The Detroit Red Wings’ new coach Derek Lalonde is a colorful character, sloppy dresser, glib speaker and a respected coach who has won at all of his coaching stops.
It’s not hard to guess which of those characteristics prompted general manager Steve Yzerman to give the Tampa Bay Lightning assistant the job as Detroit’s 28th head coach.
“He has proven himself as an excellent coach at every level and has spent the last four seasons in the National Hockey League as part of a very successful program in Tampa Bay,” Yzerman said. “We feel he is ready to take the next step in his career as the head coach of the Detroit Red Wings.”
The Red Wings are the third team to hire an NHL assistant coach to be their head coach, joining the New York Islanders (Lane Lambert) and Chicago Blackhawks (Luke Richardson).
“(Lalonde) essentially had his hands in every aspect of the Xs and Os of what the Lightning team ran, including special teams with an emphasis on the PK,” said Erik Erlendsson of Lightning Insider. “He has excellent communication skills, whether it’s with how he deals with the players or how he deals with the media.”
Won Title in USHL
Lalonde coached the Iowa Wild to their first two winning seasons before Yzerman, then GM in Tampa, hired him as Jon Cooper’s assistant coach in 2018.
He started to draw notice as a coach in 2011-12 when he guided his Green Bay Gamblers team to a 47-9-4 record en route to winning the United States Hockey League championship. Before then, Lalonde was an assistant college coach at Ferris State and Denver.
Lalonde has a reputation as a coach who can develop young players. The Lightning have had success plugging in a steady stream of prospects to replace salary cap casualties.
“Derek has an impressive resume, particularly the work he’s done with young players and prospects throughout his career,” said Red Wings Governor, President and CEO Chris Ilitch said. “We’re excited to have him leading the charge behind the Red Wings bench. I’d also like to commend Steve and his staff for conducting a very thorough and detailed search process. We have the greatest fans in hockey, and they deserve a team that consistently competes for Stanley Cup championships. We’ll continue to work diligently towards that goal under the leadership of Steve and Derek.”
Yzerman Had History With Lalonde
Immediately after Detroit coach Jeff Blashill was fired, Lalonde’s name was listed as a possible replacement because Yzerman had hired him in Tampa. Lalonde interviewed for the job Tuesday, two days after the Colorado Avalanche defeated the Lightning to win the Stanley Cup Final. One reason why the Red Wings’ coaching search has taken time is because GM Steve Yzerman wanted to interview the Tampa Bay assistants.
Lalonde turns 50 on August 18. Prior to working in Iowa, Lalonde guided the Toledo Walleye to 97 wins over two seasons. The Walleye have an affiliation with the Red Wings and Grand Rapids Griffins.
In a profile for the Athletic, writer Joe Smith portrayed Lalonde as possessing an outgoing personality and self-deprecating sense of humor that helped him connect to players. He often starts speeches with a joke. His fashion faux pas are legendary. Mismatched socks. Tie-shirt coordination that doesn’t work. Old man shoes. He often faces ribbing about his wardrobe.
Lalonde admits that he looks a bit like Uncle Fester on the old Addams Family televisions show.
The bottom line: Lalonde is well respected by players and management in Tampa Bay.
Lalonde, a native of Brasher Falls, N.Y., has been Cooper’s friend for more than 20 years, and he also has a long friendship with Blashill. Of course, Cooper and Blashill are friends. All three of them won AHL championships, prompting them to hold an informal “Champions League” golf outing every year.
Blashill told the Athletic that Lalonde “(has) to make up for the ugliest golf swing I’ve ever seen.”
So the story goes, Lalonde makes up for that with an uncanny, maybe miraculous, ability to find his golf ball when everyone assumes it is lost.
That’s the fun side of Lalonde. But Yzerman didn’t hire him to have more fun on the golf course. He brought him in because Lalonde gets the most out of his players. Yzerman expects a more competitive team this season.
The Detroit GM said after firing Jeff Blashill that he feels his best hires are those he knew before the interview. Yzerman knows Lalonde.