From the outset, the expectation was that the Detroit Red Wings would be promoting Toledo Walleye coach Dan Watson from the ECHL to become the new bench boss of the AHL Grand Rapids Griffins.
On Tuesday, that’s exactly what the club did, naming Watson as coach of the Griffins. It turns out that it isn’t only players who are working their way up the ladder in the Detroit organization.
Watson, 43, is coming off an outstanding season in charge of the Walleye. He would guide Toledo to a 45-19-5-3 (.681) record last season before going 9-4 in the Kelly Cup Playoffs to reach the Western Conference Finals. Among the Detroit prospects playing for him was 2021 first-round draft pick Sebastian Cossa.
The Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday named Dan Watson head coach of the Griffins. Watson becomes the 12th head coach in franchise history after serving six seasons as head coach of the ECHL’s Toledo Walleye. #GoGRG
— Grand Rapids Griffins (@griffinshockey) June 14, 2023
“I’m thrilled to announce Dan as the head coach of the Griffins,” Grand Rapids general manager and Red Wings assistant GM Shawn Horcoff said. “He established a tremendous winning culture during his six years as head coach in Toledo through his work ethic, communication skills, and the relationships he built with his players.
“Dan’s passion for player development and familiarity with the Red Wings organization will be vital assets. We’re confident his experience will lead to the continued growth of our players in Grand Rapids.”
Grand Rapids coach Ben Simon was relieved of his duties shortly after the conclusion of the 2022-23 AHL season.
Griffins Next Logical Step For Watson
Watson has spent the last 14 years working in the Red Wings organization, all in Toledo with the Walleye. He would start out as an assistant coach from 2009-14. Watson then served two seasons (2014-16) as Toledo’s associate head coach at a time when current Red Wings coach Derek Lalonde was running the Walleye bench. Watson was named head coach of the club in July of 2016. He also served as director of hockey operations during the 2020-21 ECHL campaign in which Toledo did not participate due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Watson has never missed the playoffs as head coach, reaching the Kelly Cup Finals twice (2019 and 2022) and leading Toledo to three division titles (2016-17, 2017-18 and 2021-22), three 100-point seasons (2016-17, 2017-18 and 2021-22), two regular season championships (2016-17 and 2021-22), and four Western Conference Finals berths (2017, 2019, 2022 and 2023). His ECHL regular-season winning percentage is .691. In the playoffs, it’s .600.
Watson Was ECHL Coach Of Year
In 2016-17, he garnered the John Brophy Award as the ECHL’s Coach of the Year in his first year as head coach. That year the Walleye won the Central Division behind a franchise-record 51 wins (51-17-2-2, 0.736) and reached the Western Conference Finals. He’s the fastest coach in ECHL history to reach 100 wins. Watson is also the winningest head coach in Walleye history. He was chosen to coach in the ECHL All-Star Game in both 2017 and 2022.
“I am extremely excited and honored to become the next head coach of the Griffins,” Watson said. “I look forward to getting the privilege of working with each player to make them better while creating a positive work environment. This is a very important time in the Red Wings organization and a big challenge. We will work hard to put a competitive team on the ice that the fans can be proud of.”
Watson has coached 56 future or former Griffins. As of today, he’s now in charge of the future of the Griffins.