DETROIT — The moment Mike Babcock left the Detroit Red Wings, Jeff Blashill was the obvious candidate to replace him.
In fact, this coaching hire seemed more like a succession plan that was in place for about a year before Babcock’s departure.
The 41-year-old Blashill was introduced Tuesday as Detroit’s new head coach. Blashill has coached Detroit’s minor league affiliate in Grand Rapids for the past three seasons.
“He was really the only candidate,” general manager Ken Holland said.
Blashill led Grand Rapids to the Calder Cup in 2013. The Griffins made it to the conference finals in the AHL playoffs this year.
Holland said Blashill received a four-year contract from the Red Wings.
The Red Wings certainly had time to come up with a contingency plan for Babcock’s potential exit. His contract was expiring at the end of this season, and Blashill, a Detroit native, was eyeing the job.
“I told Ken a year ago that with Mike’s uncertainty, if Mike were to leave Detroit, that the Red Wing job was the job that I wanted most of any in the NHL,” Blashill said. “I was a Red Wing fan, an avid Red Wing fan growing up. It’s a great city that I believe in. It’s a great organization.”
Holland said several NHL teams asked permission to interview Blashill after last season, so he told the Grand Rapids coach he could either interview for those jobs or rework his contract to stay with the Griffins. Blashill stayed.
“We certainly talked about the uncertainty of Mike Babcock’s situation,” Holland said. “I told Blash that if we weren’t able to retain Babs that he would be my No. 1 candidate.”
Blashill’s familiarity with many players in the Red Wings’ system could make this transition easier. Denny DeKeyser, Luke Glendening, Petr Mrazek, Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar are among the current Red Wings who played for Blashill in the minors — and then there are the players who were in Detroit when Blashill was an assistant.
Thumbnail photo via Tom Szczerbowski/USA TODAY Sports Images