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Red Wings keeping Blashill for at least two more seasons

Development of young players and team competitiveness key in decision

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji / DetroitRedWings.com

DETROIT -- Although the overall record does not yet reflect it, the Detroit Red Wings appear to be heading in the right direction.

Because of that, the Wings announced Tuesday that they signed head coach Jeff Blashill to a two-year extension.

"I think that Jeff has done a very, very good job considering the circumstances of a rebuild," general manager Ken Holland said. "I think on a night-to-night basis, our team has been very, very competitive. I think we've been involved in close to the most one-goal games in the league this year. When I look at the development of the young players on our team, as we've gone through this rebuild, they've all improved, they've all gotten better.

"When I hired Jeff as a coach, he was the second-youngest coach in the National Hockey League and he's been behind the bench now for four years. I think he's learned a lot in four years behind the bench of a National Hockey League team and I want to put that experience to good use as we go forward in this rebuild. I'm very, very excited to announce that Jeff's coming back for two more years."

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: #RedWings executive vice president and general manager Ken Holland and Red Wings head coach Jeff Blashill speak following the announcement of Coach Blashill���s two-year contract extension. https://t.co/8Oc4AoanV6

Blashill, 45, began his Wings career as an assistant coach on Mike Babcock's staff for the 2011-12 season. He then spent three years as the head coach of the Wings' AHL affiliate, the Grand Rapids Griffins, guiding the team to their first Calder Cup championship in the franchise's 17-year history after the 2012-13 season.

"I just want to thank Mrs. Ilitch, Chris Ilitch, Ken Holland for the opportunity to continue to lead this team," Blashill said. "I've been in this organization now eight years. It's an unbelievable organization to be a part of. I grew up a Red Wing fan, so as a lifelong fan, it's unbelievable to be able to do this on a daily basis. I've said this to lots of you in this room, I believe our arc is starting to head in the right direction with the development of a number of young players. I believe we're starting to head in the direction that we all want it to. We got lots of work to do and I look forward to diving into that work so we're sitting here a year from now in a better position than we're sitting here today. I look forward to the work and can't wait to continue it."

At 31-38-10, the Red Wings sit 13th in the Eastern Conference and 27th in the NHL.

While they are headed back into the draft lottery, the Wings are tied with the Columbus Blue Jackets for the longest current winning streak in the NHL at five games and have won seven of the last eight games, despite an injury-depleted lineup.

Perhaps the most important thing is that the young players have ascended to greater roles.

"When it became apparent that Henrik Zetterberg couldn't play this season, that, in some respect, ripped the band-aid off and now, all of the responsibility, a lot of the responsibility, was put on those young guys that we believe are going to lead us to a better future," Blashill said.

Without Zetterberg, Dylan Larkin had to become the team's No. 1 center, playing against other teams' top players every night.

Larkin has responded with a career-best season at just 22 years old. His 32 goals, 38 assists and 70 points all lead the team . Larkin has already bested his career high in goals by nine and points with three games remaining.

Larkin, who's also had Blashill as his coach with Team USA at the world championships, was pleased to hear the news.

"He's a good talker, he's good with X's and O's, he loves the game, he studies it a lot." Larkin said. "Like us, I think he's gotten better in his strategy. He loves the game and that's one of the biggest things I respect about him. He wants to be better, he wants to be better as a person and as a coach. Really, everyone in here respects him and he respects everyone. We're happy to have him back."

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: Dylan Larkin on Coach Blashill and tonight's matchup with the Penguins. pic.twitter.com/OPFucdjoN8

Andreas Athanasiou, 24, has always been a dynamic, skilled scorer but at times, his defensive play has not equaled his offense.

This season, Athanasiou has also posted career-bests with 30 goals (12 more than his previous high). 22 assists (five more than his previous high) and 52 points (19 more than his previous high).

Much as he did with Larkin three seasons ago, Blashill has put Athanasiou back at center and left him there and Athanasiou has taken steps there, too.

Larkin and Athanasiou are the Wings' first 30-goal scorers in a decade.

Had Anthony Mantha not missed 15 games with a hand injury, he would likely have topped 30 goals as well.

As it is, the 24-year-old Mantha has 22 goals, just two shy of his team-leading 24 from last season, in 64 games. His 23 assists are just one off his career-best 24 of last season, which he accomplished in 80 games.

Then there's Tyler Bertuzzi, named Monday as the league's second star for his three-goal, seven-assist output in four games. Bertuzzi, also 24 years old, has 19 goals and 25 assists in 70 games after recording seven goals and 17 assists in 48 games last season.

On a team that has been outscored by opponents, Bertuzzi is a team-best plus-11.

On defense, Filip Hronek, 21, has five goals and 15 assists in 43 games.

"Even in the best of days, it took a long time to get over the hump here, because it is a growth process," Blashill said. "I just think with our players being in those spots, they're learning. Now we gotta take the next step. We gotta take the step to turning those losses into wins. And I would also say the more guys that can get into that mix, who can help you win games, that's the best way to become consistent.

"The teams that are most consistent are the teams that are the deepest in talent. Not everybody is going to be the best every night. So when three guys aren't at their best, you need three other guys to get the job done and that takes a depth of talent. I think through the number of draft picks we've had, through the number of good players that are starting to come through the organization, the more depth we have, the better the chance of being consistent. So the more guys that can help us win games, the better odds you have."

The length of the extension is two years, which was by design.

"I think that we were here a year ago and I was announced on a two-year contract extension, it was important to go, as Jeff said, the arc that we're headed up," Holland said. "If we're not heading up, then it's gotta be reassessed down the road. For Jeff to walk in that locker room, I'm not going to do a one-year deal. I think Jeff has to walk in that locker room and the players know that he's the boss.

"Certainly to go longer than that, we've gotta get to the point here shortly where the results are on the ice, we're getting wins and we're competitive for a playoff position."

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