After very long layoff, Jeff Blashill, Red Wings will go to camp with 'totally clean' slate
The Detroit Red Wings are turning the page on last season, which in many ways is easy to do.
With training camp opening Thursday in this pandemic-shortened season, coach Jeff Blashill is going to focus on what’s ahead, not behind.
And it’s not just the poor season the Wings had. Mainly, it’s because the Wings’ last game was March 10.
“The advantage for us is last year (season) was so long ago that we’re not going to really dive a whole bunch into last year,” said Blashill during a Zoom session Monday with media.
Instead, Blashill will focus on “what our expectations are day one of camp, what our expectations of what is most important to us from an identity standpoint, and our expectations in terms of how we want to play hockey.”
Blashill has met with a lot with players already via Zoom and came away with positive impressions.
“Guys are ready for camp,” Blashill said. “We’ll attack day one and we’ll try to get better.”
What the 10-month pause has done – the Wings were one of seven teams not qualifying for the summer’s Return To Play – for Blashill and his players is further appreciate what they have.
“I have a pretty good perspective, but it gives you a reset and you understand there’s a grind to the NHL like a grind to any job, but we’re fortunate we get a chance to coach and play in the NHL,” Blashill said. “Let’s make sure we cherish every moment of it. When you can’t do it for 10 months, your appreciation of it can only grow, and it has grown.
“There’s a hunger there from our players’ perspective and the slate is totally clean. We have a clean slate and let’s bring that hunger to the rink every day.”
With the pandemic ongoing, this will be a unique NHL season with only 56 games, playing against only divisional opponents, and two weeks of training camp with no preseason games.
“It’s going to be different,” Blashill said. “(But) it’s enough time for us to get ready. We’re basically serving two purposes.
“One is to get ourselves as ready as humanly possible as a team, and two is figuring out which guys are earning what ice time.
“We have a whole bunch of fresh (new) faces and we have to value practice, and we’ll have internal scrimmages, and we’ll have to place great evaluations on those to make decisions on who is earning (ice time).
“Honestly, we’re all looking forward to it. I don’t care how much time they give us. I just want to coach and our guys want to play.”
Blashill touched on a variety of subjects ahead of camp during his almost 30-minute chat.
►Whether it’s the guys who have had the opportunity to play games in Europe, or practice and scrimmage daily in North America, there will be distinct advantages and challenges for both.
“There are a group of guys who’ve skated together here in Detroit and from what they’ve told me, they feel they’re in great shape,” Blashill said. “Are they game-ready? You can’t replicate actual games. Certainly they’ve worked to be in the top physical shape they can be.
“Guys playing in Europe have had that benefit, a big benefit, of having played. If I’m those players, I’m confident it’s given me an advantage coming into camp. But I will also say, they have to come over and quarantine for a number of days, and now have to get their legs back going the next couple of days before camp starts.”
►Blashill said he hopes to keep the lines that are put together early in camp stay together to the start of the regular season. But individual performances and injuries, clearly, could change that.
►Blashill hopes the addition of free-agent forwards Bobby Ryan and Vladislav Namestnikov, and the acquisition of Sam Gagner late last season, will improve the Wings’ offensive potential.
“We have to have more scoring depth throughout our forward group, for sure,” Blashill said. “We need to get more out of more people. We can’t be a one-line team. Those additions give us a chance to add more scoring punch.”
►Blashill expects Danny DeKeyser (back surgery) to be ready for the start of training camp. But the fact DeKeyser only played eight games early last season, then had surgery and was idled by the pandemic, could slow DeKeyser early on.
“Danny has been out a long, long time, more than anybody really,” Blashill said. “He’s coming off a major surgery. I don’t know if I can put a percentage on where he’s at, I’ll let Danny answer that, but no matter if he feels perfect, he’s still been off a long, long time and it’ll take a little while to get the kinks out.”
►On the realignment of the NHL, and the fact the Wings will play the seven other divisional opponents eight times each, Blashill said it will be a “different” experience.
“There’s probably pros and cons to it, everybody is in a similar boat, so it’s equal in that sense, playing the same opponents all year long,” Blashill said. “In the American League we played the same team 10 or 11 times a year, so that’s real similar. You really get to know them real well and the pre-scouting becomes less important and just your own game becomes more important.”
►The constant two-game series in this season’s schedule also presents the potential for strategic changes between games.
“Usually when you go through a season it’s a new pre-scout every night, and you’re not necessarily making adjustments from one game to the next because you’re playing a different opponent,” Blashill said. “(But) in these two-game sets, you have an opportunity to potentially make adjustments as a coaching staff. Not huge adjustments like football, but you can make adjustments that can matter.
“It’ll be fun.”
►Blashill likes the idea of having a taxi squad this season – the NHL is allowing teams to carry four to six players – and will use training camp to figure out who to put on that reserve list.
“It’s a necessity,” said Blashill of the taxi squad. “Given the protocols surrounding COVID, the potential of guys getting ill, or contact tracing, you could have guys out on short notice. So, to have players who are ready to jump into those spots, ultimately it’s more of a necessity.”