"Whether I'm here a long time or a short period of time, I'm doing what I believe is in the best interest of this franchise," GM Ken Holland said. David Guralnick, The Detroit News
Detroit — With coach Jeff Blashill’s near-term future assured, general manager Ken Holland faced even bigger questions Monday as the Red Wings cleaned out their locker room after missing the playoffs for the third straight season.
With the NHL draft lottery coming Tuesday and questions about the team’s old captain and next captain in the air, Holland said asking about his future was fair.
“I know what you’re asking, so let me just put it this way: I’m going to manage the Detroit Red Wings until I’m not managing the Detroit Red Wings,” Holland told reporters at Little Caesars Arena during a 45-minute session. “And at that point in time, I’ll then assess what I’m going to do.”
The non-answer represents much of the uncertainty about the franchise going forward, with Blashill’s two-year extension signed last week representing some of the only certainty.
With rumors of Steve Yzerman’s return to the franchise, along with rumors of his interest in other jobs throughout the league, Holland reminded everyone he’s friends with the Red Wings icon and longs to return to the winning days both helped build.
“I've been a Red Wing for more than half my life. I love the Red Wings, I love living in Michigan, I love the fans, I love the people, I love the owners,” said Holland, 63, who joined the Red Wings in 1983 as a minor league goaltender and has spent 36 years with the organization since. “Rebuilds aren’t fun. I’m trying to make sure this rebuild is done right, and it’s done as short as possible.
“I want the Red Wings to win another Stanley Cup, I want the Wings to be a Cup contender. I know how hard it is.”
Yzerman built Tampa Bay into the Stanley Cup favorite this season and spent the season in limbo after stepping down as general manager of the Lightning two days before training camp. Without a contract going forward, Yzerman has been linked to the New York Rangers presidency while many Detroit fans clamor for his return.
With Holland under contract for one more year, the veteran executive’s presence and future throw a wrench into those hopes.
Holland also put a pause Monday on the inevitable coronation of Detroit's next captain, saying Dylan Larkin wearing the "C" next season isn’t a certainty.
Holland said Larkin — after recording a career-high 73 points and receiving glowing praise from veterans and Blashill throughout the season — would absolutely be a great pick for captain, succeeding Henrik Zetterberg, who retired shortly before this season.
The Red Wings would “probably” name a captain next season, Holland said, adding: “I think that ultimately the next captain of the Red Wings is going to be somebody young and certainly Dylan (age 22) is. But if you go out on the open market, and somebody in the prime of their career that’s a superstar decides to come here, then maybe that affects your thinking. The reality is we made Dylan a letter (assistant captain) and as we work our work our way through the summer into training camp, certainly he’s a legitimate candidate.”
Another way to procure young cornerstones will come in June’s draft.
After slogging through a 74-point season, the Red Wings have the fourth-best odds for hitting the draft lottery on Tuesday — a 9.5 percent chance for the first pick and 28.8 percent for a top-three pick — and could pick anywhere from first to seventh in the first round, in addition to three second-round selections.
Forward Jack Hughes of the USA Hockey National Team Development Program in Plymouth is widely considered the top prospect available, with wing Kaapo Kakko of Finland also among the top crop.
Holland said he’s crossing his fingers for lottery luck, but also cautioned against framing prospects as instant saviors. After drafting Filip Zadina No. 6 last year, the Red Wings had him play all but nine games in Grand Rapids this season.
"It sucks not getting ready for the playoffs," Jeff Blashill said as the team cleaned out its lockers on Monday. David Guralnick, The Detroit News
“We have to challenge them. They can’t be entitled; it’s got to be earned,” Holland said. “There’s also got to be opportunity. There’s that fine line because I know everyone says, ‘Just play them, just play them, just play them.’
“You have to earn it, you have to pay your dues. We happen to be on TV every night and you’re watching our people learn how to play.”
Blashill met with the media for 25 minutes on the day his summer duties as coach of the U.S. men’s national team for the world championships in May became official.
His staff was meeting individually with players, detailing specific areas for growth this summer.
“The best way for your ceiling to rise is for the individual players to get better,” Blashill said. “It’s hard in this league to really help yourself from the outside. The reality is it has to come from growth on the inside.”
Blashill said he will attend his kids’ hockey practices Tuesday and will track the NHL playoffs, despite his disappointment and jealousy for people like Lightning coach Jon Cooper, one of his closest friends.
Blashill also wanted to remind players of the feeling of going home in early April while 16 teams are getting ready to chase the Stanley Cup starting Wednesday.
“One feeling I’d like to stick is how much today sucks,” Blashill said. “It sucks. It sucks being out. It sucks not getting ready to the playoffs. It sucks having to answer these questions. It sucks having to have another meeting about how we’re not good enough.
“If you don’t want to be here, change it.”
Matt Schoch is a freelance writer.