Blashill hires ex-Wings player Doug Houda as assistant
Detroit — Jeff Blashill is intent on surrounding himself with NHL experience, especially after losing Tony Granato, the man he turned to most for advice during games in his rookie season.
After conversations with general manager Ken Holland in three weeks since the Red Wings were eliminated from the playoffs, Blashill said he is proceeding with his plan to overhaul the coaching staff. His desire to hire NHL-tenured assistants affected the decision, announced Tuesday, to appoint Doug Houda, who spent 10 years with the Bruins.
Houda inherits Granato’s responsibilities for the defensemen and penalty kill.
Blashill said the reason the Wings will remove Pat Ferschweiler from behind the bench also is the need for NHL seasoning. He said he would prefer to hire a replacement with head coaching experience.
“I went to Ken as soon as our season was over,” Blashill said. “We’ve had numerous conversations about different areas that hopefully will improve our hockey team.
“And within that, I came up with some ideas for the coaching staff, and these are the ideas you are seeing, right now.”
The only slot in which experience apparently is not critical for Blashill is goaltending coach. He said Jeff Salajko, finishing his third season in Grand Rapids, has the inside track to replace the 18 year-veteran in Detroit, Jim Bedard.
“We looked at our staff at the end of the year and we want to make sure that we maximize it,” Blashill said. “So the idea of adding another bench coach (replacing Ferschweiler) was because I wanted to add some more NHL experience to our bench.
“We felt by doing that we could find some candidates who have hopefully been through a lot of the different situations that I and our staff will face on a regular basis, and having people who have been through it, I think it only helps.”
Granato, a former head coach with long service as an assistant and a player in the NHL, is now head coach at Wisconsin.
Houda, 49, assisted while the Bruins made the playoffs for seven consecutive seasons, ending in 2014, and the Stanley Cup in 2011.
The Bruins frequently had a good defensive corps under Houda. But some of the players were lost in personnel moves in recent seasons.
The Wings drafted Houda in 1984 and he played for parts of seasons from 1985 to 1991 and again in 1998-99. A journeyman defender, he also played for the Whalers, Kings, Sabres, Islanders and then-Mighty Ducks.
“I heard great things about Doug as a person and as a coach from guys that he coached and I thought that was an important part of the process,” Blashill said.
“Tony Granato had a lot of respect from our current players, and I wanted to replace him with a coach in the National Hockey League who had that level of respect, and Doug certainly has that.”
After some research, Blashill said, he interviewed Houda and thought he evidenced a deep knowledge of both defensive play and the penalty kill. Blashill said he liked that Houda worked with a variety of systems in Boston to account for changes in personnel.
Houda’s priorities will include improving the puck management of the defenseman, Blashill said. Uncharacteristically, the Red Wings’ defense unit last season was guilty of lots of turnovers and poor zone exits.
Another area is stick-on-puck defense, the tactic that helped make Nicklas Lidstrom a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame.
“I think those are the big areas of improvement for our team,” Blashill said.
“It’s a stick-on-puck league in terms of defending now. That is an area that Doug has said to me he’s hypercritical about.”
The decision not to extend a contract to Bedard is the biggest surprise of all of the Wings coaching moves in the last two days.
An 18-year veteran of coaching the likes of Chris Osgood, Dominik Hasek, Jimmy Howard and Petr Mrazek, goalies often credited work with Bedard for corrections in their game.
But Howard experienced two lengthy periods of inconsistency in consecutive seasons, and Mrazek’s game faltered down the stretch this season, nearly costing the Red Wings a playoff spot.
“Jim Bedard is a great person who’s had a great run here in Detroit,” Blashill said. “He was somebody who I felt helped me through my first year in Detroit and certainly, I owe him a lot of thanks for that.
“I think there are times when certain moves are needed and we just felt this was the right time, and so that decision was made.”
The Wings could trade one of the goalies this offseason, probably Howard.
Mrazek has worked with Salajko, 41, in Grand Rapids, where he was hired under Blashill after coaching at Ohio State and in juniors.
Ferschweiler, who will begin sitting with other assistant coaches aloft during games, is charged with establishing a systematic approach to player development, Blashill said.
“One of the best areas of growth for our hockey team is going to be the internal growth of our individual players,” Blashill said. “One of Pat Ferschweiler’s greatest strengths is the skill development aspect of his coaching.
“I think we all need to get a little bit better in order for us to have the success that we’ve wanted.”