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Waddell discusses Red Wings GM Ken Holland’s managerial philosophies

As noted in the off-day post, Red Wings GM Ken Holland gave an address to Windsor, Ontario’s Odette School of Business this morning, and in addition to posting a short video of Holland’s comments, the Windsor Star’s Dave Waddell penned a fantastic article which both explains Holland’s philosophies regarding player development…

“Very conservative, very slow, patience, patience, patience,” said Holland, explaining his managerial philosophy. “It’s better to get someone there (NHL) one year late, rather than two years too early. When you do that, it’s a mistake. It (success) is like a ladder. You’re meticulously adding one piece at a time. There’s no other way.”

His belief that strong sports teams should be built and maintained by strong management teams…

“Success isn’t just one person,” said Holland, who avoided the vacuum business when the Wings offered him a scouting job in 1985. “It’s a lot of people. When I came to Detroit in 1994 as assistant GM, it was like coming to the Harvard of hockey. I got to learn from great owners in the Ilitches, Jimmy Devellano and Scotty Bowman.”

Just how successful is Holland in managing his people? In an era when the labour force is more transient than ever, the Wings’ front office and scouting staff have been together for about 20 years. Ironically, the same length of time it’s been since Detroit began their streak of consecutive playoff appearances. With such stability, Holland said the Wings have developed their plan and everyone in the hockey operations department understands it.

“I read Theo Epstein, general manager of the Chicago Cubs, has a 100-page book,” Holland said. “We don’t have a book, but the plan is in our head. The plan is patience. The plan is commitment. The plan is to win. I believe in sacrificing. Adversity is important to developing players. I like when players struggle in their first year in the minors. That’s part of being successful. That’s why we let them linger in the AHL. They’ll be better prepared to handle the adversity they’ll face for sure in the NHL.”

And, of course, Holland offered some insights as to why he chose not to make a move at the trade deadline:

“We were interested in doing something big, but we weren’t interested in doing something stupid,” said Holland perhaps hinting that he’s keeping his powder dry for this summer’s free-agent market. If it’s not there, it’s not there (at the deadline). There are going to be other opportunities.”

Holland also has the confidence in himself to admit he doesn’t believe he’s the smartest guy in the room. He solicits opinion in his decision making. He hires people like capologist Ryan Martin, who was the brains behind the contracts which secured Detroit’s top players for the long term. He scours books for fresh thinking, whether it’s the concept of Moneyball or the methods of other successful franchises in other sports.

“There’s good ego and bad ego,” Holland said. “Good ego is having confidence. If you don’t have it, you’ll get chewed up in this league.  Bad ego is selfishness. That’s about you, not your team.”

That’s why the Red Wings come to the rink on game day with the winged wheel on their jerseys facing toward them after wins and their names and numbers facing them after losses. It’s about the team, first and foremost, and that central tenet of Red Wings philosophy has played out pretty damn well over the past 20 years.

Update: And here’s Holland’s take as to why he prefers to not dress a designated enforcer:

“To see two players that play three minutes each come off the bench (to fight), I don’t see anything in that,” Holland said. f you’re in a real intense game and two regular players are going at it and they want to settle an issue, I guess I’m a little old school, I don’t mind them settling the issue.”

He added that the issue of fighting in the NHL may well be decided by the natural evolution the game is experiencing.

“There’s less fighting and I think it has less importance today than it did 10, 20 years ago,” Holland said. “Obviously, we built the team differently from a philosophical standpoint. I’d rather have four lines that can score than three lines that score and one line of toughness. I just think it’s too hard to score. You need as much scoring as you can get.”

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calquake's avatar

“We were interested in doing something big, but we weren’t interested in doing something stupid,”


The definitive answer to all those that doubt Kenny and wanted, no… demanded, that he do something at the deadline.

Posted by calquake from a.k.a. Uniquake, workin' on my manifesto on 03/01/12 at 10:44 PM ET

cigar_nurse's avatar

Tick Tock sounds like the quintessental modern day micromanager with a hand picked support staff.A chemist who makes sure every piece of his organ-i-zation meets his and staff’s stringent qualifications of compatibility. We are very lucky to have him instead of a general manager made up of the 19 by committee.

Posted by cigar_nurse from On The mend for next season Greenville Pylons on 03/02/12 at 12:07 AM ET

George Malik's avatar

My sense when interacting with the management has always been that it’s a team effort with Holland as the CEO as opposed to a micro-manager. Holland encourages his pro scouts, amateur scouts, Jim Nill, Ryan Martin, the coaches, Jim Bedard, Chris Chelios, Jiri Fischer, etc. to seek out information on their own, scout on their own as well as together, and share dissenting opinions for the sake of coming to consensus decisions and to encourage a little healthy disagreement here and there.

The Big Red Managerial Machine is a cohesive unit, but like any team, its strengths are in its diversity of talents and beliefs, and Holland manages to keep a total hockey operations staff of around 25 people happy by giving them high degrees of autonomy and allowing them all to have weight in terms of their influence upon the group when the team has its powwows about building and reinforcing the NHL roster, choosing its shape for the future by either re-signing free agents, pursuing new faces via free agency or trades, or letting some players go, building the AHL roster and drafting, signing and developing prospects.

Holland always has the final say, per the owner’s approval to do pretty much whatever he wants, but he allows his teammates to change his opinions from time to time.

What most everybody does share in terms of Holland characteristics are extreme attentiveness to detail, passion for what they do and a desire to network and have their opinions and evaluations challenged.

Posted by George Malik from South Lyon, MI on 03/02/12 at 04:41 AM ET

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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.


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