The Detroit Red Wings reasons to get rid of Jeff Blashill would be on most fan’s wish lists. After all, there hasn’t been a tremendous amount of success with Blash behind the bench. But as I wrote in my first article on why Blash could be retained, what has he honestly been given to even get a chance to win? In the six seasons he’s been in Detroit, he saw Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, and Niklas Kronwall all exit in as span of three seasons. It left a void of talent and ushered in a (much needed) rebuild.
In spite of that attrition, there are still some issues that arose as the rebuild wore on. General manager Steve Yzerman made it clear that Blashill’s job would be judged not on wins and losses but on the progress of the players on the roster. While I think Yzerman ultimately retains him, there is an argument to be made that maybe a new voice could move the team a bit further.
Here are some reasons why Blashill could be replaced.
Dylan Larkin Regressed This Season
Two seasons ago, Andreas Athanasiou had 30 goals while Larkin notched 32 and a season ago, Anthony Mantha was trending toward a 30 goal season before injuries derailed it. Since those watermarks, Athanasiou and Mantha were dealt away and Larkin has had a fair share of struggles this season, leading some to speculate that he could eventually end up on the trade block. Though I’m not sure how realistic a Larkin trade would be, it’s fair to point out that he hasn’t had his best season. Is that because of the talent around him? Is it that he’s not as elite as many thought? Was it injuries? Or is it on coaching?
Looking at Evolving-Hockey, Larkin’s GAR this season was -3.4. That’s a steep dive from 8.7 and 8.3 in 2018-19 and 2019-20 respectively. His SPAR is also at -1.1, which is a drop from 2019-20 where it was 3.9. Additionally, his Goals/60 is down, Pts/60 are down, but his xG/60 is up slightly. At 5v5, the numbers tell the same story.
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Mantha and Athanasiou were both shipped out and that was Yzerman grabbing value while he could. Neither one would likely be around when Detroit was in contender mode. But Larkin’s struggles are certainly concerning. Though he doesn’t have the talent around him, the elite players make things happen regardless.
That could be considered damning for Blashill.
The Power Play Struggles and has for a long while
The 0 for 40 streak highlighted the scoring issues the Red Wings had but it’s the decisions made during the power play that drive fans nuts. On a 5 on 3 against Chicago, Detroit was dumping the puck into the Chicago zone. Not only could they not retrieve it, but they were barely able to generate any pressure with a two man advantage.
Deployment on the power play have also driven fans batty. Who can forget Frans Nielsen getting power play time when he hasn’t had more than ten goals in four seasons? When Adam Erne was out there (prior to his goal scoring binge), who was in favor the move? Those decisions and along
with a toothless power play lead to the third reason that fans point to most.
Lineups and Deployment
In several games where Detroit held the lead against a superior team late in the third, Blashill would send his fourth line out there. When the team was chasing a goal, his best scorers would be on the bench while the aforementioned grinders would be skating around. Instances like these–along with the benching of younger players for what seemed minor infractions is the most egregious sin Blashill has committed with fans calling for his head.
I complained earlier this season that it seemed hypocritical that veterans could make awful decisions or be ineffective offensively and still have more ice time than younger players. GIvani Smith, Evgeni Svechnikov, Matthias Brome, Taro Hirose and Dennis Cholowski all fall into this category. For someone who was supposed to develop the talent, it seemed bizarre that veterans who struggled to produce were given the nod.
So could it mean a change?
It seems likely Blashill is back
I know it’s not what the majority wants, but it’s the most likely outcome. Believe it or not, the Red Wings have tied last year’s win total already and did so in 22 less games. Yes, the roster is better from what he had last season. But he had to navigate a team that saw a number of key players on Covid Protocol, and just the other day, a team decimated by injury ripped Dallas 7-3.
The fatigue from the rebuild coupled with frustrating results at times certainly makes Blashill an easy target. But if we take the emotion out of it, stand back, and survey the entire picture as Yzerman does, most of the expectations were met. Though Larkin has regressed, Adam Erne has been a revelation. Robby Fabbri continued to produce while Filip Zadina improves with each game. Though they really shouldn’t, the system Blashill has used keeps Detroit in games, and has put them in positions to win.
Ultimately, Yzerman will do what he thinks is best for the organization. We’ll find out what it is in two weeks.