Ken Holland hears your disappointment. He feels your pain. The last two years have not been fun for the Detroit Red Wings or their fanbase, with the team missing the playoffs for the first time in 25 years in 2016-17 and plummeting to 27th overall in 2017-18.
As the team cleared out their rosters and prepared to shut the doors to Little Caesars Arena for good on their worst season since they had 70 points in 1989-99, members of the media crowded the halls and locker rooms to ask questions of players, coaching, and management.
Holland spent the better part of 45 minutes answering questions about the current state of the team and his plan for the future. After announcing his two year contract extension this weekend, he seemed to have a jump in his step. There was a certain energy to his words that gave off positive vibes.
Maybe it was that with some job stability, he can finally put together a plan for the future. He spoke at length about this.
“The theme going forward is the future. It’s rebuild. It’s young kids. It’s young kids put into the lineup when they’re ready,” Holland said.
These are certainly encouraging words for a fan base who rapidly grew tired of the shortened ice time given to Anthony Mantha and Andreas Athanasiou in favour of veterans like Justin Abdelkader and Frans Nielsen. Fans frequently cried for Little Joe Hicketts while Niklas Kronwall chased an opposing player into his own end.
Well, it sounds like those fans are finally going to get what they want.
“At the end of the day, I’m hoping and expecting that a minimum of two and maybe four or five kids between the age of nineteen and twenty-two are on the roster next year that weren’t on the team to start this year,” Holland said.
There’s not really any point in speculating who those players are going to be (though Holland did say Michael Rasmussen would have a chance to make the team next year) because it doesn’t really matter. What’s important in this quote is that it indicates a change in philosophy that the team needs to get younger and faster.
Whether it’s two young players or five who play on opening night is going to rely heavily on what Holland can accomplish in the offseason. He didn’t broach the topic of an extension of Mike Green, but he did say that he will not be a player in free agency. Assuming that means Green and David Booth walk, there’s two open spots already. That’s the easy part.
If Holland wants to make room for more kids, then he’s got to get to work on some of the big contracts that weigh heavily on the Wings’ cap. Most, like those of Abdelkader and Danny DeKeyser, are unmovable. Others, like Darren Helm and Trevor Daley, become easier after a year or two. But if the intention is to make some moves this offseason, then we’re looking at Xavier Ouellet and Nick Jensen, which would open up space for Filip Hronek to jump in on the blueline.
Gustav Nyquist is also a possibility, but his No Trade Clause complicates things. As do the NTCs on all defensemen not named Jensen and Ouellet.
Holland addressed the veteran contracts and even admitted some of them were bad, but ultimately insisted that their presence in the locker room and on the ice is crucial to the development of the kids.
“I don’t know that the answer is to throw 20 kids out there… It’s been tried and it didn’t work. It’s a balance of veterans and making sure young players have people to look up to as mentors,” he noted.
It’s always good to have veterans around for this reason, especially those who have won before, but the Wings are littered with too many of them and will be for a few years still. Holland is going to have to start clearing them out if he really wants this team to get younger, but their contracts make that a hard task to do. Besides, I’m not too sure Holland is ready to part ways with the “work hard culture” that’s found in players like Abdelkader, Helm, and Luke Glendening.
The base of Holland’s new philosophy to get younger is a good one, but to get it done on the one or two year timeline that he believes will return the team to playoff contention is going to be a hard task that will likely cost them more than it’s worth.
Of course, nothing is impossible and Holland has worked some magic in the past. At the end of the day, his goal is to “build a team that fans and media think is a legitimate Cup contender”. He’s definitely got some work to do to repair his reputation in the eyes of fans, but he’s laying the proper foundations with the philosophy behind this rebuild.
It’s just going to take longer than he thinks.