The Tampa Bay Lightning and Detroit Red Wings are 991 miles apart on the map, and separated by light years when it comes to recent NHL success. The Lightning have been to three consecutive Stanley Cup Finals, won two of them and own 42 postseason wins over the past 21 months.
The Red Wings, meanwhile, have missed the playoffs for six consecutive seasons and haven’t won a postseason series since 2013.
But new Red Wings coach Derek Lalonde (pronounced La-LONE) says there are less-than-obvious similarities between the Lightning team he joined as an assistant coach in 2018 and the Red Wings team he now commands today.
“We need to improve our team defense, need to improve the risk in our game, need to improve those important habits of winning, and I think every team looks to do that,” Lalonde said. “Yes, Tampa was in a different spot than we are here. We were a win-now championship-caliber type team but it was the same type of things that got us from good to Stanley Cup champion, the same type of habits, things within our team that we’re going to look to improve here.”
Columbus Loss Changed Lightning
The Lightning were 62-16-4 in Lalonde’s first season in Tampa Bay. But as Lalonde puts it, the Columbus Blue Jackets “smoked” them in the opening round of the playoffs. The Blues Jackets recorded a sweep. That’s when Lightning personnel pulled together to be more difficult to play against defensively.
That’s exactly what Lalonde wants to make happen in Detroit.
“If you do those things, it should translate, it should take care of itself,” Lalonde said. “It’s process and the outcome kind of takes care of itself.”
Lalonde has never been an NHL head coach, but he’s been a head coach in junior hockey and the minor leagues, and served as an assistant coach in the NHL, long enough to have dealt with all of the deficiencies the Red Wings currently have.
Red Wings Governor, President and CEO Chris Ilitch said “in the end Derek really stood out as the right coach to have behind the bench for the Detroit Red Wings.”
Lalonde is a Communicator
GM Steve Yzerman hired him because he believes Lalonde’s coaching approach is the right approach. He liked what he heard from Lalonde.
“Just in our conversations, mostly within the last week about his style of play, the way his teams want to play (and the way) his teams have played,” Yzerman said. “Ultimately I think part of the reason the Tampa Bay Lightning have had such playoff success recently is the way they play. Part of the way they play is they buckle down, they became a real good checking team. ”
Lalonde was heavily involved in steering players in the right direction.
“Talking with Derek, I understand his values as a coach, the way he wants to do things,” Yzerman said. “Systems change and adapt over time but I’m very comfortable and confident his approach and his ideas will translate on the ice for us.”
Lalonde knows what he wants the Red Wings’ identity to be under his command.
“We want to be a team that’s hard to play against,” he said. “The uniqueness of playing in the division and playing as many times as we did the last couple of years, we saw parts of that, where they were hard to play against, they were gapped, they were not giving us an inch. Our goal is to be a little more consistent in that.”
Completing the Checklist
Lalonde has a reputation for connecting with players. He had some emotional goodbyes and texts with his Tampa Bay players. The upstate New York native and long-time Buffalo Bills fan says his chief strength as a coach is his ability to communicate.
“I care about the guys. I’m gonna care about the guys,” he said. “We’re gonna have a very good relationship. I’m gonna want to have a relationship, I’m gonna want to know the guys. Then when those hard conversations do come about, there’s some trust there. For it’s communication and it’s relationships.”
He is big on accountability but that doesn’t mean that he ends up in shouting matches with his players. What you hear about Lalonde is that players play hard for him because they don’t want to let him down. He checked all of the boxes on Yzerman’s checklist.
— Ken Kal (@KenKalDRW) July 1, 2022
“Derek fits perfectly in line, his experience, his background as a coach, his style of coaching, his personality, his way with people,” Yzerman said. “I think over time you are going to greatly appreciate the relationships, whether it be through the media, people in the organization and most importantly our fans, you’re going to really appreciate the way Derek runs his staff, his team and runs his program.
“We spent a lot of time over the last two months looking at coaches from all leagues, all different backgrounds, all levels of experience and ultimately came down to the decision that Derek fit all the areas I felt were important but would be good for this organization, this team, where we are today and where we’re going in the near and far future.”
Yzerman also gave Lightning coach Jon Cooper his first NHL head coaching job. Lalonde now has apprenticed under Cooper. That doesn’t mean Yzerman wants another Cooper.
“I expect (Lalonde) to do things his way, not necessarily the Tampa Bay Lightning way or the Jon Cooper
way,” Yzerman said. “I’ve hired Derek to do it his way.”