Ken Holland, His Guys and His Legacy

The Red Wings have seen some greats come and go over the years, especially since Ken Holland took over in the mid-90’s. Sergei Federov, Steve Yzerman, Nick Lidstrom, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, to name just a few, are all truly great hockey players that have worn the Winged Wheel under the watchful and mostly successful eye of Ken Holland.

Holland has been through everything with this team and done everything he could have possibly done for this team. Unfortunately, all good things come to an end and unfortunately, Kenny’s departure from the GM role is coming several years too late (the cynical side of me says that despite the likely departure of Holland, we will not be free of the same mindset that got the Wings where they are currently, similar to the firing of Matt Millen but the retention of his right hand man).

It has been pretty clear to many outside of the organization that Holland was no longer the mastermind behind drafting unknown players or facilitating trades/free agent deals to land big name players. He’s become the dinosaur among his peers that can no longer “hang”. I’ll admit that this appears to have been largely a result of the salary cap, as the Red Wings have failed to lure any big name free agent for more than one season since the salary cap was implemented. The biggest name in that time frame is Marian Hossa, but he was only signed to a one year contract and then Holland infamously chose Johan Franzen over Hossa (not literally but technically due to salary cap restrictions). Stephen Weiss was a “big” signing who was not a big name but ultimately, it turned into, arguably, the worst free agent contract given out during the Holland era. Mike Green is the only other “big name” player that signed a multi-year contract (though they grossly overpaid for a player that was no longer the guy that they were paying for) but despite my previous comment, he has worked out well. Additionally, he should leave the Wings with a nice parting gift of a prospect and/or a pick with which to rebuild with. Trevor Daley was signed to a multi-year deal but we can all agree that was an awful contract handed out because Holland still operates under the delusion that the Wings can contend as currently constructed. Don’t even get me started on the Frans Neilsen deal.

Yeah Kenny, I’d look perturbed too…

Above and beyond the free agents, he has completely handcuffed this team for the foreseeable future due to a level of loyalty that professional sports teams never show. In the past, the Wings were praised for it. In recent years it has become their downfall. It is downright shameful and mind-boggling to see players like Justin Adbelkader, Danny Dekeyser, Darren Helm and Luke Glendening be handed contracts befitting players significantly better than they are. Please, don’t misunderstand me, these are all useful players and likely would have been key pieces in trades to help the rebuild but they can’t be moved (no-movement and no-trade clauses notwithstanding) because they’re contracts are beyond prohibitive for the return on investment that the team(s) receive.

Holland’s desire to take care of “his guys” has completely torpedoed this franchise’s ability to compete in the free market for players. His desire to take care of “his guys” in front office (and the scouting/coaching staffs) positions seems to have lead to a stagnation of ideas or a situation of conforming group think with little to no contrarian thoughts. That is nothing more than pure speculation but what was once a scouting department and front office that was notorious for findings gems and swinging unbelievable trade deals is now a brutal reminder of what can happen when you have the mindset of “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” in the business world. Below is a tweet from Dan Gilbert, a man who has taken the premise of being ahead of the curve and revolutionized it (at least with Quicken Loans, if not with the Cavs). I can attest first hand to the machine that is Quicken Loans and the forward thinking by Gilbert that predated this current technological revolution within the business world.

Boy…Dr. King got that one right in so many ways, but I firmly believe that it rings true with regard to Holland and his legacy. He was and has been so concerned with his legacy as the conductor that orchestrated one of the greatest streaks in American sports history – plus, I’m sure, an overwhelming amount of pressure from above – that he has failed time and again to take a step back and just think. Better yet, to bring people in to contradict him, thereby by forcing him to think!

A group of us from WingsNation were discussing the state of the site recently. Our editor made a decision that he felt was best for the site. One of our contributors voiced his concerns regarding that decision and then apologized because he felt it may have been inappropriate. Our editor quickly responded advising that it was appropriate, that he expects differing ideas and should we ever fall into a place where that isn’t happening…well, it just isn’t a place where he (or any of us) want WingsNation to be. I use this as a real life example of what the Red Wings lack, they still have an old guard in place that predates the salary cap, that predates having such a large amount of information available at one’s finger tips (for scouting purposes). This is a result of Holland’s (and Ilitch’s) tunnel vision, this one track mindset of having the legacy of “being a winner and doing it differently”. The idea of not being cutthroat has been taken to a whole new level with this front office and ownership group, players that begin their careers with the Wings and/or spend a good amount of time with the Wings rarely leave. Dan Cleary is arguably the best example of this but there have been many others over the years, both as players and within the front office/scouting department/coaching staff.

We should all count ourselves among the lucky ones to have been able to experience The Streak, Stanley Cups, to experience the genius that was Holland and the greatness that was the Wings and its players; but the time has come to allow Holland’s legacy to speak for itself and move onto the next chapter of Detroit Red Wings hockey.

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