The Red Wings ended their season on Friday night in New Jersey and entered the offseason with a slate of decisions to make about the direction of the team. It took under a day for General Manager Steve Yzerman to make the first one.
Jeff Blashill will not return as the team’s head coach.
The move comes in the form of the team cleaning house behind the bench. Assistant coach Doug Houda and goalie coach Jeff Salajko will also not return. It is believed – coach contracts are rarely made as public as player contracts – that none of the three were explicitly fired; instead their contracts were not renewed.
Assistant coach Alex Tanguay remains with the team. The 2021-22 campaign was his first in Detroit.
Blashill, as The Athletic’s Max Bultman notes, never had much to work with as far as player personnel goes, taking the team over from Mike Babcock as the Red Wings entered their current rebuild. There seems to be the thought that he’ll end up coaching back in the NHL sooner rather than later. In the meantime, there’s already buzz that he could take over the Ferris State program in 2023.
For the Red Wings, though, answering the question of whether or not Blashill would return has just raised another; that of who will replace him.
I won’t pretend to have insight into what Yzerman might be thinking regarding that (turn to Bultman again for some options Yzerman might be considering). My hope – and my expectation given Yzerman’s history – is that we won’t see someone from the NHL coaching carousel brought in. No John Tortorella or Paul Maurice or Dave Tippett.
As I mentioned yesterday, I’m equal parts curious and terrified of the idea of bringing Sergei Fedorov over from CSKA Moscow of the KHL, with all the baggage that would entail. I’d been on the Roger Ronnberg bandwagon for a while but I’m not so sure about that anymore.
Whoever the new coach is, another big question for the summer is how similar the team he takes over looks to the one Blashill leaves behind.
Thomas Greiss is expected to depart as a free agent this summer, opening up the backup slot with the Red Wings. Is the late-season signing of Magnus Hellberg, who made his Detroit debut in the season finale, a sign that he has the inside track on replacing him? Hellberg himself is an unrestricted free agent, so he might not even return. If Calvin Pickard leaves the organization and Victor Brattstrom returns to Europe, Alex Nedeljkovic would be the only returning goalie from Detroit or Grand Rapids, so upheaval is coming there.
On defense, it’s hard to see Danny DeKeyser – waived and unclaimed during the season – returning next year. Mid-season waiver claim Olli Juolevi was largely ineffective in his time in Detroit and – as a pending restricted free agent – may not be given a qualifying offer, becoming unrestricted. Jake Walman was good for the Wings after being acquired in the Nick Leddy deadline day trade and can reasonably be expected to return as a restricted free agent.
The biggest question mark of the current blueliners is Marc Staal. Along with DeKeyser, he was named an alternate captain to start the season and the team appreciates his veteran leadership. Though he’s not the player he once was, his performance didn’t drop as much as DeKeyser’s did, so there may be interest in bringing him back.
If Staal and Walman return, the Detroit blueline would be made up of Moritz Seider, Filip Hronek, Jordan Oesterle, Gustav Lindstrom, Staal, and Walman. Simon Edvinsson, the sixth overall pick in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, could claim a spot out of training camp.
Even with the addition of Edvinsson, it’s hard to see that defense corps being much of an improvement over what the Red Wings had this year, so there may be appetite to let Staal (and/or Walman) walk to clear roster spots for upgrades brought in via free agency.
Up front there’s a similar situation. Ten of the 12 forward spots are accounted for by returning players. One of those is restricted free agent Filip Zadina. Jonatan Berggren, who set a new Grand Rapids Griffins rookie scoring record this season, can also be expected to take up a spot. That’s 12 just by letting pending restricted free agent Mitchell Stephens and unrestricted free agents Sam Gagner, Turner Elson, and Carter Rowney walk.
Like Staal, the team has appreciated Gagner’s veteran hand and may want him back next year. Pushing Givani Smith into the 13th forward slot wouldn’t be the end of the world but it again means that there’s little room to add upgrades via free agency.
The Red Wings are getting into a dangerous spot in their rebuild. To take advantage of the prime of Dylan Larkin’s career, they will need to add pieces now. Trotting out the same basic lineup behind a new head coach won’t do it (though having both Robby Fabbri and Jakub Vrana healthy at the same time would be a benefit).
If they can’t do that, realistically, this rebuild is going to take at least another three or four years and they should be looking at selling Larkin or Tyler Bertuzzi or Vrana for assets that will make them competitive when Seider and Lucas Raymond are in their primes. It might be a hard pill for Wings fans to swallow but it makes sense.