Krupa: Blashill likes Wings' moves but wants to get better

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News
With prospects for improving the roster difficult, Wings coach Jeff Blashill might have to make the most of what he has for awhile.

Traverse City – Jeff Blashill said he likes the personnel moves the Red Wings made over the past few weeks, and he appreciates the need to add to the roster, still.

But Blashill said he wonders if it will be possible.

Asked if he hopes for additions, he said, “I don’t know about hope.

“We’d like to try to continue to get better if we can. I know Ken (Holland) would like to and I would like to, but can you?

“Just making a move doesn’t make you better, and there are very few out there that can make you better. And so I think you have to be careful to make sure when you make a move it actually helps you, just like on July 1st (the start of free agency) you better be careful that who you sign actually helps you.

“That’s all part of the evaluation process, and we’ll see where everything stands in October.”

As for the moves the Red Wings made, he began by praising the signing of Darren Helm, the nine-year veteran whose five-year contract is for $19.25 million.

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“I was happy to get Helm re-signed,” Blashill said. “I think he’s someone who brings a couple of real good assets to the team.

“I think, one, his competitiveness level is great. Two, is his speed.

“For us to be successful, we’re going to have to be a team that is fast, and fast in transition. He obviously brings big elements with that.

“He can play on the power play, he’s been good there. He’s been playing on the penalty kill, he’s been good there.

“So I thought it was an important signing.”

Blashill, who is attending the last three days of the Wings development camp including the two scrimmages on the schedule, said that signing former Islanders center Frans Nielsen was a high priority.

“Nielsen was right at the top of our list, based on him as a player," Blashill said. "We got a chance to watch him lots, the pro scouts and the coaching staff and people we’ve talked to.

“To me, he is a winning-type player who does everything really good. He plays in all situations and did for a team that went to the second round of the playoffs last year, and he was one of their better players.

“So, losing Pavel, I thought it was great to have another center.”

Team Lindsay meets before the scrimmage against Team Howe, the first scrimmage of the Red Wings' development camp.

Signing Thomas Vanek, who was bought out by the Wild, was a surprise to some, especially given concerns about his competitiveness and work ethic. But Blashill cited Vanek’s history of goal scoring.

The Red Wings’ offense declined last season, including on the power play. It was a critical deficiency.

“Vanek’s somebody who has scored goals in this league,” said Blashill, who saw the former 40-goal scorer in juniors and in college, while he coached in the USHL and at Ferris State, Miami (Ohio) and Western Michigan.

“I know his history a little bit,” he said. “I watched him in Sioux Falls. I watched him when he was at the University of Minnesota. I’ve known him a long way, coming up.

“Both (John) Torchetti and (Doug) Houda have coached him at different times,” Blashill said of his new assistants.

“They both say he’s got real ability, and I think we’re going to have a motivated player and hopefully we can get great things out of him.”

After Vanek received $2.5 million in the buyout, the Wings signed him for a well-under-the-market price of $2.6 million for one season. Then, he is an unrestricted free agent, and a good performance might allow the 32-year-old to solidify his earning power and improve the evaluation of his career.

“Now, he’s got to come and he’s got to do the work,” Blashill said. “He and I talked about that.

“And if he does the work, I think it can be a really good marriage.”

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Blashill said he thinks Steve Ott, the veteran tough guy signed for one year at $800,000, will provide two components the Red Wings require: a source of accountability in the locker room and an agitator and protector on the ice.

“We had a chance to sit down with Steve before free agency day and I talked to past coaches,” he said. “The things that I heard was that, one, in the locker room he brings unreal energy and accountability, and I don’t think you can have enough of that.

“We are getting younger. The locker room has gotten younger over the years and I think to bring in someone who has that veteran presence who can bring that energy and accountability is great.

“And his style of play is something we could use a little bit more of.”

Meanwhile, youth may be a continuing standard for the Wings as they enter a fifth season of a “rebuild on the fly.”

In his first season, Blashill provided playing time for Dylan Larkin, Petr Mrazek, Alexey Marchenko, Andreas Athanasiou and, in a move uncharacteristic of the Wings, Anthony Mantha got a look-at late in the season.

Veteran players in the room, like Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist, who had to wait longer for their turns, said those younger players would have had more difficulty cracking the lineup under Mike Babcock.

“I still maintain that our number one growth as a hockey team is going to have to be from within, and our young guys continue to take steps and to get better,” Blashill said

“Part of that getting better is that someone has to become an elite player, and we need one or two or three guys to become elite, elite players; go-to type players. And it’s the hardest thing to do.

“I hope certain guys take that step.”

As for Steven Stamkos, who eschewed bigger money to sign elsewhere to stay with the Lightning – and who did not even meet with the Red Wings, whom some had considered a prime landing spot for arguably the second-best goal scorer in the game – Blashill was terse, and sounded a bit like Stamkos himself.

“To be honest with you, I don’t have a whole lot to say about that except that he made the decision that was best for him and the Lightning," Blashill said.

As a general assessment, Blashill said he is pleased with the off-season, so far.

“I think overall it was fitting pretty good needs,” he said. “I think you have to be really careful on free agency day.

“Everybody is excited in July. But that doesn’t mean you’re better come October.”