GM Steve Yzerman: New coach needed to get Red Wings 'back on track'

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit — When you listened to general manager Steve Yzerman during Monday's season-ending press conference, in regard to coach Jeff Blashill, it was time to make a change.

Yzerman announced two days ago Blashill would not be retained, but despite praising Blashill for his professionalism, work ethic and preparedness, on the ice the Wings had stalled.

Particularly on defense, where the Wings struggled badly as the season progressed.

"We had gotten to a point where fundamentally with and without the puck, we had regressed," Yzerman said. "We're at a point now I felt I've got to see (whether) bringing in a new coach, a new coaching staff, can make a difference to get us back on track and going in the right direction."

There's not any timetable, Yzerman said, on naming a replacement, and added he would not limit himself to the NHL or American League in terms of a coaching pull, and will cast a wide net.

"I don't know if I can sit here and say I want specifically this or that," Yzerman said of what characteristics he'll be looking for in a coach. "There are areas of the game we have to improve upon and I'm hoping a new coach, a new voice or a different approach maybe, a different way of doing things, we can improve our team play and the play of our players individually.

"There are different personalities and different ways of coaches being successful. I intend to look at different avenues, leagues, backgrounds of coaches."

Yzerman made it clear he will not be looking for specific level of experience, whether a coach is considered an offensive or defensive wizard, or any sort of personality.

"Good coaches adjust and will do what they have to do with the personnel they have and find a way to make it work," Yzerman said

The Wings' inability to make progress defensively was a major issue, in Yzerman's estimation, in the team's second-half slide, along with a strength of schedule that ranked among the NHL's hardest.

"If you go back and look at our schedule and look at the teams we were going to play in February and March, and particularly on the road, we recognized our record was decent, we were pleased with our record the first half of the season, but having said that, our record wasn't good against the top teams," Yzerman said. "We're starting to beat teams comparable to us in the standings, or in the rebuilding process. We were fairly competitive against them. We did have a tough time against the elite teams, even in the early part of the season."

But ultimately, the Wings' inability to play better defense was a factor throughout the season.

The Wings ranked next to last in the NHL (31st), allowing 3.78 goals per game. That statistic isn't good enough to win many hockey games.

"Fundamentally as a team, we need to improve as a group defensively," Yzerman said. "Individually, our players need to get better defensively, and as a team, structurally, the way we play defensively, has to improve.

"We have struggled defensively. Is part of the reason personnel? Yes, I'll state the obvious. But we've been unable with the group we have, specifically in that area, to get better, to get our team to be both individually, and collectively, a sounder defensive hockey team.

"It's been three years we've been trying. It's not been for a lack of discussion, or effort from our coaching staff's behalf. We just haven't been able to do it, and that's an area that is going to have to improve. In order to do that, I'll bring in a new coach and see if he can do that with the group we have."

Yzerman praised Blashill for the type of program the coach ran during his seven seasons coaching the Wings.

"Jeff Blashill is a good hockey coach," Yzerman said. "He ran a good program. I can attest to what's been our program for the last three years because it's been dictated by me under the circumstances that I'm trying to rebuild this team, and we're trying to add prospects and draft picks and letting our veterans go as opposed to signing them.

"I say this sincerely, Jeff did a real good job of leading under real difficult circumstances. Pardon the expression, but he ran a real good program this wasn't a complete s--- show. We were organized, guys practiced hard, and can you imagine having to sit here every day and answer your questions after the games and say it with dignity and be supportive and positive. It's a real hard thing to do.

"You can't judge Jeff Blashill on the Detroit Red Wings' record. You judge it on how he ran this program and conducted himself and he was extremely professional in that."

Twitter: @tkulfan