The news that the Red Wings have signed general manager Ken Holland to a new four-year contract that will keep him with the organization through the 2017–18 season probably won't be greeted with the same fanfare that his 2010 extension generated.
In fact, the team's fans are more likely to shake their heads and sigh than plan a party.
And who can blame 'em?
By any definition, Holland has been in a bit of a slump lately. Detroit, once the premier free-agent destination in the league, has, in the last few seasons, become a last-chance stop for the aged (Mike Modano, Daniel Alfredsson) and the unwanted (Kyle Quincey). The players who could truly help this squad just aren't buying what Holland is selling.
Holland hasn't had much luck on the trade market, either. His last noteworthy swap—shipping out highly regarded prospect Calle Jarnkrok and two other assets to the Predators for David Legwand and his empty tank at the 2014 deadline—was a flop. Prior to that, there was a series of small, painfully meaningless exchanges highlighted (lowlighted?) by the ’12 deal that saw Holland give up a first-rounder for a brief go-around with Quincey.
You want the last deal in which Holland acquired a player who made a significant impact on the club? That would be the one that sent Shawn Matthias and a second-rounder to the Panthers in exchange for Todd Bertuzzi. For the record, that was Feb. 27, 2007. Children born since then will be entering the second grade this fall.
On the plus side of the ledger, Holland's Red Wings have not missed the playoffs once in his 17 years as GM. That's a truly remarkable record. And since he's taken the helm, Detroit has also won more regular-season games (746) and postseason games (115) than any other NHL team. The Red Wings may be closer to a rebuild than to their last Cup, but wins are still wins.
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But while he has let the team grow long in the tooth, Holland has also compiled an intriguing, albeit risk-heavy, crop of young talent that is being given plenty of time to mature on the vine. Kids like Gustav Nyquist, Riley Sheahan and Tomas Jurco look ready to contribute full-time this season, while Anthony Mantha, Petr Mrazek, Dylan Larkin and Andreas Athanasiou could soon be pushing for playing time.
Those names are important because, with franchise center Pavel Datsyuk having just three years left on his final NHL deal, Holland will have to commit to a rebuild at some point during his new contract. But does the GM have the stomach for it? The team's fans, who watched him commit $1.5 million this summer to retain 35-year-old bald tire Danny Cleary, probably aren't so sure. If Holland has one clear flaw, it's unflagging loyalty to his veterans.
At some point you have to shut one door and open another to let the kids to come in, even when you know they're just going to traipse mud all over the floor.
But that sort of decision is a lot easier for a GM to make when he knows his own job is secure.
Now, Holland has that security. And he has a mandate from ownership to execute his long-range plan.
His first move will be to get Mike Babcock signed to a new deal. The coach has been blamed in some corners for the unwillingness of free agents to sign with the Wings, but he's still widely regarded as the best bench boss in the league. Detroit's best chance for success includes him.
With Babcock locked up, it will be time to chart the course forward. With Holland's clock now reset, he just might surprise us.