Detroit Red Wings: Is Jeff Blashill the next best coach?


The path that coaches take can sometimes be all over the map, but new Detroit Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill experienced the same journey that most of his players took. To paraphrase the great twenty-first century philosopher known as Drake, Blashill “started from the bottom, now he’s here.”

Juniors. College. AHL. Now NHL. Normal enough progression, right? Guy starts with a team full of teenagers and earns his stripes, slowly but surely finding success every step of the way. A spot opens up on the big club, and this guy is a no-brainer to earn that call-up. If you feel like you’ve heard this story before, you’d be right. Thousands of hockey players have taken this path to reaching their NHL dream; some were able to continue that success once they reached the big stage, others floundered under the bright lights and were either sent back down to the AHL or stayed in the NHL but hardly had anything resembling a meaningful impact.

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After successful head coaching stints with the Indiana Ice of the USHL, Western Michigan Broncos of the CCHA, and more recently the AHL’s Grand Rapids Griffins, Blashill enters the 2015-2016 season having reached the mountain’s peak, as a head coach of the Detroit Red Wings in the National Hockey League.

A Rookie Again

Just like any rookie out on the ice, Blashill is sure to experience some growing pains in his new role. He’s had success at each of his prior gigs, but the NHL is a whole new animal. Just like the NHL players are the best of the best, so too are its coaches. And I probably don’t have to point out to you he has some pretty sizable shoes to fill left by his predecessor Mike Babcock.

Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Despite all this, Blashill enters his first season with a few things already going in his favor. He takes over one of the most successful teams in NHL history, one that has reached the playoffs in each of the past 24 seasons, and won four Stanley Cups over that time. A team led by stars Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Dastyuk, and has one of the best owners and general managers in hockey in Mike Ilitch and Ken Holland respectively.

Another advantage unique to Blashill’s situation is his experience with many of the players already on the Red Wings’ roster. He’s coached most of the young guys the past few seasons as the head coach of the Griffins, and mentored some of the veterans when he was Babcock’s assistant for two years in Detroit. Blashill has prior experience coaching almost all of the players expected to make Detroit’s final roster this fall.

How will Blashill fare? If I had that answer for you I’d probably be working in the National Hockey League instead of writing about it, but he has his work cut out for him. He isn’t taking command of some middle of the pack team. This is the Red Wings, a model organization that demands success on the ice. And success has been hard to find in recent years.

Lewis’ Cautionary Tale

Making the playoffs for 24 (and hopefully soon 25) straight years is no small feat, but when over half  of the NHL’s 30 teams reach postseason, simply making it shouldn’t be a cause for excessive celebration. It deserves a “Good Job!” and a strong pat on the back, but this is Hockeytown. In recent years, Mike Babcock’s teams reached the playoffs but advanced no further, and based on recent comments by the Red Wings’ captain, no one was sad to see him leave.

Detroit has won a total of three playoff series in the last six seasons. Once May and June roll around and hockey’s best are the only ones left standing, you haven’t seen the Red Wings among them. Yes the Wings have lost to the Stanley Cup Champion, the top regular season team, and the Stanley Cup runner-up in the last three seasons, but if Detroit wants to be among the league’s elite, then they can’t be consistently losing early, regardless of  who the opponent might be.

This is the Detroit Red Wings, with the third most amount of Stanley Cups of any team in history. They’ve had Scotty Bowman and Mike Babcock each lead them to the promised land. The coach in between those? Dave Lewis, who led Detroit through a time everyone would like to forget…..a time where Detroit never made it past the second round of the playoffs. Lewis eventually moved on to coach one season in Boston, and never again thereafter.

Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Maybe consider a more recent example. Anaheim’s Bruce Boudreau has coached eight seasons in the NHL, and won seven division titles in that span. But you’re unlikely to hear his name among today’s top NHL coaches, and you can probably guess why. Not until this year has a team coached by Boudreau advanced past the playoff’s second round.

If Jeff Blashill wants to have hockey fans in the future look back on his coaching career and consider it a success, there is only one measuring stick. Sure one could point to the fact that each team technically has a 1/30 shot to become champions in a given year, so one Stanley Cup every 30 years should be considered acceptable.

It isn’t. Not in Detroit.

One in thirty is average. If Blashill is average, his time in Detroit will be short and he’ll be forgotten just like Lewis. If he wants to be remembered fondly, possibly even among the likes of Bowman and Babcock, he’ll need to lead his teams through the early playoff rounds and soon join the NHL’s elite in June. And to ultimately have his name etched in hockey lore, he’ll need to have his first get it etched on the Stanley Cup.

Next: You Can't Blame Ken Holland for Dan Cleary

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