Steve Yzerman’s best move so far for the Detroit Red Wings

Detroit Red Wings general manager has made many moves, but this is the best move so far in his tenure.
2023 Upper Deck NHL Draft - Rounds 2-7
2023 Upper Deck NHL Draft - Rounds 2-7 / Dave Sandford/GettyImages
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Head coach: Dan Watson

In his question and answer session with season ticket holders, Dan Watson relayed the challenges he would face as the new head coach of the Grand Rapids Griffins. 

I hadn’t realized the difference in roles for a head coach in the ECHL versus the American Hockey League (AHL). 

In the ECHL, Watson mentioned his primary role was searching for enough players to fill out his Toledo Walleye’s roster. It’s quite the contrast to the AHL, which seems to be more like the National Hockey League (NHL) where the head coach is responsible for the lineup, overall systems, etc. 

To say I was intrigued in how things would go would be an understatement.

Watson voiced particular goals for the team. The initial focus was gelling as a team. As someone who has worked on teams in the past, my ears perked up and I was very excited. 

To me a team isn’t really much without gelling together. Working as a team, building better habits, and focusing on winning becomes way easier when everyone is on the same page and working together. The best way to do that, I’ve found, is gelling as a team.

The initial weekend of the Grand Rapids Griffins season went well. Winning both gamest, it seemed like Watson’s team was unbeatable.

When they visited the Rocky Mountains, things rolled down the mountain and fast. Seemingly no end in sight, the team played like they had in previous seasons and I questioned Watson.

One of my previous managers, another incredible leader, had a 30/60/90 day guideline. The first 30 days was for focusing on learning and absorbing the information about the role and team. At the 60-day mark, it was important to implement changes as a manager sees fit. Then, at 90 days reassessing the changes and their impacts on the team and performance.

Although it was difficult at times, I tried keeping this in mind when assess Watson and his coaching staff. 

Remarkably, the Grand Rapids Griffins found their footing around Christmas and didn’t really look back. They might have had a rough game here and there with quite a few games where they didn’t really play until the last 5 minutes of the game (for the record, they won a lot of those less-than-desirable games). More often than not, they got the job done.

In his first season with the Grand Rapids Griffins, Watson pushed the team to the playoffs (first time since 2018-19, which is wild to me). The Grand Rapids Griffins finished 72 gams with 37 wins, 23 losses, 12 overtime/shootout losses for second in their division in the AHL.

I thought last season, the Grand Rapids Griffins would slay everyone with their roster. There was a promise of all these Swedish saviors joining the ranks. However, it didn’t happen for many different reasons. 

Watson, arguably, had even more talent to work with, but talent isn’t a guarantee for success.

He made smart decisions with his lineup. While I don’t agree with all of his choices, Watson clearly knows how to balance egos, talent, reliability, and investing in his players. It’s not an easy task and it’s only going to get more challenging with more prospects arriving.

Based on his relationship with his players, on-ice performance, and growth in 1 season, I’m confident in Watson moving forward.