berube last year, teams looking for a shake-up have looked to change up their coaching staff. With the firing of Peter Laviolette from Nashville on January 6, six coaches have been fired mid-season. While Bill Peters (Calgary) and Jim Montgomery (Dallas) were fired for off-ice incidents, the others (Mike Babcock from Toronto, John Hynes from New Jersey, Peter DeBoer from San Jose, and Laviolette) have all been based on disappointing performances from their respective teams. No one was expecting Blashill to outlast any of those guys, but he has while claiming the spot of the NHL’s hottest seat.
So what keeps Blashill around? Perhaps it’s for the purpose of keeping some sort of continuity within the team. Perhaps it’s a reward for helping to develop some of the team’s younger stars like Dylan Larkin and Anthony Mantha. Perhaps it’s an omen that 2020-21 will provide more of the same issues and there’s no real point in forcing a new coach to endure a lost season. Whatever the case, this season has provided a litany of excuses to give Blashill his walking papers, and it would not be overly surprising to see him shipped out either later on in the season or during the offseason.
With all of these firings, the Red Wings would certainly not be lacking for options if they do decide to look at a new coach. Even with the team’s recent struggles, helping to rebuild a team with as high a profile as the Red Wings would look good on any coach’s resume. Perhaps Babcock decides to return to Detroit for one last run. Laviolette or DeBoer could be options in order to get redemption for how their strong stints ended. An assistant like Dan Bylsma or Guy Boucher could come back into the fold, or maybe Yzerman decides to reach into the mystery box and give an opportunity to someone currently outside of the NHL. Regardless of what route the Red Wings choose to go, they would be tasked with restoring the team to its former glory. Much easier said than done.
Either way, it’s become painfully apparent that Blashill is not the guy to get the job done. With failures in almost every aspect of play and a lack of effort shown by the Red Wings almost every night, the fault has to lie with Blashill in some capacity. If Yzerman wants to start making his mark on this team, he will soon have to make tough decisions like this. Needless to say, with the way this season has gone for the Red Wings, voting no confidence on Blashill would not come as a big surprise.