Jeff Blashill: A Man for All Seasons?

Jeff Blashill. Former head coach of the Detroit Red Wings. (Photo by Martin Rose/Getty Images)
Jeff Blashill. Former head coach of the Detroit Red Wings. (Photo by Martin Rose/Getty Images) /
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Detroit Red Wings
Jeff Blashill. Former head coach of the Detroit Red Wings. (Photo by Martin Rose/Getty Images) /

The Story of Former Red Wings Head Coach, Jeff Blashill

In Jeff Blashill’s introductory press conference he said:

"“The Red Wings job was the job I wanted most of all.”"

He was a homegrown guy, growing up in the beautiful emerald north of the Upper Peninsula we all know and love. Coming into the job, Blashill had to steady a ship which was experiencing structural damage as a result of Mike Babcock’s erratic behavior. However, the team still had some success. This wasn’t a terrible team…yet.

A common man leading a team which is expected to fall off of a cliff soon, but is still a playoff team heading into the 2015-2016 season. A team that ran into the emerging buzz saw of the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round, and lost 4-1.

The next year was when that previously mentioned cliff started quickly approaching, as the Red Wings season total dropped by fourteen points. The realization set-in that this team was in dire need to start rebuilding. This type of season was one of the worst kinds: no playoffs, no influx of youth, and not bad enough to have a better chance of a good draft pick.

The next two seasons were much of the same for the Red Wings, but just slightly worse during the regular season. Jeff Blashill was the head of a hockey team with a rich and proud history that was stuck in a mire of mediocrity with no end in sight. However, out of the mire emerged a beast. A beast bringing with it a historically bad season for the team.

Stating it bluntly, the 2019-2020 Detroit Red Wings were bad bad bad. The team had the third worst point percentage in team history, and the NHL’s worst since the 1999-2000 Atlanta Thrashers. It hurts to even type those words as it brings back the memories of watching that team. However, Jeff Blashill never melted down. He stoically led the team from behind the bench, demanding accountability of his players while also leading by example. In an interview during one of the lowest points of the season, Blashill gave a quote which exemplified his character:

"It’s been as big a challenge as anything I’ve faced in my professional career. The record says that. I think it’s a great challenge, though. It’s easy to have great character when things are going awesome. When you go through these types of struggles, it’s a great opportunity for me to make sure I’m leading the right way."

Leading the right way. Sure, during his tenure it was easy to hate on Blashill at times. Admittedly, I have been very harsh on him in the past and been flabbergasted as to how he still kept his job. However, it was never because of his character which was always very professional. That’s the idea of the common man, both in life and in the Bolt play.

The idea of being a creature of duality, both of weakness, but also of strength. The main motivation of the Common Man in the play is to stay alive no matter what happens. Jeff Blashill stayed alive despite being behind the bench for six consecutive losing seasons, to the point he was the second longest tenured coach upon his firing, only behind two-time Stanley Cup winner John Cooper.

Jeff Blashill seemed to be a man for any type of season last year. He lead a clearly declining team through the first year, then through the next four clear rebuild years (including a historically bad season), and then into the ascension of the rebuild which started taking place in 2020-2021. It was clear at this point that the team was starting to slowly climb from the abyss. Then coming into this past season and up until around the half way point, Blashill seemed poised to stay behind the bench for future seasons.

The team continued ascending for much of the year and was hovering around .500. Blashill seemed destined to truly be a man for all seasons at this point: seasons of mediocrity, seasons of despair, seasons of optimism, and then finally seasons of joy. However, this last point seemed to slip away from him as the 2021-2022 season wore on. By the end of year, it was clear the team needed a change of direction as the ascension came to a screeching halt. At the end of the season, Jeff Blashill was no longer a man for all seasons.

Jeff Blashill could not get the Detroit Red Wings over the hump, from hard playing rebuilder into promising contender. However, this wasn’t the main note on his legacy, in my humble opinion. Blashill should be remembered as someone who lead with dignity and grace during times of extreme difficulty.

A local man who landed his dream job, and unceremoniously worked it every day for seven seasons. Perhaps this sort of thing will be lost to history. Once the Detroit Red Wings are Stanley Cup contenders with their current core, many people won’t think of Jeff Blashill. His impact may be sent adrift into hockey history, however it shouldn’t be as he was a common man who displayed uncommon levels of dignity. Maybe this is best exemplified in a quote around the time it became evident he wouldn’t be head coach next season after a 9-2 throttling at the hands of one of the league’s worst teams on March 9th:

"“I can’t blame them. I thought through the first part of the year we had a ton of nights where we gave the type of effort that Detroiters would be proud of. Now, too many times here in the last little bit, we haven’t given that type of effort. They want better than that. I’ve said this lots – when you work and you compete, Detroiters will back you for sure. If you go out and play like that, hard to blame them at all.”"

Blashill never blamed fans for frustration, instead owning up to the struggles. Common men tend to be forgotten because of their universality, as Bolt expressed in his play:

"“The sixteenth century was the century of the Common Man-like all the other centuries.”"

Perhaps, if Jeff Blashill is to be remembered as I think he should be, he wasn’t so common after all.