By Jeff Moss
April 22, 2016
A day after the Detroit Red Wings were unceremoniously eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs by a severely wounded Tampa Bay Lightning squad missing two of its top four players, the DSR has uncovered extremely disturbing information regarding rookie head coach Jeff Blashill’s first year behind the bench.
If the humiliation of being the first team to exit the postseason tournament against a team missing their superstar forward (Steven Stamkos) and their 1a defenseman (Anton Stralman) in a mere five games wasn’t depressing enough, this news isn’t going to bring you any solace whatsoever.
The DSR started investigating the issue of who was actually in control of this organization this season after a series of Tweets from former WDFN and Fan590 (Toronto) talk show host Greg Brady were posted 12 days ago regarding veteran Wings players Henrik Zetterberg and Niklas Kronwall.
Yes, the suggestion being that it wasn’t Red Wings General Manager Ken Holland who was pulling the strings of his puppet freshman head coach but instead two of the team’s Swedish holdovers from the last Stanley Cup winning team.
What we have found out from various NHL sources, people close to the Red Wings, and a player in THAT locker room is extremely disturbing to anyone who watched the debacle that ended last night in such a depressing fashion.
Over the last couple weeks it became abundantly obvious through our reporting that the “Swedish Mafia” led by Zetterberg had not only played a part in lineup decisions but the team’s captain made it clear to his teammates that it was HIS voice that should be listened to and NOT Blashill’s.
The mystery of why Holland called up forward Joakim Andersson from Grand Rapids in the final days of the regular season and actually received ice time over teammates like Tomas Jurco, Anthony Mantha and Teemu Pulkkinen shouldn’t be much of a riddle at all.
You have to remember that Andersson had been waived by the franchise on January 22nd of this year meaning that ANY team in the NHL could have claimed him. Not only that, but Andersson was playing on a one-year contract for the measly amount of $815,000.
And yet, each of 29 teams in the NHL “kicked the tires” on Joakim Andersson and said, “nah, we’re all set.”
Thanks, but no thanks.
WE DON’T WANT JOAKIM ANDERSSON FOR FREE.
So Andersson languished in the AHL from the end of January until the last weekend of the NHL regular season when he was recalled. And why did he return to Detroit and actually get playing time (as minuscule as it was) over the Wings’ prospects?
Well, that Greg Brady Tweet wasn’t far off. The Swedish Cosa Nostra convinced the Wings hierarchy that Andersson was needed. That he was a valuable player on the squad that upset Anaheim in the first round a few years back. That he had the experience that was needed in the postseason.
I am guessing it didn’t hurt that he was born in Mundekal. Unfortunately for defenseman Brendan Smith, HE was not born in Malmo or Uppsala and thus received no protection from Zetterberg or Kronwall due to his non-Swedish heritage.
Of all the absolutely baffling Red Wings personnel moves over the last month of the season, the decision by Holland and Blashill to bench Smith was by far the most perplexing.
In a desperate attempt to stretch out their inconsequential and counterproductive playoff streak, the Wings management seemingly did not think Brendan Smith was one of the top six defensemen on the roster.
Even though — as sabermetric hockey maven Prashanth Iyer has noted on many occasions — there were several analytics that would lead one to believe that Smith was the BEST defenseman on the team in 2015-16.
And not only that, there were certain measures that demonstrated that the difference between Smith and the defensemen on HIS OWN TEAM was so vast that it was the largest such chasm in the league.
Meaning the numbers proved that the difference between Smith and, let’s say, Danny DeKeyser was greater than the difference between Erik Karlsson and the number two D-Man on the Senators. Or between Drew Doughty and the next best blueliner on the Kings.
This was absolute madness. But Smith didn’t have a Vito Corleone to his Johnny Fontaine like Andersson had with the team’s captain. Or the protection and cover Jonathan Ericsson has because of his country of origin.
There is no logical reason on God’s green earth why Ericsson should have been in the lineup over Smith this season. Not metrics. Not the eye-test. NOTHING.
Except that he was born in Karlskrona, Sweden, and is treated with kid gloves because of his relationship with Zetterberg and Kronwall. It’s why Ericsson is never benched, even for a shift. Why he is never a healthy scratch.?And why he is going to get a check from this organization for another FOUR years to the tune of $16.5 million.
Multiple sources have told the DSR that in recent weeks Blashill had made the decision to bench Ericsson and the only reason it never occurred is because Zetterberg intervened on Swedish Willie Huber’s behalf.
And if vetoing roster decisions and lineup choices weren’t bad enough, what I am about to tell you is by far the most disturbing news of all. And this is coming straight from that locker room.
Henrik Zetterberg would completely contradict Blashill’s direct instructions to his teammates. The coach would have a meeting with the players, give them specific directions on how he envisioned things would go down for the next game or period. The door would close behind Blashill and Zetterberg would say something to the effect of ….
‘OK, now that he is gone … this is what we are really going to do.”
And this wasn’t a one-time event. This was a regular occurrence. The head coach would give one message while his captain would lay out different schematics the second his boss was out of earshot.
Can you imagine the dysfunction of that situation? And you wonder why we reported a few weeks ago that Red Wings players felt that Blashill wasn’t being himself enough or coaching like his own man.
And these comments didn’t come from a player disgruntled with Blashill. This information is coming from a player who was happy Blashill got the gig when Mike Babcock left and, if anything, FEELS BAD FOR THE GUY.
Now, keep in mind that Blashill was already viewed by some in that locker room as “Blashcock” or “Babshill” so the last thing he needed was his team’s most respected voice to emasculate him on a regular basis.
But that is what occurred.
Look, I don’t take any joy in reporting this. I have no axe to grind. Henrik Zetterberg is one of my top five favorite Red Wings ever. I only own two sports jerseys and one of them is a signed Team Sweden Zetterberg uniform. I gained a ton of respect for Zetterberg when Pavel Datsyuk hid behind his religion regarding the issue of marriage equality while Hank publicly stated that everyone had the right to be happy.
But this behavior is despicable and is the last thing that should he coming from your CAPTAIN.
I mean, you might have overlooked this behavior in 2008 when Zetterberg was one of the top two-way forwards in the game but the current version of #40 is a shell of the guy who dominated at both ends of the ice almost a decade ago.
You could make a case that Ken Holland’s extreme brand of loyalty has culminated with this sense of entitlement from some of the leftovers from Detroit’s last championship team.
Doling out ridiculous contract extensions that don’t reflect the market and making secret, under-the-table deals with veterans like Dan Cleary while stifling the young players in the process has obviously led to a culture where the graybeards think they can get away with murder.
And one can only imagine how long it will take for a chalk line to be drawn around Blashill if this sort of behavior continues.
The Detroit Red Wings are currently facing A LOT of landmines. They will have a cap hit of nine million dollars for Ericsson and Kronwall well into Hillary Clinton’s first term; they are staring down the barrel of 7.5 million in dead cap space next season because of Datsyuk’s impending departure; they waited a year too long to trade Jimmy Howard and might have to pay another team to take his contract off their hands; young players like Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar regressed this season.
And they employ a teflon General Manager who has shown zero ability to navigate in a cap era, unless you want me to remind you about Stephen Weiss, Mikael Samuelsson, Jordin Tootoo ….
Ok, I will stop.
But the most pressing problem heading into this offseason might be the issue of intagna kör asyl.
That’s Swedish for “inmates running the asylum.”
The 2016-17 Red Wings season is going to focus a lot on nostalgia as it will be the last at Joe Louis Arena. If the Ilitch family doesn’t straighten out this mess quickly, they might have to revert to an old 1980s JLA trick ….
Giving away a car during intermission just to get fans in the building because the product on the ice is so awful.
On the bright side, now that Zetterberg has some free time, maybe he can head over to the Palace of Auburn Hills and ask another aging legend how to handle the double duty of both playing AND coaching.
I hear LeBron James is in town.