With Wings in rear-view mirror, Jeff Blashill 'looking forward' to role with Lightning
Jeff Blashill has his eyes on the road ahead of him.
Soon, that road will be Interstate 75, as the former Detroit Red Wings coach packs his bags and heads for Tampa Bay. The Lightning announced Tuesday that Blashill, 48, has found a home as an assistant coach on Jon Cooper's staff.
Is the role as prestigious as head coach of an Original 6 franchise? No. But joining the staff of a team that's made three straight finals in as many years and won the Stanley Cup twice in that span is as good of a destination that one could reasonably ask for after losing their job.
And through it all, after months to ponder what led to his demise with the team "I grew up cheering for," Blashill has no regrets — only learning opportunities.
"I think life's about experiences and I think those experiences help you grow a ton if you allow them to, and so certainly I think over that time, I've had an opportunity to grow a ton," Blashill said Tuesday while speaking to the media.
"I know I'm a better coach today than I was seven years ago, and I hope I'm a better coach at the end of this year than when I started. That's what growth's about."
The Red Wings announced in April that Blashill would not be back after seven years of service with the club. During that seven-season stretch, Detroit missed the playoffs six times and went 204-261-72.
With the move Tuesday, the Lightning and Red Wings have engaged in a swap of sorts. Blashill fills the void left by Derek Lalonde, who in early July was tabbed by Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman to take over the role of Detroit's bench boss.
Blashill was complimentary of Yzerman and former Red Wings general manager Ken Holland. Blashill said both gave him "an opportunity to grow."
"I totally enjoyed the experience working for (Yzerman), and felt that through those three years, I learned a ton from him, as I did working for Ken Holland," Blashill said. "I've been real fortunate in my time to be able to work for some great, great people."
The move makes sense beyond the Yzerman ties that seemingly have bound Detroit and Tampa, where Yzerman was general manager from 2010-18, over the last few years.
Blashill and Cooper go back over two decades, when Blashill was an assistant at Ferris State and Cooper was with Lansing Catholic High School.
"The attractive part of the job for me is knowing that the person that I'm going to work for is somebody where you have a tremendous amount of respect for," Blashill said of Cooper. "Beyond friendship, and I think friendship is important, but way more important than that is the amount of respect that I have for Jon Cooper as a coach. I've had that respect for him for 20 years."
Blashill's tenure in Detroit was, for lack of a better term, weird. From his end, it was a bit unfortunate.
He took over a Wings team at the end of its contending window with aging stars Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk on the last legs of their NHL careers. Detroit made the playoffs in Blashill's first year as coach (a 4-1 series loss to Tampa Bay) and a seventh-place finish the following season — which ended a 25-year playoff streak — pushed the Red Wings into their rebuilding era.
Tough deal for a rookie.
"We obviously didn't have the success that we wanted to on the ice, but part of that was just the situation we were in and the fact that shortly into my time, we went into a rebuild that became a full rebuild," Blashill said. "I know that the program's set in the right direction. They've got a real good coach in Derek Lalonde that I know will do great things."
Despite all of the down luck Blashill had when taking over his hometown team, from his perspective, the negatives are in the past. What remains: relationships and the opportunity of a lifetime for a boy from Sault Ste. Marie.
"It was a great experience, a great life experience," Blashill said.
"Certainly, you spend some time reflecting back, but to be honest with you, I'm really looking forward."