DETROIT – There hasn’t been much player reaction this summer to the change behind the Red Wings’ bench for the upcoming season. Most of them left town before Mike Babcock split for Toronto and Michigan native Jeff Blashill made the move to Detroit from Grand Rapids where he coached the past three seasons.
However, based on Riley Sheahan’s endorsement on Monday, it seems like the players overwhelming applaud Blashill’s ascension.
“I think we’re all really happy,” said Sheahan, who was at Joe Louis Arena as a guest counselor for the first day of the Wings annual youth hockey camp.
“You can see the job that he’s done in Grand Rapids and so many of us have played there and played with him, especially the Calder Cup team,” Sheahan added. “He’s had so much success everywhere that he’s gone, so I think all of the guys are pretty happy.
“The guys that played with him before know how he reacts to different situations and knows what he expects. I think in that way some guys will be a little bit more confident, which always helps. It’s definitely a good thing.”
The move is definitely a good fit for the Wings, mainly because so many guys on the current NHL roster spent time in the American Hockey League during Blashill’s tenure, which included winning the Calder Cup in 2013. So, from a leadership standpoint – as well as from not having to learn a new system and terminology from an outside hire – Sheahan said he anticipates a seamless transition from Babcock to Blashill.
“I actually thought they were really similar,” Sheahan said. “The system is pretty similar, there are a few tweaks here and there, but I think obviously, Babs leaving that’s tough to deal (with). He’s such a good coach, but Blash coming in, I think there’s a lot of positivity and a lot of happiness with the guys.”
Sheahan returns for a second full season with the Wings after a solid performance in 2014-15 where he produced 13 goals and 36 points in 79 NHL games. A strong center, he played valuable minutes, primarily in the No. 2 and No. 3 holes last season. But a past knock on him was his skating – which he made improvements on last season – and Babcock always hounded him about shooting more.
“I think I was happy with it,” he said about last season. “I think this year I really want to focus on playing every game a little bit better. Maybe achieving more, getting more points, and just being an every-day player and contributing a little more on the score sheet. I think that’s the biggest thing for me, and offensively I think I have to keep taking steps forward.”
The Wings know they will begin the season without Pavel Datsyuk, who had ankle surgery in June. How long they will be without the Magic Man is anybody’s guess. But it’s easy to assume that newcomer Brad Richards will fill the center role on the top line until Datsyuk returns, and Sheahan will more than likely play in the middle on the second line.
The Wings signed Richards and defenseman Mike Green on the first day of the free-agency period on July 1. Both veterans will bring experience and influence to the Wings locker room only adding voice to the team’s core leadership group of Henrik Zetterberg, Niklas Kronwall and Datsyuk.
“They’re both amazing players,” said Sheahan of his new teammates. “Obviously, Richards playing on the Stanley Cup team knows what it takes to get there. Green is a great defenseman. Don’t know them personally, but I’ve heard that they’re great guys, and obviously they bring some veteran experience to our team.”
While the line combinations won’t be solidified prior to the team’s main training camp next month in Traverse City, Blashill did say last month that he would consider playing Sheahan on the wing once the team returns to full health.
Should Sheahan be moved to a wing position, it’s conceivable to think that he would play opposition Darren Helm with Luke Glendening centering one of the most formidable third lines in the league.
Unfamiliar with Blashill’s assertion, Sheahan said he’s fine with whatever role he’s given.
“Whatever I have to do, whatever position I’m put in I think I’ll be comfortable with,” he said. “We’re confident in the decisions that he’ll make and if that’s one of them it’s OK with me.
“You don’t like seeing guys get injured, but if someone’s gonna have to step up and hopefully that can be me. It’s huge shoes to fill but I think he’ll be back soon.”