Red Wings hoping for seamless transition under Jeff Blashill
DETROIT (AP) — The Detroit Red Wings have been a model of consistency, becoming the only NHL franchise to make the playoffs every year of the salary-cap era and 24 straight overall.
For the first time in a decade, Mike Babcock won’t be their coach.
The Red Wings are optimistic that won’t make a big difference.
"The hope is that we’re going to have a seamless transition," Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said. "Under Mike Babcock, we had a pretty good run."
Babcock, who helped Detroit win the Stanley Cup in 2008, left in May when his contract expired to sign an eight-year, $50 million deal with Toronto. He will be back at Joe Louis Arena on Friday night when Detroit hosts the Maple Leafs in its opener.
The Red Wings promoted Jeff Blashill from the AHL’s Grand Rapids Griffins to lead a team with quite a streak in the league.
If the Red Wings can extend the longest active postseason streak in North American professional sports, they will tie the third-longest run in NHL history with the St. Louis Blues, who made it every year from 1980 to 2004.
Here are some things to watch when the Red Wings begin a new era:
THE NEW GUY: The 41-year-old Blashill led the Griffins for three seasons and helped them win their first AHL title in 2013 after being a Babcock assistant for one season. He also led the Indiana Ice to a United States Hockey League championship in 2009. Blashill was born in Detroit and raised in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., but he isn’t in awe of leading a storied franchise in a banner-filled arena. "Not now," he said. "Maybe a little bit in the summer. Maybe the press conference. Now, it’s just working. It’s my job." Blashill has gotten rave reviews from the Red Wings. "He’s a calm guy who knows what he wants," defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. "It has been fairly easy to adjust to him because he sees the game similar to Babs." And when Blashill speaks, it is like listening to Babcock. "Yeah, they sound similar," forward Justin Abdelkader said. "But they have a different approach in terms of communication. I think he’s going to be great with the younger guys because he coached a lot of them in Grand Rapids."
CLOSING TIME: The Red Wings have failed to advance past the second round since coming one win short of repeating as Stanley Cup champions in 2009. Detroit is coming off a first-round exit against Tampa Bay after losing a 3-2 series lead to the team that went on to win the Eastern Conference. In the second round of the 2013 playoffs, the Red Wings blew a 3-1 series lead to Chicago. "That tells us we’re close," Abdelkader said. "If we can get some breaks by staying healthy, I like our chances."
BETWEEN THE PIPES: Petr Mrazek beat out Jimmy Howard to become the team’s No. 1 goaltender during the playoffs, but the 23-year-old Czech will have to outplay the 31-year-old American early in the season to keep the job on a regular basis during the season. They are expected to both get a chance to play this and next month, alternating starts when the team plays on consecutive nights.
BUMPS, BRUISES: Detroit will likely play for several weeks without Pavel Datsyuk, who had ankle surgery last summer. The 37-year-old center has been healthy enough to play just 56 games per season over the past five years. Center Darren Helm will start the season on injured reserve because of a concussion and shoulder injury. Defenseman Danny DeKeyser will be out three to four weeks with a sprained ligament in his left foot.
YOUTH MOVEMENT: Injuries at center created an opportunity for 19-year-old rookie Dylan Larkin to make the season-opening roster. Riley Sheahan, a 23-year-old forward, and Xavier Ouellet, a 23-year-old defenseman, are two of the team’s younger players who are being counted on to make contributions this season.