DETROIT– Derek Lalonde held up a jersey after the Detroit Red Wings unveiled him as their new coach on Friday. To his left was General Manager Steve Yzerman, smiling broadly, and the connection was obvious.
Yzerman helped build the Tampa Bay Lightning as GM from 2010 to 2018 and as Senior Advisor from 2018 to 2019.
Lalonde joined Lightning in 2018-19 as Jon Cooper’s assistant. He helped them win the Stanley Cup in 2020 and 2021 and almost won it again this year, losing to the Colorado Avalanche in six games in the Stanley Cup Finals.
But hiring wasn’t that easy, and the road to the Stanley Cup Playoffs won’t be that easy either.
Yzerman only worked with Lalonde for one season, so he didn’t hire him because of their relationship. He received great references for Lalonde in and out of Lightning, and after interviewing him, found that Lalonde’s personality and philosophy suited him best.
Although Lalonde was not a coach in the NHL, he coached Green Bay of the United States Hockey League from 2011-2014, Toledo of the ECHL from 2014-2016, and Iowa of the American Hockey League from 2016-18.
“I expect him to do things his way, not necessarily the Tampa Bay Lightning way or Jon Cooper way,” Yzerman said. “I hired Derek to do it his way and I think he’s smart enough… He got where he got by adapting, by learning and by growing from his experience. “
The Red Wings have a lot to do to adapt, learn and grow. They’ve missed the playoffs for the past six seasons, and when asked why they can’t challenge for the playoffs next season, Lalonde said he had to lower expectations.
“We got great in Tampa when we were literally just…” Lalonde said, his voice trailing off. “We started to focus on the process. I know that sounds cliche, but to sit there and talk about making the playoffs and where we’re going to be, or putting a number on wins, I think that’s stupid and that can hurt you. That can go in the wrong direction.”
Lalonde said Yzerman was “very clear throughout the interview process that this is going to take time.”
There are two processes here: One builds the roster. The other builds the identity of the team – its structure, its style, its habits.
The squad is promising but remains a work in progress.
Yzerman took over as GM on April 19, 2019, and he only had three designs. His first pick was fullback Moritz Seider at No. 6 this year; Seider just won the Calder Trophy for Rookie of the Year. His next first-round pick was a striker Luke Raymond ranked #4 in 2020; Raymond just finished fourth in the Professional Hockey Writers Association’s Calder vote. His next first-round pick was defender Simon Edvinsson at No. 6 in 2021; Edvinsson is 19 and is expected to debut in North America next season.
“Obviously not all the pieces are there, but at the same time there are some exciting pieces to build around,” said Lalonde. “One of the reasons I was attracted to this job was that you could see a foundation being laid. It’s obviously a long road, but there’s work to be done. There are some things to work with that really excite me as a coach.”
The identity gets a fresh start with Lalonde.
Under Jeff Blashill, the Red Wings were 25th offensively (2.77 goals per game) and 31st defensively (3.78 goals conceded) last season. They were 26th on the power play (16.3 percent) and 32nd on penalties (73.8 percent). Lalonde said it was harder to play him more consistently and manage the puck better.
“It’s my job to start that process and hopefully sooner or later we’ll talk about playoffs, but it’s going to be about the process,” Lalonde said.
Lalonde brought the 2018-19 Lightning, who won 62 games and the Presidents’ Trophy as the NHL’s top regular-season team, only to be defeated by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round of the Eastern Conference. They equaled the NHL record for victories for the 1995-96 Red Wings, who won the Presidents’ Trophy that season and lost to the Avalanche in the Western Conference Finals.
Like the Red Wings, who won the trophy in 1997, 1998 and 2002 with Yzerman as captain and in 2008 with Yzerman in front office, the Lightning learned from their experience, changed the way they played and went on to win championships. In this way, the Red Wings now want to emulate the Lightning, and it doesn’t matter if their roster isn’t ready yet.
“Yes, we were in different situations [in Tampa], but we didn’t reach any other level until we played like that and to me that means it doesn’t matter what your staff is like,” said Lalonde. “Are you over gambling? are you up to date It’s those details and habits that will make you win, so those will be our goals.”