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What's Next for Red Wings Coach Jeff Blashill?

It is officially ugly in Detroit, and there’s still one-third of the year to play. Something needs to change, and soon.
Jeff Blashill

There are bad games played by good teams. Aberrations, for the most part. There also are awful games played by abysmal teams. They’re to be expected. And then there are coach-killing games. That’s what we saw Tuesday night in Detroit, where the Red Wings were beaten to a pulpy red-and-white mist by the Arizona Coyotes, by a score of 9-2.

That’s right. Nine. To two. Against Arizona. 

Sadly, I’ve now used up my monthly allotment of italics, but believe me, it’s worth it to underscore just how brutal the Red Wings were Tuesday. This was not the Colorado Avalanche they were playing against. This was against the Coyotes. The second-worst team in the NHL And that’s only because the Montreal Canadiens have been filming an “Unsolved Mysteries”-documentary on being cursed by a real-life injury bug. The Habs never intended to be the league’s worst team; the Coyotes are where they are by design. And even then, Detroit managed to make them look like the Harlem Globetrotters.

Arizona opened the scoring just 66 seconds into Tuesday’s game, and although they tied it up with a goal exactly five minutes later, the Wings surrendered the next five goals in a hurry. Less than five minutes into the second frame, Detroit was down 6-1, and the game effectively was over. Both Red Wings goals were scored on the power play – that’s correct, they couldn’t muster so much as one even-strength goal against arguably the lousiest team in the league.

Yes, it’s true Detroit head coach Jeff Blashill can only do so much with a roster still in the midst of a lengthy rebuild, There are bad games played by good teams. Aberrations, for the most part. There also are awful games played by abysmal teams. They’re to be expected. And there are coach-killing games. That’s what we saw Tuesday night in Detroit, where the Red Wings were beaten to a pulpy red-and-white mist by the Arizona Coyotes, by a score of 9-2.

That’s right. Nine. To two. Against Arizona. Yes, I have now used up my monthly allotment of italics, but believe me, it’s worth it to underscore just how brutal the Red Wings were Tuesday. This was not the Colorado Avalanche they were playing against. This was against the Coyotes. The second-worst team in the NHL And that’s only because the Montreal Canadiens have been filming an “Unsolved Mysteries”-documentary on being cursed by a real-life injury bug. The Habs never intended to be the league’s worst team; the Coyotes are where they are by design. And even then, Detroit managed to make them look like the Harlem Globetrotters.

Arizona opened the scoring just 66 seconds into Tuesday’s game, and although they tied it up with a exactly five minutes later, the Wings surrendered the next five goals. Less than five minutes into the second frame, Detroit was down 6-1, and the game effectively was over. Both Red Wings goals were scored on the power play -- that’s right, they couldn’t muster so much as one even-strength goal against arguably the lousiest team in the league.

Yes, it’s true Detroit head coach Jeff Blashill can only do so much with a roster still in the midst of a lengthy rebuild, and his goaltending has ranged from feckless to 3.4-percent feck. However, the fact there have been seven coaching changes in the NHL this season (this is where I would’ve normally used italics) and four of them have been on teams with better records than the Wings’ 24-27-6 mark is an indictment of Blashill’s impact on his players.

Whatever plan Blashill has isn’t working, and his players aren’t buying into it. Since the NHL shut down for a month in mid-December, Detroit has gone 9-14-3. They’ve lost 11 of their past 17 games (6-10-1), and in that spiral, they’ve been outscored 85-57. They’ve allowed five or more goals in nine of those games; they’ve surrendered seven goals in two of those games, eight goals in one of those games, 10 goals in one of those games, and now, nine goals in one of those games.

This can’t be allowed to continue. Wings GM Steve Yzerman signed Blashill to a contract extension last summer, but the term length of the deal has never been officially made public by the team, and it is believed it’s just a two-year extension (almost standard procedure in the increasingly fickle NHL coaching profession), covering this season and next year. Yzerman has an earned reputation as a savvy GM, but he has to know what an awful environment the Wings are in right now, and he also knows there aren’t going to be any improvements via the trade front. Even if he moves a veteran like defenseman Nick Leddy, the return isn’t going to add the necessary 6-10 above-average players Detroit is in desperate need of.

So, the only option to shake things up is to bring a new voice behind the bench. It’s one thing to lose hard-fought games. It’s another thing entirely to lose games in which you’ve hardly fought. Red Wings ownership has gallantly stood behind Blashill in his six-and-two-thirds-seasons on the job. But Detroit’s players are playing like they don’t want him to continue in the role.

Six-and-two-thirds seasons coaching the same team while making only one playoff appearance – and only in the first of those six-and-two-thirds seasons – is a remarkable achievement for an NHL head coach. Noting Blashill’s longevity is not a condemnation of his coaching ability. Instead, it’s a reference to a tenure that is, NHL circles, a Wayne Gretzky-record kind of statistic. You rarely, if ever expect anyone to touch those kind of numbers.

But in that loss to Arizona, the Red Wings had a coach-killer game. It is officially ugly in Detroit, and there’s still one-third of the year to play. And now, the only question is who Yzerman replaces Blashill with.

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