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Game #61 – Hawks vs. Red Wings Spotlight: It’s Hard To Leave When You Can’t Find The Door

It almost seems to perfect. You wonder if Ken Holland even sees it coming. He has to, right? Maybe it was always the plan (not a process). But Steve Yzerman resigned as GM of the Lightning, right before the Wings rebuild is supposed to pivot. They’ll likely have yet another top-five pick to play with. And the patience with Holland seems to have run out as the Wings embark on a third-straight playoff-less season. It’s clear change needs to be made, and when a former team legend who just happened to build one of the best teams of the era is waiting in the suburbs twiddling his thumbs, you don’t have to be John Nash to put it all together.

If that’s how it goes down, then this will be the last Hawks-Wings game with Ken Holland overlooking from a suite. And the next one without him will be the first in over 22 years. That’s a hell of a run, but it’s a lot spottier than you might think.

First off, Holland took over in between the Wings first two Cup wins from Jimmy Devellano. It’s not like there was a lot of building to be done back then. And the Wings were known for splashing all of Mike Illitch’s cash, so it wasn’t like he had to unearth much. Much like Alabama recruiting, he just had to throw open the door, leave a trail of cash, and the top available players would come sprinting. Holland had added Brett Hull, Luc Robitaille, Chris Chelios to the 2002 version that won a third Cup, but again, it’s not like these were hidden gems that only Holland could find (fucking Anders Eriksson).

Where Holland got most of his esteem was in the Wings’ European scouting, which led to him drafting Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, and Johan Franzen in the head-to-the-shitter portion of the draft. And clearly, that’s not something you just sneeze at. It also appears to have been just a huge slice of luck, which any draft requires. Because since then, the core of the Wings rotted out while there was nothing on the edges to take its place.

Since 2004 when Holland took Johan Franzen, and they were both unfortunate to have his career cut short by concussions, the  NHL-ers that Holland has managed to find are Jimmy Howard, Darren Helm, Justin Abdelkader, Brendan Smith, Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, Riley Sheahan, Calle Jarnkrok, Petr Mrazek, Thomas Jurco, Andreas Anathasiou, Anthony Mantha, Matthias Janmark, Tyler Bertuzzi, and Dylan Larkin. How many true difference-makers are there? Larkin for sure, maybe Howard when he was younger? You’d really have to squint. Anathasiou has a chance, and maybe, maybe, if you really wheel-pose it out Nyquist. Sure, only recently has Holland had top-10 picks, but if he were the genius everyone would have you believe he’d find a late-round gem again, right?

Zetterberg and Datsyuk and Lidstrom got old, and even with all that time Holland had no one in place to take over. Combine that with some utterly woeful free agent signings. There was the bewildering fascination with Todd Bertuzzi. What is Frans Nielsen doing here? Justin Abdelkader was extended into the Earth’s heat-death. What did he think Trevor Daley was going to do? Steve Ott even made an appearance.

That doesn’t make Holland one of the league’s worst GMs, or anything close. Most GMs who achieve the success he can claim in the NHL were either parachuted right into it, got lucky a couple times, or most likely both (say Stan, what are you doing here?). It’s just been years since the Wings were relevant, and Holland had a ton of time to find the next generation and couldn’t.

Yzerman will be parachuted in, though. He’ll have Larkin, Anathasiou, Zadina, Rasmussen, and a few other prospects below the surface. He’ll have the NHL probably jonesing at the chance to rig Jack Hughes to stay home in Michigan. Perhaps Holland will leave them with parting gifts he’ll never get to enjoy and go without the credit he would deserve. Which would probably cancel out all the credit he got for basically pulling a Homer.


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