The Malik Report
by George Malik on 04/29/11 at 04:33 AM ET
Red Wings GM Ken Holland’s brief career as NHL goaltender tells you almost all you need to know about his managerial style: Holland was an undersized but highly intelligent and hard-working back-up goaltender who believes that his initial call-up from the AHL came far, far too early in his development. His first NHL game, played as a goaltender for the Hartford Whalers, shattered his confidence in himself, as he tells the Globe and Mail’s James Mirtle:
“I remember that first intermission, sitting in Madison Square Garden, thinking that I’d finally made the NHL and that’s where I belonged,” Holland recalled. “Then I can remember the second intermission, sitting in the locker room, thinking, ‘I’m never going to see the NHL ever again.’ ” Holland was so convinced he wouldn’t get another chance to play, he set his mind on enjoying every second of the third period, even on the wrong end of a 7-3 blowout. When a shot broke the glass behind him, “I thought ‘this is going to add 10 more minutes,’ ” he said, chuckling. “Everyone gets their time in the sun, their little moment, and this was mine.”
So, not surprisingly, Holland believes that the Wings’ decision to, as a rule, ask their prospects to take part in a one-to-three-year internship with the Grand Rapids Griffins, ripening, if not over-ripening, before being slowly worked into the Wings’ lineup isn’t just smart—it’s essential:
“As much as possible, I try to bring our young players along slow, because I lived it,” Holland said. “And I think if I could have had another month, I don’t know that I would have been great, but I could have played in the NHL. I needed a little more time to feel comfortable in that environment.”
Under Holland, youngsters get all the time they need, with the organization determined to work in its prospects slowly. The strategy explains, at least in part, how Detroit – regularly the oldest team in the NHL by average age – has been able to maintain success, year after year.
Holland’s repeatedly stated that the Wings’ status as an aged team is by design as well. Holland, assistant GM Jim Nill, capologist Ryan Martin, the team’s amateur scouts and coaching staff all believe that the Wings’ roster blueprint—starting with 5-7 players in the primes of their career, adding an assortment of veteran players who will often “take less” than their market value to remain Wings over the long haul, and then adding 2-4 young players per season as the team builds a similar 5-to-9-player group cheaply-priced young players who might develop into the team’s next generation of stars, or at least grinders—works, and works over the long haul.
Add in the fact that Holland’s amateur scouts, including European super-scout Hakan Andersson, believe in emphasizing skill and a tendency for self-improvement over size and strength when they go to the draft table, and the Wings hope that they can continue to build a winning team in the salary cap era by crossing their fingers that the Calle Jarnkroks, Teemu Pulkkinens, Guast Nyquists, Jan Mursaks, Tomas Tatars, Landon Ferraros and the puck-moving Brendan Smiths, Adam Almqvists and Jakub Kindls will eventually produce three to five players that might succeed Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Niklas Kronwall and even Nicklas Lidstrom one day:
The giant team depth chart posted in his office at Joe Louis Arena shows 14 homegrown players on the current roster, something Holland points out with pride. Along the way, Holland has had to adapt, too, including dropping his payroll by $30-million (U.S.) with the introduction of the salary cap. The Wings have also put more emphasis on the draft. After trading first-round picks in the years leading up to the lockout, they’ve since held onto them.
“Our scouts did an incredible job in finding Zetterberg and Datsyuk in the sixth and seventh round,” Holland said. “But there’s a real element of luck to it as well. Otherwise, we’d be doing it on a regular basis. I don’t know that we can wait for that next bit of luck.”
That’s why the Wings have more aggressively signed free agents—from amateurs like Brett Lebda, Jordan Pearce, Trevor Parkes, Willie Coetzee, et. al.—and are drafting NCAA participants like Nyquist, Smith and Ben Marshall because their rights remain with the team until the prospects graduate from college.
In any case, as Mirtle suggests, Holland still loves his job, and he hopes to keep the front-office band together for as long as humanly possible while working very, very hard to keep his capped roster together, rewarding loyal, hard-working players with long-term contracts and no-trade clauses, and at the same time, ensuring that the Wings have the largest possible pool of prospects who play the puck-possession style of play, built from puck-moving blueliners on out, that the Wings have employed for the past sixteen or so years:
“You kind of pinch yourself sometimes with the way life has gone,” he said.
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The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.