Detroit Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill is a good guy. If you met him, you’d like him. Likewise, Danny DeKeyser is a salt of the earth type, as decent as the day is long.
Here’s the thing, though. Once the Red Wings take the ice, none of that matters.
Years ago, while covering the Detroit Tigers, another reporter pointed out to Tony Phillips, newly-signed from the AL champion Oakland A’s, that his production numbers were quite impressive.
Phillips looked at his inquistor increduously. “They didn’t keep me around because they liked me,” he finally said.
Blashill likes to talk about the relentlessness of the NHL. It’s often also pointed out that they are in the business of winning. This season, his Red Wings have not proven very relentless. As for the business of winning, business is not good.
The decline and fall of the Red Wings over the past three months leaves only one obvious conclusion. It’s time for a change behind the bench.
For his part, Blashill claims he isn’t even considering his future.
“No. I haven’t thought about it for one second to be honest with you,” Blashill said. “I’m coaching a game tomorrow and that’s all that’s been my focus.”
Wings GM Steve Yzerman must certainly be thinking about it. Here’s five reasons why he should replace coach Jeff Blashill.
Red Wings’ Defensive Deficiencies
The abysmal defensive woes of the Red Wings are well documented. They’ve given up five or more goals in 32 of 81 games. That’s 39.5 percent of all of their games.
In other words, the Wings were needing to score six or more goals to win in four out of every 10 games they’ve played this season. That’s simply a formula for failure. Defense is about technique, commitment and positional play. A lot of that comes down to coaching.
“Certainly, our chances against were too high throughout the season, probably even when we won,” Blashill acknowledged.
With 309 goals against, or 3.79 goals against per game, only the Montreal Canadiens (317, 3.89) have proven to be more porous than Detroit. Its only the fifth time in franchise history and the first time since 1989-90 (323 goals against) that the Red Wings are surrendering more than 300 goals.
Detroit ended up missing the playoffs in 1989-90. At the end of the season, coach Jacques Demers was fired.
The Gang That Can’t Shoot Straight
The double-edged sword with Detroit’s lack of defense is that the offense isn’t exactly lighting up the scoreboard, either. In 38 of 81 games this season, the Red Wings finished up scoring two or fewer goals.
That works out to 46.9 percent of all games in which Detroit didn’t get to three goals scored. Combine that with their dismal defensive performance and it simply doesn’t compute to any semblance of success.
The Red Wings are 24th in the NHL in goals scored (222) and 26th in goals for per game (2.74).
Red Wings Special Teams Aren’t Very Special
Throughout the entirety of Blashill’s reign, special teams performance has proven to be an issue in need of solving.
During the six straight seasons of playoff absences, the Red Wings finished above 20th in the NHL on the power play just once, a 19th-place showing in 2018-19.
The penalty kill has shown occasional signs of life. In was 16th in 2016-17 and 22nd last season. However, that unit has completely bottomed out this season. Detroit is 32nd in the NHL on the PK (73.7%).
Over the past six seasons, the Red Wings rank 31st in the NHL on the power play (15.8%) and on the penalty kill (77.0%).
Red Wings Culture Shock
When a coach takes over a team, among the first buzzwords uttered are culture and identity. So tell us then, what exactly is the identity of the Red Wings? What is the culture that this team has built over the past six seasons?
It’s a question still without definitive answer. It’s one thing to be bad. It is an entirely different matter to be bad and often also appear to be rudderless.
“I think we’re trying to find kind of the recipe that allows us to have success,” veteran Red Wings forward Sam Gagner said. “We do have it at times, we just gotta keep building to make it consistent.”
Blashill’s had seven years to install a culture, an identity for this team. Yes, there are times when it shows. But those times happen far too rarely to suggest that the plan is progressing.
It would be wrong to suggest that there hasn’t been coaching turnover in Detroit during Blashill’s tenure. In fact, including video coaches, the Red Wings have gone through a dozen different assistant coaches under Jeff Blashill. Only Doug Houda has proven to be an ever-present.
There are some people suggesting that based on the progress the Red Wings were showing in the first part of the season, that Bashill deserves another season at the helm of this team. You know what? From all accounts, the Titanic was enjoying a lovely voyage until the ship hit the iceberg. Then things really went south.
The proverbial iceberg for Detroit’s season was a seven-game stretch in mid-February against seven of the top eight teams in the NHL. Entering that segment, the Wings were seven points out of the playoffs. By the conclusion of those seven games, the Wings were 17 points adrift of the playoffs.
“I do think the mental effect of being in it for a long time, having hope, probably the most hope we’ve had in the last couple of years of being a playoff team, I think our guys really believed that we could be one,” Blashill said. “And went it became clear we weren’t, it took the life out of us for a little bit and we didn’t play with that same extraordinary passion that I thought we’d played with at the beginning of the season.”
They’ve only been continuing their downward spiral ever since. Today, the Wings sit 28 points out of the playoffs. The collapse of the team over the past three months has proven to be alarming.
No one can say that Blashill hasn’t been given a fair shot. He’s second among active NHL coaches in tenure with one club. At the same time, he ranks 22nd among active NHL coaches in playoff wins (one).
Sometimes, simply hearing another voice in charge can make a difference for a team. What’s become abundantly clear is that what they’re doing right now isn’t working.