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Duff: Time Is Up For Red Wings Coach Jeff Blashill

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Jeff Blashill, Detroit Red Wings
With the way the Red Wings have collapsed in the second half of the NHL season it's difficult to imagine coach Jeff Blashill is back in 2022-23.

There’s no way Jeff Blashill survives this.

Under normal circumstances, an 11-2 setback followed by two days off would be prime time for a coaching change. At this juncture, though, it’s unlikely that Detroit Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman will be making a change behind the team’s bench.

However, with the frightening way in which this season has unraveled for the team, there’s absolutely no way he can return Blashill for an eighth season as coach of the Red Wings.

Over the past six seasons, all of them losing campaigns, Jeff Blashill is showing a .426 winning percentage. No coach in NHL history has guided a team to six consecutive losing seasons and managed to hang on to his job.

The problem is that all the gains made last season and through the first half of this season have vanished over the past two months – much like the Red Wings have also too often done during this stretch of bad hockey.

What’s wrong with these Red Wings? Let’s count the ways it’s all gone awry.

Detroit’s Defensive Shortcomings

Sunday’s 11-2 setback in Pittsburgh marked the third time in 14 games Detroit surrendered nine or more goals. Two of those games saw the Wings fish double-digits out of their net. That hadn’t happened in 37 years. It’s also the first time since an 11-6 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Feb. 23, 1988 that 11 goals have gone into the Detroit net in one game.

“We can’t have goals go in, we can’t have breakdowns that lead into constant odd-man rushes for the other team,” Red Wings captain Dylan Larkin said. “We don’t want soft goals going in and we can’t give up big-time chances that continue to keep coming at our goalies.”

And yet, it continues to happen. The Wings have given up seven or more goals nine times. That is the most since the 1988-89 season. They’ve allowed five or more goals in 13 of the past 26 games.

Coaching Message From Jeff Blashill Not Getting Through?

Ultimately, a significant portion of that blame must be laid at the feet of the coaches. A scoring touch is often a knack that only certain players possess. Stout defensive play comes down to positioning, effort, responsibility and sacrifice. These are coachable qualities.

“I think on most good teams, you defend well, you don’t give up easy chances,” Blashill said. “You defend the middle of the ice and you can put pressure on the other team.

“I think we go in spurts of doing that.”

The Wings were 20th in the NHL in goals against last season. After Sunday’s game, they are now last in the 32-team league, allowing 3.80 goals per game. The team GAA is 5.07 over the past 14 games.

“I think every coach wants their team to be defensively responsible because they know that’s how you win over a long period of time,” Blashill said. “But in the end, in order to win long term, just like every single other team in the league, you have to make it hard on the other team to create scoring chances.

“So that’s what we’re gonna continue to focus on.”

It would be incorrect to label defensive responsibility as a work in progress in Detroit. The fact of the matter is, the team’s defensive play is getting much worse as the season continues.

Team Effort Comes And Goes

In past seasons, even when the results on the ice were going against Detroit, Wings fans could be counting on the team to put up a fight. Opponents often commented on how fast and hard the Red Wings played the game.

Too often – not every night, but enough nights to be worrisome – that effort is found to be wanting this season.

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“We ultimately gotta work extraordinarily hard, we gotta compete extraordinarily hard to have success right now,” Blashill said. “We can’t get down 3-1 or 4-1 and then not continue to compete like that.

“That simply can’t happen with our hockey team.”

Yet it does happen. It was the case when Detroit fell 9-2 at home to the Arizona Coyotes. Again on Sunday, the Wings were fading away meekly as the Penguins kept piling up the goals.

Even Red Wings social media went AWOL. Sunday, they stopped posting score updates at 8-2.

Emotion Too Often Lacking

“We didn’t have the same emotion as we did (Saturday against Tampa Bay in a 2-1 OT loss),” Larkin said. “We didn’t have the same anything as we did (Saturday). The emotion wasn’t there and our compete-level was not there.”

Blashill recognizes that games like these cannot continue to happen.

“I think it’s going to be critically important for us as we continue to move forward that we have that mental toughness, that we show that type of fight, that we’re digging in to do everything possible to win the hockey game,” Blashill said.

“We obviously have work to do.”

Both players and coach insist that the messaging is not falling on deaf ears. That may very well be the case. But that doesn’t mean that the message isn’t still is in need of change. After seven years under one coach, often just hearing it from a different voice can make all the difference to a team.

Big Picture? Losing Now Not A Bad Thing For Wings

Detroit is 24 points out of the playoffs with 16 games to play. Really, there’s nowhere to go for the Wings, so they might as well go down.

The team currently sits ninth in NHL entry draft position. The Red Wings are two points ahead of Chicago and four in front of Buffalo. Dropping below Philly and New Jersey (seven points behind Detroit) and Ottawa (eight back) is likely too much to ask. But even getting into sixth spot in the draft pecking order isn’t a bad place to be. No. 6 is where they got Moritz Seider, after all.

 

No one in the Wings organization would ever say this out loud but the fact of the matter is that winning now does them no good. Changing the coach and perhaps causing a spark in the team and a surge in the standings would be making short-term gain to suffer long-term pain.

It seems somewhat pointless at this late juncture to fire Jeff Blashill. Just as it seems entirely inconceivable to envision him being back behind the Detroit bench next season.

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