By @StefanKubus –
“We have to figure out which of the players are a part of the solution.”
As his offseason began early for the first time in his tenure and his team prepares to move into a new building, Red Wings general manager Ken Holland put it simply and bluntly.
The Red Wings’ management team has a busy off-season ahead of them. Holland’s trade-deadline moves – dealing away Thomas Vanek, Brendan Smith, Tomas Jurco and Steve Ott for draft picks – helped begin that process. However, he and the Red Wings already on the team know they have to be better in the 2017-18 campaign.
“At the trade deadline, we made a decision that it was an opportunity for this organization to get some extra picks, extra swings at players,” Holland said during the team’s locker clean-out. “We have 20 picks over the next two years. I’m hoping that we’re gonna have a number of these picks turn out to be players down the road. They’re not the answer in the short term, but you’ve gotta start to process at some point in time, so we’re working the phones. We’re looking to improve the team. Part of the improvement of the team has to be internally. I think we had a number of players in that room that have more to give, and over the next week or two as I’m meeting with the players, as I’m meeting with [Red Wings head coach] Jeff Blashill as we’re having an organization meeting, we have to figure out which of the players are a part of the solution.
“A lot of it has to come from within. How often are there blockbuster trades? The teams that get good, they get progressively good. And then July 1 free agency is an opportunity at a player. Just go to July 1 last year, look at the players that were signed. They’re all getting six- and seven-year contracts, so how many of those can you have? We added one, it’s Frans Nielsen. We wanted a center-ice man. You’ve got to draft, you’ve got to develop. That’s how the Red Wings became the Red Wings in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. It wasn’t through free agency; it was through drafting and developing… We have to get better internally. It’s what I was saying to the team in there, there’s 16 teams in the Eastern Conference, 16. Do you know how many teams have made it two years in a row? Three: Pittsburgh, Washington and the Rangers. Three teams have made the playoffs in the Eastern Conference three years in a row. The other 13 either haven’t made it or they made it last year and didn’t this year. Five teams that were in the playoffs in the East last year are out. We’re out, Tampa’s out, Florida’s out, Islanders are out, Philly’s out… We want to be one of the teams that’s out this year and gets back in.
“I said to those guys, these other eight teams that are out are having the same meeting we are today or yesterday when they had their meetings. They’re talking about how they’ve got to get better, they want to get in the playoffs… All 16 teams are established teams, with a foundation with a base, they’ve got young players, they’re trying to do the same thing we’re trying to do: make the playoffs, go on a playoff run and eventually win the Stanley Cup. How are we gonna get better? First off, we’ve got to find a way to maximize each individual player. We’ve got to figure out a way to maximize the group. I said in there, why do you go from the 19th of October to the 12th of January without a road power-play goal? I know that from the 18th of February up until like a week ago, we had the 9th-best power play in the National Hockey League. That three months affected our place in the standings, so we’ve got to find a way to get ten more wins, we need 20 more points.”
Additionally, when it comes to making trades, it’s becomes even tougher if there’s no team willing to play ball.
“You need a partner to shuffle the deck,” Holland said.
For the first time since 1990, the Wings hold a top-10 pick heading into the 2017 NHL Draft in Chicago. Even still, at No. 9, Detroit will likely be claiming a player who won’t have an impact on the roster in the immediate future.
The team’s improvement will need to come from within, first and foremost.
Blashill said that the Red Wings need players to take the next step and become elite players – something he talked about in the exact press conference last season – as 36-year-old captain Henrik Zetterberg carried the load up front.
“I talked about this last season; ultimately I think Zetterberg was an elite player this year, and he’s gotta be one of the best winners in his generation that he’s played here in the NHL,” Blashill said. “I’ll use the word two-way player. Really all a two-way player is is a winner: a guy who wins puck battles, a guy that keeps the puck out of your net and a guy who produces offense for you, doesn’t cheat for offense, does it the way that it takes to win. There’s lots of guys in this league that score, but don’t win. He wins. He’s been an elite player for a long time. Without question, we need guys to continue to take steps toward becoming elite players in order to be a hockey team we want to be. The more guys that become elite, the better chance we have to win at the highest level. The less guys that become elite, the harder it is. Now, within that, our coaching staff’s job is to make sure that we do everything possible to maximize our guys and as I said earlier, that’s something that we’re gonna make sure that we continue to work toward, find ways to be better at that this summer, find ways to be better at that through the course of the season. I believe Ken talked about everyone being a little bit better. We’ll all look in the mirror and find a way to be a little bit better. That’s our coaching staff, that’s our players, that’s our training staff, that’s everybody.
“I don’t have any concerns about my ability to get the most of our guys, for the message to continue to be heard. I think our character was tested as much as it can be tested over the last month. I think in tough times is when character shows the most, and I think we fought until the end to a great degree than other teams that were out of it.”
The 2017 offseason carries a unique level of uncertainly due to the expansion draft, as well. The Wings have to make decisions on who they will or will not protect when the new Las Vegas Golden Knights get to comb through each team’s roster to compile a first-year squad.
There’s a lot to work through as the team tries to return to hockey’s elite – always a tough task; even more so in the salary cap era.
“Look at how many teams that have gone without winning the Stanley Cup,” Holland said. “There’s teams in the league that have never won the Stanley Cup, good programs, great programs. There are no guarantees you’re going to win the Stanley Cup. There are no guarantees you’re going to come out of the other side with a powerhouse super-elite team. And if they do get an elite team, you’re going to get it for a period of time and then the cap is gonna come into play and you’re gonna have to decide which players you want to keep, which players you want to trade away.”
Holland also expressed his support for Blashill behind the bench, reiterating the team’s need to improve from within, first and foremost.
“First off, I thought right up to the end of the season, nobody bailed and I think it speaks to the leadership of Jeff, I think it speaks to the leadership of Henrik Zetterberg,” Holland said. “Jeff became a coach in the National Hockey League because at every other level he won, won championships, he was named the American Hockey League coach of the year one year when all his players were called up. Lots of players under his watch at the American League level improved, they got better and they ended up in Detroit. Certainly, he and I talked, a number of players regressed or had off years. We have to figure out why they regressed or why they had off years.”
Both this summer and the first month of the 2017-18 campaign will go a long way to clarify where the Red Wings competitively stand.