Special-teams assist ruffled no feathers

CHICAGO -- When Chicago Blackhawks Director of Player Development Barry Smith took the ice during practice last month to help the team improve its special teams play during its nine-game losing streak, observers wondered if the unorthodox move caused any behind-the-scenes tension.

Smith, the right-hand man of Hawks senior advisor Scotty Bowman during much of Bowman’s Hall of Fame career and a part of five Stanley Cup championships, did, in fact, help improve the Hawks’ penalty kill almost immediately.

But one Toronto paper linked the move to perceived dysfunction in the Hawks’ front office, a suggestion at which team owner Rocky Wirtz scoffed.

“He was one of our scouts too,” Wirtz said Tuesday of Smith. “He was in our system and when you’re in the bottom 10 in penalty killing and power plays, it doesn’t hurt to bring in someone else and see if they have any suggestions.

“He has situational knowledge, so let’s use it. It would be crazy not to use people you have.”

Asked if it was a sign of “desperation,” to have Smith take the ice when coach Joel Quenneville has a full-time assistant, Mike Kitchen, already working in that capacity, Wirtz said, “There’s no right or wrong answer. You have to be secure enough to let that happen and Joel was secure enough and the assistant coaches were secure enough.

“I think it’s a positive thing. I don’t think the [Toronto] paper has a lot to talk about.”

Wirtz said it was more general manager Stan Bowman’s decision, but that he weighed in as well.

“Everyone put their heads together,” he said. “That’s Stan, but we did talk about it and what could we do to help during [the losing streak]. Everyone weighs in but no one was panicking. We felt like, we’re going to win eventually, but how can we make it easier on ourselves?”