There was an early indication this week that the days of Jeff Blashill as coach of the Detroit Red Wings were numbered. During the week, the Red Wings were gathered together on the ice for the annual team photo.
Generally, the taking of the team photo happens at the annual locker clean out day. Hard, though, to ask the coach to be dropping by for a photo op after he’s been fired.
— Detroit Red Wings (@DetroitRedWings) April 30, 2022
Red Wings executive vice president and general manager Steve Yzerman didn’t wait long to make a decision on Blashill’s future. Saturday afternoon, less than a day after the team’s regular-season finale, a terse, one-sentence release in all caps on the club’s social media sites delivered the verdict on Blashill’s future.
“Detroit Red Wings executive vice president and general manager Steve Yzerman announced today that the team will not renew the contracts of head coach Jeff Blashill, assistant coach Doug Houda and goaltending coach Jeff Salajko,” it read.
Thirty-five words in all. Five words for each season of Blashill’s reign.
Undoubtedly, there are joyous celebrations among large pockets of the team’s fan base, who couldn’t wait for this day to arrive. At the same time, there was a groundswell of Wings fans pointing out that no coach could win with the bunch the Red Wings are putting on the ice.
You know what? In this instance, both sides are making valid points. No, it is patently false to place blame for all that ails the Red Wings solely on the shoulders of Jeff Blashill. He’s a quality coach. He’ll work again in the pros and probably in the NHL.
That being said, Blashill still absolutely had to go.
Red Wings Woes Not All Blashill’s Doing
He took over as bench boss in 2015. Only his good friend Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper had held his current position longer. Blashill was 204-261-72 (.447) behind the Detroit bench.
This wasn’t an easy decision for Yzerman. He’s extremely fond of Blashill’s work. The problem is, it wasn’t working in Detroit.
Not many coaches in any pro sport get to miss the playoffs for six successive seasons without missing a paycheck. Given every chance to make it happen for the Wings, Blashill simply couldn’t.
Were the team able to maintain its strong start to the year, displaying an ability to at the least hang around the periphery of the playoff race, it’s more than likely that Blashill would’ve been given another year to try and get this club over the hump.
Thank You Jeff. ❤️👊🔥🙏
— Darren McCarty (@DarrenMcCarty4) April 30, 2022
“We stayed in the playoff race longer than we have in the last couple years, probably since we started the rebuild,” Blashill said following Friday’s 5-3 season-ending win over the New Jersey Devils. “I thought we had as much hope as we’ve had.”
Hope gave way to despair in February. Just seven points out of the playoffs at the time, the Wings went into free fall. They were 22-21-6. Detroit closed 10-19-4 the rest of the way, finishing up 26 points out of postseason play.
Defensive Woes Seal Blashill’s Fate
It wasn’t just that they lost, it was the embarrassing manner in which the Red Wings were losing that was steadily sealing Blashill’s fate. Detroit fell 10-7 at home to the Toronto Maple Leafs. They lost 11-2 at Pittsburgh. It was the first time since 1985-86 that they suffered multiple double-digit losses in the same season.
The Wings allowed five or more goals in 32 of 82 games this season. The team surrendered an NHL-leading 881 high-danger chances according to NaturalStatTrick.com. They allowed 312 goals, the most by a Red Wings club since 1989-90. The -82 goal differential posted by the team is fourth-worst in the league.
Detroit ranks 31st in the league goals against per game (3.78), last overall in the 32-team NHL on the penalty kill (73.8%), 26th on the power play (16.3%) and 25th in goals per game (2.77).
According to NHL sources, Yzerman was furious over the decline and fall of the club after the NHL All-Star break. Someone was going to pay the price for that failure and it was always going to be the coach.
Detroit assistant coach Alex Tanguay, the man in charge of operating the power play, and video coach LJ Scarpace were not among those who were given their dismissal.