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Blashill looks forward to clean slate in 2021

Red Wings eagerly return to Little Caesars Arena for training camp this week

by Josh Berenter @DetroitRedWings /

DETROIT - With nearly 300 days since the last time his team played an NHL game, Detroit Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill has had a lot of time to learn new ways to maneuver his coaching strategies in the ever-evolving COVID-19 world.

And now that the Red Wings' 2021 season is finally set to begin on January 14, with players reporting to training camp this Friday, it's time to put those lessons to use.

"I've certainly had a chance to be in conversation with a lot of different people, both in the hockey world and not in the hockey world," Blashill said Monday afternoon during a Zoom press conference. "I've had a chance to talk to people in the NFL (about) how they managed COVID, and all the things that go into that to try to minimize risk and exposure.

"Ultimately how well you police yourself, how good a job you do at keeping social distance, at wearing masks, at doing those things, that can be the difference between who's available to play and who's not, which obviously can dictate winning and losing. It's been a really wide range of lessons and a wide range of conversations I've had with people in different sports."

Blashill said although the last year has been extremely difficult, the 10-month hiatus has given him, his staff and his players a refreshed perspective of how lucky they are to be in the NHL.

"Certainly it was a hard year to go through," he said. "What this 10-month break has done for all of us, probably, is it gives you a chance to reset your perspective. There's a grind to the NHL just like there's a grind to any job. We're pretty fortunate we get a chance to coach in the NHL, we get a chance to play in the NHL. Let's make sure we cherish every moment of it.

Video: Jeff Blashill speaks with the media on 2020-21

"Sometimes when you can't do it for 10 months, your appreciation of it can only grow, and it certainly has grown. Just to make sure we're enjoying the everyday of the NHL, we're enjoying the competition, we're enjoying trying to beat the very best in the world. I think we're excited about that. From our players' perspective, there's a hunger there. The slate is totally clean. We've got a clean slate, and let's bring that hunger to the rink every single day."

The Red Wings will officially begin their clean slate on New Year's Day as players report to Little Caesars Arena for training camp.

With only 13 days and no preseason games to prepare for the 56-game regular season, Blashill said his team will need to maximize every minute it has during training camp.

"It's certainly going to be a little bit different than other years," said Blashill, who conducted his press conference from Little Caesars Arena instead of his home for the first time since March. "We're basically serving two purposes here at camp once we get started. No. 1 is to get ourselves as ready as humanly possible as a team, and No. 2 is figuring out which guys are earning what ice time.

"We have a whole bunch of fresh faces, so we have to make sure we value practices. We're going to have internal scrimmages and we're going to have to place great evaluation on those to make decisions on who's earning power-play ice time, who's earning five-on-five ice time, who's earning spots on the team. All those things have to be figured out in that two-week period. And then we also have to make sure our group is ready-the group that's going to play game one.

"We've got a plan going into it. Honestly, I just think we're all looking forward to it. I don't care how much time they give us. I want to coach, and our guys want to play."

Two of the fresh faces that Blashill alluded to are veteran forwards Bobby Ryan and Vladislav Namestnikov, whom the Red Wings signed as free agents in October.

Ryan is a 13-year NHL veteran with 833 games, 254 goals and 555 career points under his belt, while Namestnikov is entering his eighth NHL season, with 189 points in 425 games.

Blashill said he's excited to add proven scorers to a team that struggled to sustain offense last season.

"With Vladdy and Bobby, we added a couple players who ultimately can add more offensive depth to our lineup," Blashill said. "Bobby Ryan's been an elite scorer in this league at different points in his career. He's hungry and ready to prove that he still is.

"Vladdy's a real interesting player who came into the league as an offensive player and he's really grown to appreciate the defensive side of the puck and the importance of being a two-way player. What that says to me is you're getting a guy who understands that two-way play is what leads to winning. Vladdy has a real ability to play in a lot of different positions. He can play up and down your lineup. That gives you lots of depth."

Detroit got more than a third of its offense last season from the No. 1 forward line of Dylan Larkin, Anthony Mantha and Tyler Bertuzzi, and Blashill said if the Wings want to compete in the newly formed Central Division, they have to produce scoring threats on multiple lines.

"We've got to have more scoring depth throughout our forward line group, for sure," he said. "We cannot be a one-line team, which we were too many times last year. I think those additions give us a chance to add more scoring punch."

While the Red Wings upgraded their offensive prowess, the much-maligned defensive corps looks to be much improved as well. Detroit added Marc Staal, Jon Merrill and Troy Stecher to the blue line this offseason and will begin the season with a healthy Danny DeKeyser, who missed the last 62 games in 2019-20 with a back injury.

"We'll get a chance to prove whether we're stronger," Blashill said. "We have a lot of players that I would say are good players. I think we've got guys that will be in training camp that are going to give us a chance to be a better D corps, but we've got to be better in a lot of aspects of our game, so it's not just that position. I do think we have an opportunity (to be better), but now we've got to go prove it."

Blashill said adding DeKeyser back into the lineup is huge, but warned that after back surgery, it will take the ninth-year defenseman some time to get acclimated.

"I anticipate Danny DeKeyser being ready for camp. Danny's been out a long, long time. More than anybody really and he's coming off a major surgery. I don't know that I'd put a percentage on where Danny's at, I'll let Danny answer that. But no matter if he feels absolutely perfect, it still has been a long, long time since he played and it's going to take a while to get the kinks out."

And while DeKeyser looks to put last season's hardships in the rearview mirror, so too do the Red Wings. Blashill said his message to the team going into camp would be to live in the moment and look forward, not back.

"The advantage for us is last year was so long ago that we're not going really dive a whole bunch into it," Blashill said. "We're looking at what our expectations are on day one of camp. I've had a chance to address that with a number of the guys. I've gotten real good at this Zoom, so we've been able to use Zoom conversations to make sure guys are ready for camp, and we'll attack day one and just try to get better day one of camp."

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