Over the past 22 years, part of Ken Holland’s job was to ask players to take less money, change their role, accept less ice time or even go to the minors. And all of it was in the name of what was doing what was best for the Detroit Red Wings. So when Steve Yzerman became available and it clearly became time for a change, Ken Holland had to do what he has asked others to do, again, for the good of the organization.
Holland usually accompanies the Red Wings on road trips, but when the Red Wings travelled to Pittsburgh for Game 81 of the season, he decided to stay home and watch on television. The Penguins clinched their 13th straight playoff berth with their win over the Red Wings that night, which is the longest current streak of consecutive post-season berths in the league. Under Holland’s guidance, the Red Wings essentially doubled what Pittsburgh has done, going to the playoff dance 25 straight years. And if this playoff has proved anything, Holland was absolutely right to keep trying to get his team into the post-season. He’s also been instrumental in molding people such as Yzerman and Jim Nill into GMs and played a big part in Mike Babcock becoming the hottest free agent on the market and a $50-million man.
So what does Holland do now? Well, the next calendar year will almost certainly tell the tale. If he is still the Red Wings’ senior vice-president after the summer of 2020, you can probably count on him being a Red Wing for life. He’ll be close to 65 years old, he’ll have been out of the game for a year, the Seattle expansion team will have chosen its GM and the ship out of Detroit will have sailed.
Another thing that will almost certainly dictate whether Holland stays in Detroit or goes somewhere else is how much Yzerman leans on Holland, how much he makes Holland part of the decision-making process and how engaged and invested Holland feels in the future of the Red Wings. He’s 63 years old now and has made more money that he’ll ever need, but a guy who has been the key decision maker for almost a quarter of a century will have some adjusting to do here. But if he’s nothing more than a figurehead, that won’t work.
If playing golf, going to his summer home in Vernon, spending time with his grandchildren, seeing the world with his wife and having a peripheral management involvement with the only organization for which he’s ever worked is enough, Holland will stick around. If he gets antsy and needs to run a hockey department again, and there’s a team out there who will hire him on his terms, then there’s a chance Holland will pick up and go elsewhere.
But the thing is, nobody knows what the future holds because Holland doesn’t even know himself. And that makes perfect sense because he’s never been in this situation before. One thing we do know is that for the next 12 months or so, whenever there is a GM opening in the NHL, Holland will instantly become a candidate. And a serious one. The best part of the situation for Holland is that he’s experienced just about everything in hockey – with the exception of building a team from scratch (hint: Seattle) – so he can afford to be picky.
The bottom line is that under Holland, the Red Wings had one playoff round in the past eight years. He rebuffed the rebuild for a long time in order to get the Red Wings into the playoffs and now they are paying for that. (In fact, the Penguins may be at the crest of that cycle themselves, a good, but not great team with two premier players. When you think about it, are Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin the equivalent of Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk with the Red Wings post-2010?) They needed a change and Yzerman has the resume and credibility, both as a player and GM, to buy the time this organization needs to once again become a contender. There are some burdensome contracts to be sure, but Holland has actually left the organization in decent shape in terms of prospects and draft picks. And their engine is a 22-year-old Dylan Larkin, who will lead the charge on the ice.
It will take time, but there’s no reason to believe Yzerman will not restore the Red Wings to contender status. Will Holland be there to help usher it through to its fruition? Let’s check back in a year. We’ll have our answer then.
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