With the long-expected introduction of Jeff Blashill as their new head coach on Tuesday, the Detroit Red Wings have set themselves up for what may be the most seamless transition in recent memory.
In every way that matters, Blashill is the spitting image of Mike Babcock, the man he’ll replace behind the bench at Joe Louis Arena. The way he talks. The way he carries himself. The way he approaches the game. And most important, his dedication to preparation.
“I’m sure there’s lots of similarities," Blashill admitted at his introductory press conference. “I coach similar in a lot of ways to how Babs had coached here and a lot of the same approaches in terms of how we play.
“[But] I’ll have my own approach and with my own approach will come change. I’m my own person.”
Fair enough. Babcock earned the respect of his players, but he wore out more than a few of them along the way. Blashill might be more of a nurturer, or least he was in his role with the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins.
The 41-year-old Blashill spent the past three seasons guiding Detroit’s top farm team, where he helped develop 16 players who suited up for the big club this season including Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, Riley Sheahan and Luke Glendening. He’s also familiar with the team’s veteran core, having served one season as Babcock’s assistant back in 2011-12.
Like Babcock, he focuses on the process and execution. He puts in the work and he expects nothing less from his players. He’s demanding, but respectful. He has a knack for getting the best out of them as individuals and as a group.
And so, like Babcock, he’s a winner. Blashill captured the AHL championship in his first season with Grand Rapids in 2013. Before that, he won the USHL’s Clark Cup with the Indiana Ice in 2009. “He seems to have something,” Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said. “He wins wherever he goes.”
He won’t be expected to win with this lineup, at least not yet. With a yawning age gap between top stars Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk and young guns like Nyquist and goaltender Petr Mrazek, the Wings are a team in transition. But with a proven approach and more young talent on the way—look for the brilliant two-way forward Dylan Larkin to push hard for a spot next season-—Blashill has a group that should extend the organization’s playoff streak to 25 years in 2015-16.
They took their time getting around to it, but the Wings made the smart call.
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