DETROIT – Red Wings general manager Ken Holland announced the signing a very important person to the franchise’s future on Wednesday.
Grand Rapids coach Jeff Blashill agreed to a new three-year contract, which will run through the 2016-17 season.
Blashill, like Red Wings coach Mike Babcock, had one year left on his contract with the organization.
Holland said he denied permission to NHL teams to speak to the 40-year-old Blashill, who was born in Detroit but raised in Sault Ste. Marie.
“He’s a very important person in our organization because we are in the process of trying to transition to some of the younger players that we have,” Holland said. “I met with Jeff last week and ultimately, Jeff is enjoying the role that he’s got. We are thrilled with the job that he has done from a competitive standpoint, from a development standpoint. He had one year left on his deal, we ripped it up and signed him to a new three-year contract and we gave him a significant raise.
“I think his feeling is that he can use another year or two – certainly one more year – to continue developing as a coach and we’ll see what happens next summer.”
The Red Wings would also like to sign Babcock this summer. Heading into his 10th season behind Detroit’s bench, he holds the all-time franchise record for wins with a 415-198-91 record.
Babcock participated in the team’s pro scouting meetings, which ended Wednesday at Joe Louis Arena. While there was some decision of a contract extension for the Wings’ coach nothing was settled, Holland said.
“We talked a little bit briefly and now he’s gone with his wife on a vacation for 10 days,” Holland said. “So I’ll see him at the draft.”
Blashill came to the Wings prior to the 2011-12 season as an assistant on Babcock’s coaching staff. The next year, the Wings moved Blashill to Grand Rapids where he was asked to help with the development of the franchise’s up and coming young talent in the American Hockey League.
“I’m excited to continue to grow within the organization and to continue to have an opportunity in my role as head coach of the Grand Rapids Griffins,” Blashill said. “It’s been a great learning experience for me, it’s been a great life experience and I’ve really enjoyed helping our young Red Wings’ prospects develop while trying to win championships with the Griffins.”
Despite having many of his players in Detroit playing for the injury-riddled Red Wings last season, Blashill was named AHL coach of the year for leading the Griffins to a 99-point campaign. In two AHL seasons, he has compiled an 88-49-6-9 (W-L-OTL-SOL) record while leading the Griffins to the 2013 Calder Cup championship.
Given all of the roster moves between Grand Rapids and Detroit, Blashill said last season’s experience was uniquely challenging.
“But I think that’s part of the challenge of the American League and I thought seeing other guys step into those roles when players were called up was great,” Blashill said. “It was great to see the depth within the organization and what a great job our Red Wings’ scouting department has done to give us that ability to have that kind of depth.
“It was just different and unique and certainly you face challenges all of the time as a coach but what I know is that when you deal with those (experiences) you really grow and I thought both our team and myself really grew from the experiences that we had with this past year.”
The Red Wings feel it’s inevitable that Blashill will eventually receive a shot at an NHL head-coaching job. He’s a proven commodity who has done a splendid job of preparing a wave of young players like Luke Glendening, Tomas Jurco, Gustav Nyquist, Riley Sheahan and Tomas Tatar for crucial roles with the Red Wings last season, with a second wave of guys – like Alexey Marchenko, Petr Mrazek, Xavier Ouellet, Teemu Pulkkinen and Ryan Sproul, among others – on the Red Wings’ horizon.
“Our future is down there in the hands of that head coach, and we feel that we have a tremendous coach down there,” Holland said. “He knows those kids and he knows there’s another wave with (Andreas) Athanasiou, and (Anthony) Mantha, and (Mattias) Backman. He knows there are a few more kids coming in and he’ll have those kids for another year, so I think he’s excited for the opportunity to continue overseeing their development.”
Before coming to the Wings, Blashill was a very successful head coach at the collegiate and at the junior level in the United States, serving stints at Western Michigan University and with the Indiana Ice in the USHL.
Blashill will be a part of the Wings’ conglomerate at this month’s NHL draft in Philadelphia on June 27-28. He will also head up the coaching staff at next month’s development camp as well as the eight-team NHL Prospect Tournament in September. Both events will be held at Centre Ice Arena in Traverse City.
A lot has been made of Mantha, the Wings 19-year-old prospect who set the Canadian Hockey League ablaze with his goal per game average last season. Out of junior eligibility, Mantha will either be in Detroit or Grand Rapids when he begins his pro career this fall.
“The one thing in my role is that you don’t know for sure who you’re going to have on any given day but certainly not who you’re going to have come October after the Red Wings have made their initial decision,” Blashill said. “I had the opportunity to coach Anthony at the prospects tournament and I was extremely impressed by his skill set and by his compete level and his want to learn and get better. So if I get an opportunity to work with him it will be exciting to watch his growth.”