Red Wings general manager Ken Holland discusses how close the franchise is to competing in the playoffs. "It's going to take time," he says. Ted Kulfan, The Detroit News
Detroit — The Red Wings welcomed more key pieces of their future Monday, and by now, you might recognize their names — Second-Round Pick, Second-Round Pick, Second-Round Pick.
Dramatic? Not really. Impressive? Meh. A necessary part of a painful process? Yeah.
This is the Wings’ new normal at the trade deadline, unloading instead of reloading. It’s been three years, and while they’ve added fresh young talent, progress has been slow. Sorry to tell you, it’s not likely to speed up, either.
GM Ken Holland grabbed a pair of second-round picks, as well as a third-rounder that could become a No. 2, and young defenseman Madison Bowey in separate trades for Gustav Nyquist, 29, and Nick Jensen, 28. Those were fair deals that fit the plan, exchanging expiring contracts for solid assets. Holland was unable to move goalie Jimmy Howard or any other veterans — Thomas Vanek, Luke Glendening, Niklas Kronwall — which was disappointing but not surprising. There wasn’t much demand for them, or for a 34-year-old goalie on an expiring contract.
So Howard stays, for now. And in a way, he symbolizes the good and bad of the Wings rebuild, which is producing promise in small drops. The Wings aren’t necessarily behind schedule, but they’re certainly not ahead of schedule, with the third-worst record in the league. Getting the first pick in the draft lottery and landing prized forward Jack Hughes would accelerate the pace, but for now, Holland has to take what he can get.
“To rebuild, it’s gotta be done with youth, gotta be done in the draft and gotta be done through multiple picks,” Holland said. “Would I have liked to have acquired more picks? Yeah, I’d love to have acquired more picks. Like I said, the marketplace speaks.”
Holland probably will try to re-sign Howard because he’s played well, and also because the Wings don’t have their future goalie in the pipeline. Same thing with their veteran defensemen — Kronwall, Mike Green, Trevor Daley. Those guys aren’t holding anybody back because the Wings don’t have enough young defensemen poised to make the leap, outside of Dennis Cholowski, 21, and Filip Hronek, 21.
The Wings had two first-rounders last year, skilled forwards Filip Zadina and Joe Veleno, and two second-rounders. They have a No. 1 and three No. 2s in this draft. Holland has returned to his scouting-and-drafting roots and made decent deals. We won’t know if he made decent draft picks for a few years yet.
There’s at least one more full season of restocking and uncertainty, and by 2020-21, we should know whether it’s working. Jeff Blashill’s contract expires after this season, but Holland said his coach has done a “great job” with the young players, and they’ll talk before the end of the season.
Blashill likely to return
I suspect Blashill will be back. I also suspect Holland is operating in a shortened window with a two-year contract, and with Steve Yzerman soon to be available after stepping away from Tampa Bay. How much power Holland could retain will depend on how much progress the Wings show. I don’t think Yzerman is restlessly itching to step in, but after a respectful amount of time, the possibility becomes real.
Holland repeatedly says job security isn’t a concern, and he’s handling this the way you’d expect a loyal, respected executive to handle it, by sticking to the plan.
“Tell you the honest truth, I don’t really worry about my future,” Holland said. “I’m in a good place with my career, with my life. I’ve been here since 1983, and all I’m concerned about is making moves to help this franchise win another Stanley Cup. I think things we’ve done last year and this year are going to be pieces of that puzzle. But there’s more pieces that need to happen.”
The Wings have collected lots of prospects but not many bonafide centerpieces, outside of Dylan Larkin, who has been tremendous. With Larkin, Andreas Athanasiou and Tyler Bertuzzi, they have an entertaining batch of forwards. Anthony Mantha has battled injuries and 19-year-old Michael Rasmussen has flashed potential with his 6-6 frame. At some point, the Wings will need a jumpstart, either from a lottery win or a youngster’s rapid development, or perhaps even a timely free-agent signing. President and CEO Christopher Ilitch shows no signs of impatience, and for the most part, neither do the fans. But if the Wings are sitting here at next year’s deadline way out of the playoff picture, with no touted defenseman or goalie, the mood could shift.
“I was hoping we’d be more competitive than what we are,” Holland said. “Obviously, after 25 years in a row in the playoffs, we’re trying to do this as fast as possible. It’s not fun to be at the deadline three years in a row, trading away people and talking about draft picks. I feel bad for the fans. I want the team to be better, to be watching young players become real impact players. You gotta have patience."
Easy to say, hard to implement. Holland said he thought the Wings had an outside shot at the playoffs this season, only four points out several weeks ago, before injuries decimated their defense. Of course, landing a high spot in the lottery is the perfect balm for pain.
The first realistic shot at the playoffs is still a couple years away, with no guarantee the current crop of youth is actually the foundation. The NHL is littered with examples of long-rebuilding teams that pick up pieces and never win anything, or take a long time to do so. It’s a sobering reality the Wings are well aware of, especially around deadline day, when they do the right thing — and the dull thing — and scoop up another batch of unnamed draft picks.