The Malik Report
by George Malik on 07/09/11 at 08:55 AM ET
A for the record update at 9:27 AM: FYI if you are in Traverse City: Per the rink, the Wings’ prospects will conduct an intra-squad scrimmage at 3 PM on Sunday.
Red Wings coach Mike Babcock made an unorthodox move in choosing to hire Western Michigan coach Jeff Blashill, who’s all of 37, and Rockford IceHogs coach Bill Peters, who can boast the only pro experience among both coaches—to the tune of three years as an AHL head coach—but Babcock told the Wings’ press corps that, to some extent, anyway, he very specifically chose to go with “younger legs” behind the bench instead of tapping into the half-a-dozen or so former NHL head coaches or assistant coaches without a job.
Babcock told the Windsor Star’s Jim Parker that an extensive search which included consultations with the game’s power brokers yielded his surprising decision:
“I’m looking for new ideas, new thoughts,” said the 48-year-old Babcock, who is entering his seventh season as head coach in Detroit. “We’re trying to evolve our game, get better. The way to do that is change. (The players have) heard the same voice for a long time.”
Windsor Spitfires president Bob Boughner, who was an assistant coach in Columbus last season, was rumoured to be a candidate for the job. Babcock would not say what other candidates he interviewed and Boughner did not respond to a request for comment.
“I went through a long process, talked to a lot of people, went back and forth,” Babcock said. “I talked to the heads of the OHL, Quebec (Major Junior Hockey) League, the Western (Hockey) League. I looked at college, looked at U.S. juniors. I tried to find guys who’ve won and made a difference everywhere they’ve been.”
In Peters’ case, there is some familiarity with Babcock…
Peters was an assistant for two seasons under Babcock with Spokane in the WHL in the 1990s. He spent the past three seasons in the American Hockey League as head coach of the Rockford IceHogs, which is the top farm team of the Chicago Blackhawks, where he compiled a 122-97-7-14 mark. Prior to that, he was head coach in Spokane and guided the team to the 2008 Memorial Cup.
“It’s an exciting time,” Peters said. “You want to coach at the highest level and to do that with the Red Wings is special. I wasn’t actively pursuing and NHL job,” Peters said. “I just signed a two-year extension with Rockford two weeks ago,” Peters said. “But I had an understanding with (Chicago general manager) Stan Bowman that if an NHL job came along, I was free to go.”
And in Blashill’s case, choosing to leave a position that paid him $275,000 per year in July, all of six weeks before NCAA division 1 schools begin training camp, was difficult, but he was also offered the coaching opportunity of his lifetime almost completely out of the blue, having first been introduced to Babcock with an, “I’ve got a job for you, are you interested?” phoe call::
“After we talked I realized we had the same core values,” Blashill said.
But the excitement of coaching in the NHL is tempered by leaving his young group
“It’s an emotional day,” Blashill said. “I wasn’t looking to leave. It’s (Western Michigan) a great place, and the program will continue to grow. But to be part of an organization such as the Red Wings, it’s an incredible opportunity.”
Blashill led the Broncos to the CCHA tournament finals and the program’s first NCAA Tournament berth since 1996. The Broncos finished 19-10-3 and Blashill was named National Coach of the Year by several college hockey publications.
WMU sophomore Danny Dekeyser, taking part in the Red Wings development camp this week, said Blashill will excel at the NHL level.
“It’s good news for him but we’re sad to see him go,” Dekeyser said. “He sets standards high and makes his players play up to those standards. He raises everyone’s level. He’s not going to let you slide in anything.”
In Peters’ case, his history with Babcock (he both worked as an assistant with Babcock with the Spokane Chiefs and played for Babcock at Red Deer College) was almost a detriment as opposed to an asset, as Babcock suggested to the Free Press’s George Sipple...
“I think it’s going to be different for sure,” Peters said of reuniting with Babcock. “He’s grown as a coach. I’ve grown as a coach. We’ve had some pretty good experiences. I think the person is going to be the same guy and I’m looking forward to working with him once again.”
Babcock said in some ways it hurt Peters that they’ve known each other so long.
“He had to be that much more impressive,” Babcock said.
But after determining whether the coaches could handle some of the technical aspects of the game…
Part of the interview process included sending the coaches video of games to critique and offer up ideas on what could have been done better in various situations.
“It’s like the good professor when you go to college. They walk in the room and after three minutes you’ve got something,” Babcock said. “The other professor talks for an hour and you’re asleep. I want good teachers, and these guys, without any question, are that.”
Babcock went back to his above-mentioned mantra as a teaching coach and chose to improve the team by bringing in some, let’s say intriguing picks as teaching assistants:
“What I want is new ideas,” Babcock said. “I said to these guys, ‘I’m looking for a new idea every day. When you come up with an idea, find a way to make it work.’ I’m looking for guys to say, ‘Hey, Babs, we’re not treating people right’ or ‘Hey, how come we’re not doing it that way?’ I’m not interested in guys saying yes. That doesn’t do you any good. I’m also not interested in every idea being a bad idea, if that makes any sense.”
As the Detroit News’s John Niyo suggests, it’s Babcock’s background as a physical education degree-holder from Montreal’s prestigious McGill University (think the Harvard of Canada) with a background in sports psychology which guided his decision-making process—he is, after all, a teaching coach—and as Niyo expertly points out, this isn’t the first time that Babcock’s brought in new voices and perspectives…
“I think it’s important you’re in constant change,” said Babcock, who signed his own four-year contract extension last fall. “That’s what Scotty, I thought, did better than anybody else.”
That’s why he brought in former NHL coaches such as Ken Hitchcock and Pierre Page last winter to get some fresh thoughts about his team, one that was struggling defensively, finishing 23rd in the NHL in goals-against average. Same goes for his pal Pierre-Paul Allard, a top executive with Cisco Systems, Inc.
“When I was working for Disney, they had a thing called the imagineers — not the engineers, but the imagineers — to try to stay 10 years ahead,” said Babcock, who coached the Disney-owned Anaheim franchise before getting hired in Detroit in 2005. “(Allard) is a big player in Cisco in the high-tech business and he talks about all they hire is ‘change agents’ — people that bring in new ideas and help you change and get better and grow.”
And as Babcock hopes to shake off the Charlie Brown’s teacher voice thanks to two assistants who’ll shake things up, he also suggested that the fact that he’s going with virtual unknowns simply doesn’t matter all that much per a tip from a very smart hockey executive and former Babcock player:
“When I talked to Steve Yzerman about it, Stevie said to me, ‘You know, when Todd McLellan arrived in Detroit, we didn’t even know who he was,’” said Babcock, who passed on a chance to add a higher-profile assistant with NHL experience. “But as soon as he started to talk and present (his ideas), we knew he knew what he was talking about. And that’s all that mattered.”
What matters now for Babcock and the Wings is getting more out of what they already have, particularly from younger players like Darren Helm, Justin Abdelkader, Jonathan Ericsson and Jakub Kindl. In the salary-cap era, player development is critical to a team’s success, and especially for a team like Detroit that hasn’t had the pick of the draft litter in just about forever.
Holland’s free-agent moves may seem a bit underwhelming — defensemen Ian White and Mike Commodore and probably goalie Ty Conklin are the new additions — but I’m not convinced there won’t be a significant move made before the end of the summer. (“It’ll be interesting to see what we can do as time goes on here,” Babcock said.) Either way, though, I’m not convinced anything has changed in the Western Conference, where a handful of teams — including Detroit — all have enough talent to win the Cup. But talent isn’t enough. And as you’d expect, at the top of Babcock’s summer reading list up at the lake in Saskatchewan right now is “Talent is Overrated,” a book that uses scientific research to prove the value of hard work and self-analysis in the pursuit of greatness.
“I know when I was young, I always used to think experience was overrated,” Babcock said. “But then when you get experience, you think that’s everything.”
Between you and me, given Ken Holland’s telegraphing regarding making a trade, it wouldn’t surprise me if the Wings make a late-summer move, either, especially to find that top-nine forward who can crash and bang…
In terms of getting to know Peters, one of the Blackhawks’ top prospects told the Chicago Daily Herald’s Mike Spellman and the Chicago Sun-Times’ Adam L. Jahns that his coach did a helluva job developing players in Rockford…
IceHogs head coach Bill Peters, who had re-signed with the Hawks in June after leading the IceHogs to a 122-97-7-14 record the last three seasons, has accepted an assistant coaching position with the Detroit Red Wings.
‘‘Bill has been a great teacher and a valuable resource in the development of our many prospects in Rockford the last three seasons,’’ Hawks general manager Stan Bowman said.
Some of those players include defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson and winger Ben Smith.
‘‘Personally, I thought he was a great coach. He was a players’ coach,’’ said blue-line prospect Dylan Olsen, who played 42 games for Rockford last season. ‘‘He was a good motivator, and it’s sad to see him go. But it’s good for him. I’m happy he gets to coach in the NHL.’’
Peters and Red Wings coach Mike Babcock previously worked together with the Spokane Chiefs of the WHL. Peters initially was a scout for Spokane before joining Babcock’s staff in the 1999-2000 season, Babcock’s last with the Chiefs.
And in Blashill’s case, well, you can find out from the man himself, via a video from the 9&10 News, a video from the Kalamazoo Gazette and an interview Blashill conducted with the Kalamazoo Gazette’s Graham Couch, in which Blashill admits that he feels particularly conflicted about leaving Western Michigan so early into his tenure with the team…
“The most difficult part is leaving here and leaving a place I really love,” Blashill said late Friday morning, two hours after resigning and two days after the Kalamazoo Gazette first reported the Red Wings’ interest in him. “It might sound weird after one year, but it’s reality. I really fell in love with this place. It’s special here. That makes it difficult. I feel great debt to Western and if everything worked out, I would’ve loved to be here and win a national championship, but in this business, you can’t dictate your opportunities. I leave with a thought that I’ll miss this place and a thought about not finishing what we started and where this program is headed.”
WMU is left with a surprising void at the head of its hottest program shortly before a much-anticipated season. It’s a buzz Blashill created in his only season with the Broncos, leading them to their first NCAA tournament in 15 years and the CCHA championship game for the first time in a quarter-century.
“When I look back at some of those moments, I get goose bumps because it was a year to remember,” [WMU athletic director Kathy] Beauregard said. “We really believed in who we had leading our program in all aspects. It’s important that I never stand in the way of someone’s dream. When I talked to (Red Wings’) coach Mike Babcock, I knew he was serious and he was looking for someone who brought something different to his organization. He checked all over and Blashill’s name kept coming (up). He didn’t know him, but when he met him and got to know him, he was absolutely stunned at what he heard was a reality and how genuine Jeff was and how he carried himself.”
In the prospect department, I was going to mention this quietly, but as the Production Line noted on Twitter, both Nick Oslund and Bryan Rufenach are very literally playing for jobs with the Wings at this summer’s development camp and will do the same at the prospect tournament and main camp—as free agents—as the team’s rights to both players expire on August 15th;
• The Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan also added a few notes about Gustav Nyquist, who engaged in a short stint with the Grand Rapids Griffins after choosing to join the Red Wings, but remains likely to face a difficult adjustment period as the still-skinny youngster adjusts to an 80-game schedule playing against men in the AHL…
“It’s different,” said Nyquist, a fourth-round pick in 2008 who was a Hobey Baker finalist at Maine (51 points in 36 games). “Obviously a lot bigger guys in the American League than in college.”
As well as a bit about Brendan Smith, who maintains that he’s not worried at all about the fact that he’ll have to out-compete Jakub Kindl and Mike Commodore if he wants to earn a spot on the Wings’ roster after the team’s signings of Commodore and Ian White:
“I see it as more of a challenge,” said Smith, one of the veterans at the Red Wings prospect development camp at Centre ICE Arena. “If things are given to you too easy, it’s not as fun.”
“The same thing happened last season when they signed ( Ruslan ) Salei ,” Smith said. “I’ll just show what I’ve got and if they think I’m ready, they’re going to give me a shot. If not, I’ll get sent back down for a year and I can get better. I’m here to work for a job.”
Griffins coach Curt Fraser is running the on-ice drills at the development camp. Watching Smith these first few days, Fraser is noticing a determined player.
“Brendan Smith continues to get better and better,” Fraser said. “You can tell he’s itching to have a chance at that (Red Wings) lineup. (But) it’s not like you’re trying to make one of the lower-end teams. You’re trying to make the best team in hockey.”
Smith will probably play for the Griffins as their #1 defenseman, playing 25 minutes a game, and he’ll get a few call-ups this year as an injury replacement. He’s not going to be happy about it, but barring a near-miraculous training camp, that’s his lot in hockey life for this season.
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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.