Red Wings certain 'earned ice' will translate to success

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News

Detroit – Earn your time.

It is the instruction to every recent arrival to the Red Wings from Grand Rapids.

They repeat it for as long as a few seasons or until the player has either not worked out, or is comfortable enough to regard maintaining his time on ice the issue, rather than attaining it.

Mike Babcock used to tell them that. They hear it, a lot, from management along the way.

And as a disappointing season begins to recede, Jeff Blashill addressed the issue and the philosophy in consecutive post-game media conferences, this week.

“If I start playing guys because of their age, you lose 100 percent credibility and you don’t teach the lessons of earned ice,” Blashill said, Thursday.

As he spoke, he paused, for emphasis, just before the words “earned ice.”

When he said them, he did it slowly, stressing each word.

It is the Red Wing way.

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In previous seasons, when GM Ken Holland used the world overripe to describe it, their developmental pattern required less patience because the team won.

Faced now with the first consecutive seasons of failing to qualify for the playoffs in 35 years, the design puts a premium on the fortitude of fans.

But the program in place for now and the foreseeable future is drafting and developing in search of the few stars who help restore the Red Wings to prominence in the NHL.

Some veterans may be moved out of the lineup, in the coming off-season and in seasons to come, to make room for younger guys.

Regardless, the Red Wings believe the inexperienced must earn their time, and take jobs from the guys who have them.

Blashill makes clear it is both the firm intention of the franchise, and an important principle if rebuilding the Red Wings is done, properly.

Explaining that less experienced players will not suddenly receive gobs of ice time because the Red Wings are missing the playoffs, again, Blashill re-emphasized the developmental purpose of earning ice time.

“Well, there’s a fine line there,” he said.

“You have to compete and work. If you don’t compete and work, you’re not getting ice time.

“I’ve talked lots about it,” Blashill said. “It’s the chicken or the egg: Do you get the ice time and produce, or do you earn the ice time along the way?”

Explaining how Evgeny Svechnikov can get his, Blashill re-emphasized the need for guys from Grand Rapids to continually play better than the guys already here.

“I’m asking our guys to go out and work as hard and compete as hard as possible,” Blashill said. “You want to take one of those guys’ jobs, then you have to play better than them. That’s just the reality of it.

“What Svech has to do on a shift-by-shift basis is to be better than one of these guys: Nyquist, Bert, Mantha, Helm, Abdelkader, Double-A.

“Those are the guys playing wing, right now. So, he’s got to beat one of those guys out.”

It is important to players because time on ice is a valued commodity, in some ways, their most important achievement.

When their roles get bigger, they understand they are trusted and that they have arrived.

Amid the chronic losing of a franchise that is missing the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time in 35 years, some urge a brisker pace, quicker looks at players in Grand Rapids and more playing time in Detroit.

But the Red Wings think haste can make too much waste of development.

“There’s no question it is a learning experience,” Blashill said, about players entering the NHL. “Learning the time you have (amid the brisker pace of NHL games) and getting comfortable.

“Confidence is a huge thing. It’s hard to have confidence when you first step in the league, especially when you are not getting tons of opportunity.

“You’ve got to find a way,” he said.

“I can also tell you the difference between the guys who make it and the guys who don’t is mental toughness. You’ve got to find a way of staying mentally tough and keep deriving your confidence from within.

“But, if you get to a point in this league where you believe in your heart of hearts that you belong, boy, great things can happen,” Blashill said.

“So the more games a young guy like builds, where he believes that he totally belongs, inside, the better it will be for him.”

Red Wings at Maple Leafs

Faceoff: 7 p.m. Saturday, Air Canada Centre, Toronto.

TV/radio: FSD/CBC/97.1 FM

Notes: Brendan Shanahan and Mike Babcock’s Maple Leafs are battling for a playoff position. … A fine moment for the developing Red Wings to match up against a burgeoning hockey power, in a stretch-drive atmosphere in the hockey capital of Canada.