The Detroit Red Wings are a little bit like E.F. Hutton -- when they talk, everybody listens. So, there might have been some arched eyebrows when coach Mike Babcock went with two relatively anonymous choices for two assistant-coaching positions: former collegiate coach Jeff Blashill and former AHL and major junior coach Bill Peters.
Now, "anonymous" probably isn't the right term for these men, at least within hockey circles. But the process that brought Babcock and GM Ken Holland to these two coaches illustrates why the Red Wings remain the standard against which all other NHL franchises are measured. (After all, the Red Wings have reached the playoffs for 20 straight seasons.)
Since Babcock took over as coach after the lockout, the Wings have appeared in two Stanley Cup finals, winning it all in 2008. They have advanced past the first round in all but one of Babcock's seasons with the Wings. Yet there still was some concern that, as Babcock put it in an interview with us this week, he might begin to sound like the teacher from Peanuts.
"The challenge was: How was I going to change that? How was I going to keep the good and evolve and improve?" Babcock said. "That's what I was looking for. This was the biggest decision I've had to make in a long time."
So, when longtime Wings assistant Paul MacLean took the head-coaching job in Ottawa and veteran NHL defenseman and Red Wings assistant Brad McCrimmon took his skills to Russia, Babcock didn't take the path of least resistance by hiring two people he knew or two former NHL guys who were hanging around.
Instead, Babcock talked to literally dozens of people; junior hockey people, AHL people, NHL people ... coaches, non-coaches, players, GMs. Whom did they like? What did they think was important about the makeup of a coaching staff?
There were also several key questions Babcock needed answered in making these hires: If new ideas are the lifeblood of a coaching staff, where were the new ideas coming from? Did experience matter as much as whether the candidates knew what they were talking about?
Babcock knew Peters from coaching with him in junior in the 1990s, and Peters' name continued to pop up as Babcock went through the process of vetting potential hires. As for Blashill, Babcock talked to him on the phone and met him in person. Babcock was impressed by how the former Western Michigan coach presented his ideas.
"I thought, there's a guy that's going to be a real, real good coach," Babcock said.
Do the hires ensure the Wings will get back to the Stanley Cup finals? Of course not.
But in examining the process the Wings went through to make the kinds of decisions that often get overlooked, at least from the outside, it's not hard to see why the Wings are who they are.
"This might have been the best process I've been through in the last 10 years," Babcock said.