Don’t expect sweeping changes to disappointing Wings
You can blame Ken Holland if you want. You can pin it all on Jeff Blashill if you’d prefer to go that route.
Frans Nielsen would like you to know that if either of these are your course of choice as to assigning blame for the Detroit Red Wings missing the playoffs for the first time since 1989-90, well, then, you’d be dead wrong.
“System-wise, I think we’re fine,” Detroit center Nielsen said as the Wings cleaned out their lockers following the end of the NHL season. Everything around us – the coaches, the management, the trainers – is fine.”
If you were hoping for massive, sweeping changes in the Red Wings braintrust, don’t hold your breath. Christopher Ilitch, president and CEO of Ilitch Holdings, confirmed to MLive.com that Red Wings GM Ken Holland would remain on the job.
“Frankly, I think we’re all disappointed in this season,” Ilitch said.
“Having said that, we have 100 percent confidence in Ken Holland. He’s an excellent general manager and executive vice-president and we’ve got a lot of confidence in him in the future.”
Holland confirmed that Blashill would be back as coach of the team, and the players felt that was the right call as well.
“I think he’s a really good coach and every time he comes and speaks, when he walks out you’re like, ‘He’s saying the right things,’” Nielsen said.
“I think it’s in the room, us players. We got outworked in a bunch of games. Stuff like that, it’s not X’s and O’s. It’s us in here that have to step it up and do a better job.”
Captain Henrik Zetterberg echoed Nielsen’s opinions, both on where the buck should stop for their failures, as well as for what were their failings as a hockey club.
“We have to be more consistent, we have to be better,” Zetterberg said.
“Parts of this season we saw that we could be a good team when we played well. In the same way, we also were very bad for stretches and you can’t get behind in this league and think you’re going to make the postseason.
“You’ve got to be better from the start and you’ve got to keep at a high level.”
Blashill sought to convert the Wings from a team that played the game with high-end skill to a team that followed more of a chip and chase brand of hockey, but the change did not come about without some pain and suffering.
“There was a certain style in which this team has won over a period of time, and it complimented the players who played here,” Blashill said. “We made some tweaks going into the year and I think that takes time to take hold. I thought by the end of the season a lot of those things we’d gotten better at.
“I think that gives me lots of confidence moving forward that those lessons that I learned, that we all learned during the season on how can we maximize this group – not the group that played 10 years ago, not the group that played two years ago but this group. How can we maximize that? I think we learned as we went through the season, different things that potentially we can do to help our group be better.”
Basically, in a nutshell, it comes down to accepting the reality that winning ugly is far more acceptable than losing pretty.
“You’ve just got to bring it every night,” Nielsen said. “It’s a tough league and you just have to show up every night. It’s not going to be pretty sometimes, you have to grind it out and find other ways to win.
“We just seemed to – we couldn’t get away from that skill game and when it was off, everything was just going wrong. So we’ve got to learn to win when we don’t have a good night and learn how to just find a way, grind it out and do it the hard way.”
Follow that blueprint, and with some changes in personnel, the Wings feel that they can return to the postseason in 2017-18.
“It’s a big summer for us, for everyone in here, everyone who works around the team,” Zetterberg said. “It’s a big disappointment not to play hockey when the postseason starts.
“It’s up to us. We have the tools in this locker room. Some will leave and we’ll get some new ones in here, but most of it will be the same. We want to be back and be a playoff team next year.”
Blashill to coach U.S. Men’s team
Wings coach Blashill has been named head coach of the 2017 U.S. Men’s National Team that will compete in the IIHF Men’s World Championship May 5-21 in Cologne, Germany, and Paris. Blashill has previously been involved with U.S. teams in international competition as goaltending coach for the 2009 U.S. National Junior Team at the IIHF World Junior Championship and as assistant coach for both the U.S. Junior Select Team at the 2009 World Junior A Challenge and the U.S. National Under-18 Select Team at the 2006 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament.