Jeff Blashill ‘has done a good job,’ will return to Red Wings, Steve Yzerman says

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit – Jeff Blashill will return for a sixth season as head coach of the Detroit Red Wings, general manager Steve Yzerman said on his season-ending Zoom meeting with the media Wednesday.

“I have no plans of making a coaching change at this time,” Yzerman said. “Jeff has done a good job. It’s been a difficult position in his tenure here. The Red Wings are in a rebuild, and for a while, for the last two or three trade deadlines, the team has traded valuable players, good players, for future assets.

Jeff Blashill

“Jeff has, with his head held high, diligently worked hard and done a good job in coaching this team in a difficult situation.”

Blashill, 46, took over in 2015-16 and took the Wings to the playoffs, where they lost to Tampa Bay in the first round.

But the Wings have missed the playoffs the last four seasons and bottomed out this season, with the league’s worst record (17-49-5).

Blashill is 153-194-52 in his career with the Wings.

As I said in February (backing Blashill), it’s unfair to judge him based on our record at this time,” Yzerman said. “Quite frankly, we need to improve our team for anybody to truly critique or assess the coaching staff. We need to improve the team.

“Jeff’s going to be the head coach of the team and we’ll do what is necessary to make sure he’s the head coach of the team.”

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Yzerman said he and Blashill will evaluate the rest of the coaching staff to determine if any changes need to be made.

Blashill will hold an end-of-season media session on Thursday.

The NHL ended its regular season Tuesday while announcing a Return to Play Plan for later this summer.

Yzerman touched on a variety of subjects during a 45-minute talk with the media, going over what was a difficult on-ice season, and trying to navigate an uncertain future because of the coronavirus pandemic.

With the regular season now done, the Wings could have a long wait until their next official game.

Commissioner Gary Bettman said Tuesday the NHL could begin its 2020-21 season as late as January, after completing this season’s playoffs this summer and holding a typical offseason.

That would leave the teams that didn’t qualify for the playoffs, such as the Wings, about nine months between hockey.

Yzerman hopes the NHL will allow teams that missed the playoffs to have mini-camps to stay sharp.

“Ideally we’d like to get together at some point,” Yzerman said. “If it’s beneficial for our coaches and players to do something, we would like to do that. But at this time, that’s not really feasible for us. We’ll wait and we’ll look at every way possible we can between now and whenever we start, to do our best and make sure the players are training, working on their skills, and conditioning.”

Here are some other main topics Yzerman touched on, as the Red Wings officially head into the offseason:

►The Wings had 11 games remaining and Yzerman would have preferred to conclude the season.

“Most of the players I spoke with said they would have liked to come back and play,” Yzerman said. “Unfortunately it didn’t work out that way for us. But we would have liked to have played. Would it have made sense? I’m not sure. But we would have liked to have played, yes.”

►Yzerman said not much about this season was a surprise to him in his first season as the Wings’ GM.

“We felt it would be a stretch to be a playoff team and we weren’t a playoff team, obviously,” Yzerman said. “I’m not totally shocked by anything. I’ve learned a lot about our organization. I feel we have a good handle on what the next steps need to be taken, and ultimately we need to continue to draft well and run a good development program to get these young players to fulfill their potential.”

►Yzerman will monitor the city and state regulations before opening the practice rink at Little Caesars Arena for any of the Wings still in town.

“These guys are athletes, the majority of them really want to train, they like to do it, it’s in their blood,” Yzerman said. “Right now they’re doing it at home, in the backyard, down the street, and the next step is to provide them with a good environment to do that.

“Can, should we, open up the Belfor (training center) for the players? Can we do it with city ordinances? We’re really looking at it now and it’ll kind of be on a weekly basis.”

►The Wings will be active, to a point, in unrestricted free agency once the NHL season is completed. But Yzerman isn’t going to be overly aggressive, given the Wings are stuck in a rebuild.

“I don’t want to go to free agency to make a splash,” Yzerman said. “We’re going to look to make sensible signings that help improve the team. We’re prepared to do anything we can in free agency but it’s not to get a player at all costs. That’s not the plan.”

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►As for the 12 restricted free agents the Wings have – most notably forward Anthony Mantha and Tyler Bertuzzi – Yzerman is confident deals will be worked out. It’s simply for how long and what the average annual value (salary cap number) will be for each player.

“We will get them signed, to what term and AAV remains to be seen,” Yzerman said. “But those are some of our best young players. We won’t let them go anywhere.”

The Wings aren’t likely to keep all the RFAs, said Yzerman, and will prioritize who they want to keep.

Dylan Larkin

►Yzerman would like to name a captain before next season, though an exact timeline isn’t there right now.

There long has been speculation Waterford native and former Michigan star Dylan Larkin will be the next Wings’ captain, and Yzerman gave a glowing analysis of Larkin after getting to know him this season.

“He’s a dedicated professional,” Yzerman said. “Hard worker, very competitive, very good hockey player. I’ve enjoyed conversations with him and discussions about hockey throughout the course of the season.

“Being a member of the Red Wings and improving this team is very important to him and he takes it seriously.”

Jeff Blashill’s record with Wings

2015-16: 41-30-11 (93 points)

2016-17: 33-36-13 (79)

2017-18: 30-39-13 (73)

2018-19: 32-40-10 (74)

2019-20: 17-49-5 (39)

Twitter: @tkulfan