Updated 4x at 5:30 PM: Okay, thus far I’ve posted Tweets, videos and full pressers from the Red Wings’ locker room clean-out day, and now some articles are hitting the wires from the Wings’ media corps.
97.1 the Ticket’s Will Burtchfield penned an article regarding coach Jeff Blashill’s return to fulfill the fourth and final season of his contract…
“I thought the team played hard to the finish. I’m hoping that two, three, four young players in our system make the team (next year). He did a good job with the young players in Grand Rapids when he was the coach there. This year you look at the impact of (Tyler) Bertuzzi and (Dylan) Larkin and the development and the importance they had on the team this year, they improved as players,” Holland said.
Bertuzzi, 23, grew into a reliable top-six forward as the season wore on, while Larkin, 21, set career highs in assists and points. 23-year-old Anthony Mantha also took significant strides, scoring 24 goals in his first full NHL season.
As a team the Red Wings took a step back in the standings, finishing fifth to last with 73 points, but they showed signs of progress in terms of dictating play. Moreover, Blashill’s coaching never seemed to wear on the players, who responded to him even when the going got tough.
“We lost nine in a row in March and the bottom fell out, but I felt even when we lost nine in a row, we lost a lot of games by a goal and we played hard,” said Holland. “I thought that the young kids that have been brought up improved. He played them, they were important, they got minutes. I think that with the experience of three years in the National Hockey League, (plus) he’s been a guy that’s had success along the way, there’s a reason for him to continue to be the head coach of the Detroit Red Wings.”
Burtchfield continues, and the Free Press’s Helene St. James picks up the narrative from there…
“Coming up from Grand Rapids it’s a big step to come into this locker room and deal with everything that comes with it,” Zetterberg said. “If you compare the first to the second year, he was more mature or more calm. He has been doing a good job with the kids, with the older guys. It’s a good locker room. We are in it together and we are dealing with ups and downs together. I have nothing bad to say about him.”
Blashill said he’s evaluating his staff. Assistant coach Doug Houda (defense, penalty kill) has a year left on his contract, but the contracts of assistant coach John Torchetti (forwards) and Jeff Salajko (goaltending) are expiring.
Holland is considering changes to the front office. Jim Nill left to take the general manager job in Dallas in 2013, and Steve Yzerman was named general manager in Tampa Bay in 2010.
“I’m open to anything,” Holland said. “There was a period of time Jimmy Devellano lived in Detroit, he doesn’t any more. I had Jim Nill here. Steve retired and we brought him on board. Scotty Bowman was a consultant. I had more voices and we had a lot of success. We won the Cup in ’08 and lost in the final in ’09. You lose people. That’s the reality when you have success, people get opportunities elsewhere. Ryan Martin has done a great job in his evaluation as a young executive. Runs Grand Rapids and does a fabulous job. Could we use another person that has that experience to join us? It’s something I’m considering.”
The Wings are in rebuilding mode, and Holland has been banking draft picks to try to turbocharge the process. The Wings have four picks within the first 40 selections in June. Meanwhile this spring is seeing 2017 first-round pick Michael Rasmussen dominate in the Western Hockey League playoffs (19 points his first six games) and 2016 first-round pick Dennis Cholowski is also having a good playoffs in the WHL.
“The theme going forward is the future,” Holland said. “It’s rebuild. It’s young kids but young kids put in the lineup when they are ready to play at this level, not before. I believe you need to have some veterans on the hockey club that are good role models. We have those. We have lots of players that have a year or two to go on their contracts so it’s an opportunity for some of our young players that aren’t quite ready to take the necessary time, but certainly there is opportunity on our team going forward.
“I’m hoping minimum of two, maybe 4-5 kids between the ages of 19-22 are on the roster next year that weren’t on the team to start this year. I’m going younger, I want to get those young players onto the roster when we think they can help us be competitive.”
And the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan focused on Holland’s remarks, made over the course of a 45-minute press conference:
In other topics: * Holland doesn’t expect to be aggressive in unrestricted free agency, although he would be interested in players who are important in short-term deals.
* He expects to have four or five players on the roster next season who weren’t with the Red Wings this season, the majority of those players being recent draft picks of the organization.
* Holland identified the defense as one unit that needs improvement. He said the defense is “old” and the organization hasn’t done a good enough job of drafting defensemen who have been impactful.
* As for restricted free-agent forwards Dylan Larkin, Anthony Mantha and Andreas Athanasiou, Holland said each deal is unique, and he’ll look for an agreement that benefits the player and the team.
* For those fans who were upset and frustrated by the news Holland is returning for two more years, he said he understands the frustration and pain of the fans’ after missing the playoffs the last two years.
* The Red Wings will wait and see where they draft, and how Mike Green’s rehabilitation from neck surgery evolves, before deciding whether to bring back the unrestricted free-agent defenseman.
* Holland is open to adding another person in the front office, noting the talent drain in recent years with the exodus of Jim Nill, Steve Yzerman, Scotty Bowman and Jimmy Devellano. (Devellano is still in the organization but not in a player personnel role.)
* Holland believes playoff contention could be a year or two away, as the organization accumulates young players and identifies pieces who can help the rebuild effort.
Kulfan also penned an article about Blashill’s return…
Blashill is hopeful he has grown and improved as a head coach at the NHL level.
“I hope I’ve gotten better,” Blashill said. “One thing I’ve tried to do my whole life is self-reflect and look in the mirror and say ‘you have to be better, how do you get better?’
“I’ve always encouraged a free communication in terms of what others think, so I know the areas that I’d like to improve upon. I would also say at any job, the more time you’re in it, the more comfortable you are. It’s easier to be good at it this year than in year one, it’s just easier because of experience.”
Blashill didn’t worry about the speculation swirling whether he would be retained, or not.
“I’m certainly glad to be coach of the Detroit Red Wings; it’s a job I love,” Blashill said. “I’m excited about trying to keep this thing moving in the right direction, to put this franchise where everybody wants it. I’m excited about the opportunity, and about continuing that job.
“I do the very best job I can every day, I don’t ever try to worry about things out of my control. My focus has been on trying to help this team be the very best I can be and individually the best they can be.
“I said it late in the year, over the course of the final two months (when the Red Wings were slipping out of playoff contention), it was making sure we’re building toward the future and my focus has been on that.”
And the same is true for MLive’s Ansar Khan:
“I thought the team played hard until the finish,” Holland said while addressing the media following the team photo and locker clean-out. “I’m hoping that two, three, four young players in our system make the team. He did a good job with the young players in Grand Rapids when he was the coach there. I thought this year, you look at the impact of (Tyler) Bertuzzi and (Dylan) Larkin and the development and the importance that they had on the team, they improved as players.”
The Red Wings are 104-105-37 in three seasons under Blashill, making the playoffs his first season (losing in the first round to Tampa Bay) and missing the past two seasons.
Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg supported the decision.
“I think Blash has done a good job,” Zetterberg said. “It’s not an easy spot, or easy job to take over. I think he’s been doing a good job with the kids, with all the guys. It’s a good locker room. I think we’re in it together. We are dealing with the ups and downs together. I’ve nothing bad to say about him.”
Zetterberg has seen Blashill grow, even if the team’s record hasn’t reflected it.
“I think coming up from Grand Rapids as a coach, it’s a big step to come into this locker room and deal with everything that comes with it,” Zetterberg said. “I thought if you compared the first year to the second year, I think he was more mature, more calm.”
Update: Here’s some Larkin contract talk from WXYZ’s Brad Galli, Facebook video included:
The Red Wings forward’s entry level deal expires this summer, and he’ll become a restricted free agent.
Larkin said on Tuesday he hopes to play his entire career with the Red Wings.
“You look all around this building, there’s reminders of the past,” he said.
“As a young player in this organization, I want that. I want to have that. I want to spend my whole career, which is hopefully here, I don’t want to be not in the playoffs.”
General manager Ken Holland didn’t hide behind his hopes for the offseason.
“I’m a big Dylan Larkin fan. He’s everything,” Holland said.
Zetterberg plans to return to Detroit for the 2018-19 season, and hopes he can help usher in a new era of winning at Little Caesars Arena.
“We haven’t been good enough the last two years,” he said.
Zetterberg has been through the highest of highs with the Red Wings, winning a Stanley Cup in 2008 and losing in the Final a year later. He now enters the lowest point in the franchise in over 25 years.
“Every club will go through this. Eventually there’s no other way than to start (over) through the rebuild. We’re right in the middle of it.”
Zetterberg signed a 12-year deal that lasts through the 2020-21 season. He has three seasons left on the contract. Ken Holland said to expect at least one or two years before the team is in playoff contention again. The team’s captain wants to be in Detroit when the team turns things around.
“I hope so. But I also played long enough that I know that a lot of stuff can happen, but I’m really looking forward to playing playoff hockey here.”
Update #3: Here’s the Oakland Press’s Pat Caputo’s take on the comments made by Holland and company today:
It’s not out of the realm of possibility the Red Wings will make the playoffs next season. They are in the same category as a lot of teams, and their veteran leadership, however overpriced, should help toward that goal.
It should be understood, though, that these are not the Lions. Merely making the playoffs should not be good enough for the Red Wings, and there was a stretch in which that was the case. The tradition of the Red Wings is winning the Stanley Cup, not providing first-round canon fodder.
The Red Wings have potential stars in 21-year-old Dylan Larkin and 23-year-old Anthony Mantha. Larkin, in particular, has gotten the message about what it’s going to take to become a great player and leader.
“We’re not in the spot we want to be,” the pride of Waterford Township said. “We have to look at ourselves. The growth must come from within.”
He then looked up at the pictures of past Red Wings’ greats that hang from the wall of the home dressing room at Little Caesars Arena.
“As a young player, I want that,” Larkin said. “They are up there because they won big games.”
As a group, the Red Wings, from Holland on down, are right on message. We’ll see how it goes when it comes to putting the plan in action.
Update #4: Here’s much more from Blashill via DetroitRedWings.com’s Dana Wakiji:
“The one thing I’ve tried to do my whole life is self-reflect,” Blashill said. “Look in the mirror and say, ‘you gotta be better and how do you get better?’ When you’re not, I think this is a league where I’ve always encouraged free communication in terms of what others think, so I know the areas that I look to improve upon. I also would say I think in any job, I think the more time you’re in it, probably the more comfortable you are. Certainly I would say it’s easier (now) to be good at it than it year one. It’s easier just because of experience.”
Blashill and his staff took pride in the fact that everyone continued to play hard even when the Wings were officially eliminated from playoff contention.
But Blashill also knows that two straight seasons of missing the playoffs are not the results needed to stay as head coach past next season.
“I don’t know anybody going into a season, whether it’s a coach or it’s a player, that doesn’t want to improve upon and be the very best they can be, and there isn’t a coach or player that’s gonna come into September and say they don’t have a chance at the playoffs,” Blashill said. “There will be 31 teams that think they do. And they’re not wrong. Why aren’t they wrong? There’s example after example year after year of teams that went from being totally out of it to in it. Did they think that was going to be their timeline? I don’t know. I don’t believe in timelines per se. I just know this: I know if we found a way to win a number of the close games, we would have been in the mix way longer. If certain young players can show the type of growth where they go from being here to being here, we’ll be a really good hockey team.”
While Blashill did not announce any changes to his coaching staff on Tuesday, he didn’t rule out the possibility. “I’ll evaluate,” Blashill said. “We’re evaluating everything in terms of how can we be better? When we talked to the team today, we all gotta be a little bit better. I’ll certainly evaluate our staff and see if there’s anything that makes sense for us.”