Red Wings’ brain drain includes prominent managers, scouts
Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland and coach Mike Babcock stood high in Van Andel Arena on May 3, 2015, watching Grand Rapids play the Toronto Marlies in the AHL playoffs.
Diagonally across the ice, sitting low in the stands, Brendan Shanahan considered his options.
The Wings’ brain drain had been happening for a while.
In 2008, Scotty Bowman, a special consultant after winning the last three of his nine Stanley Cups as head coach, left his team of more than a decade, to become the Blackhawks’ senior advisor for hockey operations.
Steve Yzerman made his desire to run an NHL franchise known since retiring as a player in 2006.
Yzerman left his job as Red Wings vice-president in 2010 to become general manager of the Lightning.
Jim Nill, a 20-year-veteran of the front office, including as a highly valued assistant general manager, left in 2013 to become GM of the Stars.
The next year, the Maple Leafs had appointed Shanahan president, to run their hockey operations, five seasons after his retirement and eight after he left the Wings as a player.
And, less than three weeks after Andreas Athanasiou scored the third goal in a 3-1 Griffins win that Sunday night, eliminating the Marlies from the playoffs, Shanahan hired Babcock away from the Red Wings.
Given all their success in the 1990s and 2000s, franchises tried to emulate the Red Wings; the way they played, the way they were coached, the way they were managed.
In pursuit of success, teams also seized more than a few of their best minds.
“You lose people,” Holland said. “That’s the reality when you have success. People get opportunities elsewhere because you’ve had success.”
Along with Bowman, Yzerman, Nill and Shanahan, the Red Wings also lost Joe McDonnell, the director of amateur scouting; and longtime scouts Mark Leach and David Kolb to the Stars, in the past five years.
McDonnell played a role in drafting Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Niklas Kronwall, Jimmy Howard, Valtteri Filppula, Johan Franzen and others.
Holland can rightly feel a bit lonely at the top.
Looking for help
Jim Devellano, 75, a wizard of the resurrection from “The Dead Things” era, spends more time in Florida over the years.
Holland said he will consider hiring managing help from outside the franchise.
For once, the Wings may take from others.
“I’m looking at it,” Holland said, as the Wings packed things away for the season in April. “I’m open to anything. You know there was a period of time here: Jim Devellano lived in Detroit. He doesn’t anymore.
“I had Jim Nill here. I had (Assistant GM) Ryan Martin) here. I had Steve. Steve retired, and I brought him on board. Scotty Bowman was a consultant. So, obviously, I had more voices."
“But, certainly I’d be open to adding somebody.”
Bowman had promised the late Mike Ilitch he would stay. But his son Stan Bowman’s Hodgkin’s lymphoma reappeared 18 months before he became general manager of the Blackhawks in 2009.
His father decided to be with him.
Nill left, after a few offers to become a general manager in the NHL, when his wife encouraged him to finally make the move.
He appropriated some veteran scouting talent as he departed.
“Jim Nill, when he left, Jim took two of the scouts with him,” Holland said. “And then, last year, another scout went with him.”
The road ahead
The amateur scouting staff the Red Wings had in North America five years ago is mostly gone.
“The staff that we’ve got now, they started with the (Dylan) Larkin draft,” Holland said, referring to Tyler Wright, the head of amateur scouting, and others, coming aboard, beginning in 2014.
Wright played 613 games in the NHL across 11 seasons and worked in the Blue Jackets front office from 2007 to 2013, before joining the Wings.
Veteran scouts have been part of the exodus from the Red Wings. But difficulties drafting and developing stymied the franchise, at times, even while they were here.
Tomas Jurco, Jakub Kindl, Thomas McCollum, Xavier Ouellet, Riley Sheehan, Brendan Smith and Ryan Sproul, were key first- and second-round draft choices during the tenure of the veteran scouts. Those players did not become important contributors for the Wings.
And, in 2012, they selected the goalie Jake Paterson in the third round, ahead of the Stanley Cup champion goalie Matt Murray of the Penguins and 6-foot-6, 240-pound defenseman Colton Parayko of the Blues.
In selecting Jurco, Ouellet and Sproul in the third round in 2011, they passed over Nikita Kucherov, who collected 100 points for Yzerman’s Lightning last season, and William Karlsson, who scored 43 goals for the Golden Knights.
So, while veteran scouts and managers have left, Holland can hold out hope new, less-experienced personnel does better.
“It’s up to me and my people to prove that the plan that we’ve got is a good plan,” Holland said.
“How do we want to build our team?”
By moving Jiri Fischer from director of player development to director of player evaluation, and hiring Shawn Horcoff to direct development and Daniel Cleary to assist him, the Wings are hoping to improve the preparation of their prospects, Holland said.
After dispatching Jurco, Kindl, McCollum, Ouellet, Sheehan, Smith and Sproul, in recent seasons, development results clearly could improve.
“We’re trying to develop the skill of the players that we’ve drafted,” he said.
For the first time this year, before the entry draft, he said the video and scouting staffs prepared a video of the top-10 prospects.
“Is there something in there, through video, through analytics, through numbers?” Holland said. “So, we’re trying to do things a little differently.
“Right now, we need good young players and lots of good young players. Next up will be trying to complement them by bringing in some players who are a little more experienced.
“I’d like to say a year or two,” before the team regains the playoffs, Holland said in April.
“But, there are teams that run eight, nine, 10 years in a row, who miss the playoffs.”
DECADE IN DECLINE
How the Red Wings have fared since their won their last Stanley Cup in 2008 (playoff results in parentheses):
2008-09: 51-21-10, first in Central (lost to Pittsburgh in Stanley Cup Finals)
2009-10: 44-24-14, second in Central (lost to San Jose in second round)
2010-11: 47-25-10, first in Central (lost to San Jose in second round)
2011-12: 48-28-6, third in Central (lost to Nashville in first round)
2012-13: 24-16-8, third in Central (lost to Chicago in second round)
2013-14: 39-28-15, fourth in Atlantic (lost to Boston in first round)
2014-15: 43-25-14, third in Atlantic (lost to Tampa Bay in first round)
2015-16: 41-30-11, second in Atlantic (lost to Tampa Bay in first round)
2016-17: 33-36-13, seventh in Atlantic (did not make playoffs)
2017-18: 30-39-13, fifth in Atlantic (did not make playoffs)