Sunday, July 10, 2005

Fire The Coach! But Red Wings Should Also Take A Look At Their GM

So as I suspected, Dave Lewis is out as Red Wings coach. Fine. He probably maxed out, having been with the franchise as a coach for 17 years, over half of those years with the very same players who are currently on the roster. His message and his ways were probably getting stale -- I'll give you that.

But Ken Holland has been the Red Wings' general manager since 1997, and while he has two Stanley Cups on his resume as GM, what about his ways? What about his approach? What about his culpability in the team's two recent playoff disappointments?

Lewis -- and he admitted to this -- was a "player's coach". That's barely scrambled code for "too nice a guy" or "the inmates run the asylum."

"I probably wouldn't have changed my coaching style too much," Lewis said into a telephone to the Detroit Free Press on Friday, the day Holland held his press conference announcing that Lewis would not return as coach this season. When asked what doomed him despite two straight 48 win seasons, Lewis said, "It was the playoff record." Yes, it probably was. Lewis was 6-10 in two playoff runs, never getting beyond the second round.

Well, that's all well and good, but Holland has been mostly sheathed in teflon since taking over as GM following Scotty Bowman, who held both coach and GM titles until the first Cup in '97. Criticism of Holland has been few and far between, and while I don't think he needs to be villified, I do believe it is time to look at his record and determine what role he has played in the Red Wings' two-year dry spell, postseason wise.

The man who looks like the next coach in Hockeytown, Mike Babcock, is apparently attractive to Holland becuase he gets a lot out of his role players -- the checkers and grinders especially. Funny how Babcock was able to do that in 2003, when his Anaheim Might Ducks made it all the way to the Finals, but wasn't able to do so in 2004, when the Ducks dropped to 12th in the conference, sans playoffs. Regardless, it's interesting that Babcock's influence on those types of players is what makes him an ideal coaching candidate in Ken Holland's eyes, because it provides an excellent segue to my next point.

Hardly anyone in the local media, that I'm aware of, has cast a critical eye toward Holland, but yet he is the man who has provided Lewis -- and eventually Babcock apparently -- with the roster from which to work. And several of Holland's signings and acquisitions have proven to be folks who, for one reason or another, haven't produced when it has mattered the most.

Holland should be looking over his shoulder at us soon

Luc Robitaille comes to mind. He was signed in 2001, and while the Wings won the Cup that season, it was largely in spite of Luc than because of him. He went lonnnng stretches where he was invisible, especially in the playoffs. The following season was even worse. Lewis even benched him once, to which Lucky Luc had the nerve to be surprised. Brett Hull did a disappearing act of his own in the '03 and '04 playoffs, eventually ending up being on non-speaking terms with Lewis and the media. Ray Whitney was signed prior to the '03-'04 campaign, and if you can think of any defining moments he had in the playoffs, let me know. Curtis Joseph joined the Wings as the Goalie After Hasek, when the team could have had Ed Belfour for several million dollars cheaper. Belfour has outplayed Joseph considerably since then. Plus, Holland okayed the return of Hasek to the team after a one year retirement, which caused all sorts of trouble in the Red Wings dressing room -- a dressing room that was Lewis' to deal with, by the way.

I don't mean to be unfair here. Holland has had his share of triumphs, too, and some savvy signings. For example, he had veteran defenseman Jiri Slegr at his disposal, which came in handy when Jiri Fischer was suspended for Game 5 of the 2002 Cup Finals. There have been a few trade deadline deals that have panned out. And, frankly, Joseph did indeed look like a good choice back in the summer of 2002, even though he was more expensive than anyone else. The point is, Holland hasn't been infallible, regardless if some of it has been simply the breaks of the game. But you take the bad with the good; I'm sure Holland lucked out a few times, too.

It is unbelievable in a way that Holland has been given a free pass by the scribes in this town, which isn't usually the case with front office types. Sure, winning a few Cups has helped keep the crankiness away, but when there has been criticism of the Red Wings, it has almost always centered around the coach -- even Bowman -- or certain players. Hardly ever has anyone spoken ill of Holland and his moves. But I think it's high time that we do so. Lewis, Babcock, or whomever comes here can only coach the players he's given. And the Red Wings roster, at this very moment, is old and soft -- not terribly primed for success in the playoffs. Just so you know, there is only one man, truly, responsible for that: Ken Holland.

So we've had our "transitional coach" in the post-Bowman era, and now it's time to start a new chapter of Red Wings history -- appropriate since the NHL itself promises to start a new chapter with the ratification of the new CBA, which should happen soon. But there is still a major link to the Bowmanian Red Wings, and he sits in the general manager's seat.

A seat which, by the way, should be getting warmer and warmer, by rights.

What do YOU think? As always, I want to know. Post a comment or email me at and chime in.

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