DETROIT -- After 10 playoff appearances in as many seasons as Detroit Red Wings coach, Mike Babcock left for the Toronto Maple Leafs. In his place, the Red Wings hired Jeff Blashill, who coached their American Hockey League affiliate, the Grand Rapids Griffins, for the past three seasons.
How Blashill fares in his first NHL season is one of three questions facing the Red Wings as they try to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs for a 25th consecutive season:
Is Jeff Blashill up to the job? At 41, Blashill is the NHL's second-youngest coach (John Hynes of the New Jersey Devils is 40). He had nothing left to prove at the AHL level after coaching Grand Rapids to the Calder Cup in 2013, winning coach of the year in 2013-14, and reaching the AHL Western Conference Final last season.
But he has no experience running an NHL bench, though he served as an assistant under Babcock in 2011-12.
"I'm going on my instinct. He's a great young coach who is ready to coach in the NHL," Holland said. "You don't have success like that at the American Hockey League level unless you're running a good program."
Blashill coached many of Detroit's young players with Grand Rapids and had defenseman Danny DeKeyser as a college freshman in 2010-11 when he coached Western Michigan.
"He's a really good coach and he demands a lot from his players, but I think he pushes everybody to be the best they can be," DeKeyser said. "I think it's really good and he's really open-minded about things too. He's easy to talk to and he's a good coach. He knows his stuff."
When will Pavel Datsyuk return from ankle surgery? Datsyuk, 37, had surgery in late June to repair ruptured tendons in his right ankle. The center was expected to be in a cast for 4-6 weeks before starting rehab and was to be evaluated in three months, which meant he might be back close to the beginning of the regular season on Oct. 9.
But Datsyuk told Swedish media outlet SVT.se he will be out longer.
"Doctors say four, five months," Datsyuk said last month via a Google translation of the article. "So we'll see. I hope I just miss a little early in the season."
The plan is for Brad Richards, signed as a free agent, to be Detroit's first-line center until Datsyuk returns.
Will Mike Green's offense overcome his defense? Though he scored 10 goals and had 45 points in 72 games with the Washington Capitals in 2014-15, Green, 29, mostly played on the third pair because of his defensive ability.
The Red Wings think they have the answer: Holland and Blashill said Green will be paired with DeKeyser, the third-year defenseman called "The Human Eraser" by Babcock because of his strong defensive play.
"I think he's a great player," DeKeyser said of Green. "He's got a great shot from the point, he moves the puck up the [defensive] zone fast and he can skate really well. … I don't know what the pairings are going to be. If we end up being paired together, I think it would be a good combo."
Green could make a big difference for the Red Wings, who have been searching for a right-handed shooting defenseman with offensive ability since Brian Rafalski retired in 2011.