Jeff Blashill was nine years old when his favorite player Steve Yzerman was in his rookie season for the Detroit Red Wings. Blashill was born in Detroit, grew up in the Upper Peninsula, and was—predictably—a big fan of Stevie Y and the Wings.
Of course now Blashill is behind the bench guiding the Wings in his first season as their head coach. But for the first time since Yzerman was skating the ice in his Detroit sweater, the Red Wings are in danger of missing the playoffs. Not since 1990, when Yzerman was 25 years old (but already in his seventh season) have the Wings failed to make the postseason. If the team’s string of 24 consecutive postseason appearances comes to an end, no one will be more disappointed than the first year coach. But even should that unthinkable scenario happen, Blashill has a long and promising career ahead of him in the NHL.
The first thing Blashill has going for him is his ability to relate to young players, and young players are the key to the success of this franchise in the near and distant future. Gone are the days when owner Mike Ilitch would open his checkbook to lure veteran superstars to Hockeytown. Ilitch has turned his attention to his baseball team, the only thing he owns that hasn’t been crowned yet. Well, maybe outside of the Hula Hawaiian DEEP! DEEP! Dish Pizza. Whatever that is.
So, fans may not have a bevy of future Hall of Famers to cheer for, but those fuzzy-faced teenagers on the ice will grow into a great team eventually. But are hockey fans in this town willing to wait for that maturity?
Blashill has also proven to be a capable X’s and O’s man in his first season in the NHL. He’s willing to scratch his plans and go with a hot hand or put together new rotations based on which of his players are producing. He doesn’t care about status. He’s not intimidated by veterans. That will serve him well.
The 42-year old Blashill is also a passionate leader who was once described as a “force of nature” in his time as the head man at Western Michigan University, where he transformed that program. Members of the Red Wings have been pretty tight-lipped about their coaches mood, but a few have admitted that Blashill has a strong determination that demands respect from his players. With so many youngsters on this club, which is clinging to the 8th playoff spot in the East as I write this, that bodes well.
Yzerman is no longer a Red Wing. That hurts. But Detroit has one of his biggest fans coaching their team, a man who has a bright future in his profession.