The bar was set extremely low for the Detroit Red Wings this season and with an 0-4-2 record, they haven’t done anything to prove the skeptics wrong. But if you think the bottom of the standings is foreign territory for GM Ken Holland, well, you probably haven’t been following his career long enough. In fact, Holland joined the Red Wings as a regional scout when they occupied the bottom of the NHL.
It was a long road to respectability and it will be that again. Now that Holland’s team is looking up in the standings and rebuilding after more than two decades of heady days, Holland finds himself back in a familiar spot, albeit one he hasn’t occupied in a long time. He took a few minutes out of his day to talk to TheHockeyNews.com for a regular feature we call, “10 Minutes With…”
The Hockey News: How are you holding up?
Ken Holland: Fine. We’re off to a hard start, but we’ve been hit hard on the back end by injuries. It’s been a great opportunity for some of our young defenseman. (Mike) Green has been out the whole time, I think (Jonathan) Ericsson played one pre-season game. The four kids on defense have had a chance to get a feel for what the NHL is all about.
THN: You’ve been on the other side for a long time. How does it feel to be on the rebuilding side?
KH: Well, I’ve done it before. I was with the Red Wings in 1985 when we picked Joe Murphy first overall. That was my first year as a scout with the Red Wings. It’s not like I haven’t been through it before. We were 25 years in the playoffs, four Stanley Cups, six Presidents’ Trophies and numerous Red Wing players going to the Hall of Fame and at some point in time, you pay the price and spend some time rebuilding.
THN: Does it ever get discouraging?
KH: Discouraging? No. I understand the process. I’ve been in pro hockey since 1975 and I was in the Hartford organization and the Red Wing organization when they were going through tough times. I don’t think you can get discouraged or disappointed. I think you just have to go to work every day and have a plan. Try to make more good decisions than bad decisions. Not every decision you make is going to work out. You have to stick to your plan.
THN: You’ve always railed against teams that tank and said it would never happen on your watch. So are we to assume this team is not going to tank?
KH: I don’t think so. We signed Mike Green this summer. We signed Thomas Vanek, we signed (Jonathan) Bernier. At the end of the day, when your top four defensemen are out, it hurts. Green played 24 minutes a game last season. (Trevor) Daley has been out, Ericsson has been out and (Dan) DeKeyser is out for two more weeks. I think any team in the NHL that has half its defense corps on IR, it’s going to affect you. We’re six games in and we’ve obviously put ourselves in a big hole. Daley is coming back tonight. We’ve had lots of young kids, not only up front, but on the back end. Even up front, we’re counting on 22- and 23-year-olds to provide offense and they’re going to go through growing pains. (Henrik) Zetterberg and (Pavel) Datsyuk became Zetterberg and Datsyuk when they 24 or 25 and we’re counting on players who are 22 and 23. There are growing pains and they’re going to be better for it and we’re going to be better for it. (Dennis) Cholowski had a great camp and (Filip) Hronek had a great year in the American League and we signed (Libor) Sulak and we had (Joe) Hicketts and we were hoping to come to camp and have maybe two of those guys play in Detroit and as it turned out, all four are in Detroit and they’re playing every night.
THN: Your coach, Jeff Blashill, is in a contract year. What does the future hold for him?
KH: I was in the last year of a contract last year and got signed to a two-year extension. I don’t know. I just think all of us have to keep working, keep grinding and everything takes care of itself.
THN: Does the Steve Yzerman situation affect you at all?
KH: Not me, no.
THN: So you’re not looking over your shoulder, so to speak?
KH: I’ve been a manager in the league for 23 years. I’ve won three Stanley Cups, five Presidents’ Trophies. I don’t look over my shoulder.
THN: You know you’re in a rebuild and the playoffs are probably out of the question, so what are you looking for from your team this season?
KH: If I look at last season, I look at the growth of (Anthony) Mantha and (Dylan) Larkin. We have (Andreas) Athanasiou signed to a two-year contract and I’d like to see some growth out of him and (Tyler) Bertuzzi. Cholowski had a really good year in junior and we hope he can show some growth this year. I’m looking for growth from the young people. It has to be about the youth, but you have to compete. And I thought last year we competed. We lost 27 games by a goal. It can’t always be about the young people. It’s a young man’s league, but there are veterans who have to play a role in helping a team. We want to be competitive. We want to be in every game.
THN: Have you scouted Jack Hughes yet this season?
KH: I saw him last Saturday and I saw him numerous times last season. I live two miles from where they play. I live on Seven Mile and that rink is on Five Mile, so it’s a pretty easy trip for me.
THN: What do you think of him?
KH: He’s going to be a great player.