Earlier today, Red Wings owner Chris Ilitch gave Ken Holland his vote of confidence, saying that he will be the GM now and in the future.
Chris Ilitch said Ken Holland is their GM now and into the future. #RedWings
— Ansar Khan (@AnsarKhanMLive) April 11, 2017
The now part isn’t much a surprise to anyone. Given that Holland was at the helm for a majority of the playoff streak, I don’t think fans were expecting him to get fired after a 25 year playoff streak ended. However, the future part is where it can, and should, cause concern.
First off, let’s acknowledge Holland’s successes, because while Holland isn’t very good now, there’s no denying that he was a great GM earlier in his career. After all, there have only been 77 days of my existence that he hasn’t been the Red Wings GM. I turn 20 in a month.
Holland has definitely done a great job of creating some historically good teams. He made what many consider to be the best team ever assembled in 2002 en route to a Stanley Cup, and then when the NHL told Mike Ilitch he wasn’t allowed to spend all of his money, Holland still created what many claim as the best team in the cap era in 2008 when the Red Wings won the Cup again. He also has 10 division titles, five regular season conference titles, and four President’s trophies, while the Wings have the most regular season wins (789) and post season wins (118) in the league during his tenure.
However, anyone who knows me knows that while I respect the old Ken Holland, the modern Ken Holland I am a bit less of a fan. As someone who defied all logic, and managed to be ahead of the curve for so long, the fact that Holland is no longer able to do this is very discouraging. We live in a time where stats have as much importance as what we see on the ice with our own eyes, and Holland’s denial of them only makes him look foolish.
Let’s not forget about his loyalty, which holds him back even more. His consistent ability to lock up below average veterans to long term contracts on ugly cap hits is impeccable, whether it’s Justin Abdelkader, Darren Helm, or Danny DeKeyser. He even tried to extend Thomas Vanek and Brendan Smith to (we can only assume) similar contracts before he ended up trading them. Holland has troubles with evaluating the skill level of a player because he sees them as a friend, not as an employee. Morally, there is nothing wrong with that, but that doesn’t mean you have to lock half the team up to 5+ year contracts.
But the biggest concern for Wings fans if Holland is the GM going forward is that the team will never properly retool or rebuild as long as he remains GM. He still has the false mentality that veterans have more value than young players, and has clearly stated that he doesn’t want to do a rebuild, even today.
Holland reiterating Wings not interested in tanking, adds that it guarantees nothing.
— Helene St. James (@HeleneStJames) April 11, 2017
Here’s the thing with Holland. Last season, he had a chance to prove to us that he has changed his mentality, and that he wants to see the team become better by getting younger. I wrote an article last year about what the Wings should do to approach the offseason, including an idea of what I thought the team could look like if Holland played his cards right, looking like this:
Tatar – Larkin – Nyquist
Athanasiou – Sheahan – Mantha
Pulkkinen – Zetterberg – Jurco
Abdelkader – Glendening – someone else
DeKeyser – Green
Kronwall – Smith
Marchenko – Ericsson/AHL D
*Disclaimer: I would change up the actual lines a year later, but it was more about the roster itself, particularly the forward group.*
He failed that offseason test miserably. He not only signed a few veterans, including a bad contract in Frans Nielsen, but he also re-signed all of his pending UFAs, giving the young forwards no chance to make the team. While I’m one for giving the young guys a challenge to make the roster, it’s useless if you and your coach are terrible at evaluating skill, and are just going to give it to the experienced guys. Mike Babcock always says “tie goes to the veteran”, but even he can notice that Connor Brown is better than Milan Michalek.
So, after that moment, it became clear to me that Holland was not fit to be the general manager of the team going forward. I can’t say it’s entirely his fault though. It’s mainly because of a flaw that every human being suffers from whether they like it or not: not being able to admit that you failed. However, it’s worse for Holland, because since he entered the league until this season, he’s never been in a position where he’s faced failure. You can argue that the last few years of the season weren’t a success (I certainly would), but Holland doesn’t know that.
Look at other teams in the league who are on the up and coming, and ask yourself what the pivotal moment was that changed that. Here’s the answer: when they cleaned house, and got rid of their management. It makes sense. A lot of the times when a general manager is fired, it’s because the team that they’ve created during their tenure was a failure, and the owners realized that the general manager would never see that. When you’ve dedicated years into a project, it’s hard to admit that all that time was wasted, destroy said project, and start again, so that usually means they find someone new to start the project.
The Buffalo Sabres didn’t start their rebuild until they fired Darcy Regier, who had been there for 16 years, and hired Tim Murray. The Toronto Maple Leafs didn’t truly start their rebuild until they got the Burke/Nonis regime out of office and hired their current staff. The Calgary Flames didn’t start their rebuild until they fired Jay Feaster and hired Brad Treliving. The list goes on. All the fired GMs had created teams that failed, but they could never admit that the core needed to change, so they’d retool around them, and it wasn’t until they were shown the door that the teams actually saw a change in philosophy, and have seen teams that are now in the playoffs, or are close to it.
So, why are these words from Chris Ilitch discouraging? Because it means that not only does Ken Holland have an issue with identifying that his current team is not good enough in the NHL, but it means that the one man who can fire him also doesn’t see this, and that this team will struggle to find success, unless Holland has a sudden change in philosophy.
So, looks like you’re stuck with Holland, Wings fans, whether you like it or not. For who knows how long, Holland will attempt to try and retool the team with past their prime veterans year after year, and each time most likely fail, rinse, repeat, each time denying that the Wings need to rebuild.
Find your 1997, 1998, 2002, and 2008 Stanley Cup Champions DVDs and cherish them because it might be a while before you see a competitive Wings team again, or at least, until you get that notification on your phone (or maybe your holographic projector, might even take that long) that Ken Holland has been relieved of his duties.