Red Wings looking for power-play ‘tactician’ in assistant coach search

Detroit News

Detroit — The Red Wings are bringing back head coach Jeff Blashill.

But there will, nonetheless, be changes within the coaching staff, which was probably to be expected given the Wings’ record the last several seasons.

During the announcement last month of Blashill’s return, GM Steve Yzerman said assistant coach Dan Bylsma was not coming back, the biggest change in the staff.

“Dan was the head coach of a Stanley Cup champion in Pittsburgh (2009) and he’s been a coach in Buffalo,” Yzerman said, announcing the coaching decisions last month. “In his mind, he’s still an NHL head coach. He had his reasons for wanting to come on board here, but ultimately he’s a head coach at heart and he wants to do that.”

Bylsma was in charge of the Wings’ power play in his three seasons, and it never became a formidable unit.

While Doug Houda was in charge of the defense and improved penalty kill and Jeff Salajko the goaltending (both Houda and Salajko are expected to return), Bylsma oversaw a power play that struggled.

The power play ranked 30th out of 31 team this season (11.4%), and rarely put together stretches of looking dangerous.

The struggling power play was a continuous, nagging issue in Bylsma’s three years. It was 29th during the Wings’ disastrous 2019-20 season (14.9%), and 19th in 2018-19 (18.1%), making Bylsma’s exit expected.

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Yzerman and Blashill are going to work in tandem to find Bylsma’s successor, both using their extensive list of contacts to identify candidates.

Though the list of the candidates is likely to be lengthy, there are specifics the Wings will be looking for.

“We will work together in that process,” Yzerman said. “We are just getting started, see who maybe is interested, who our candidates are, who is a good fit. Doug Houda basically working with the defense and with Blashill and the other coaches heading up the penalty killing unit, I kind of expect Blash will keep Doug’s duties the same.

“We will probably look for someone to work with our forwards, more involved with the power play. We will kind of see. Jeff and I will really work together to figure out who is the right person for that role.”

The Wings will be looking for a someone who can reinvigorate a power-play unit that at times appeared to lose confidence.

Much of the success or failure goes to the personnel on the unit, which needs to execute to make the power play succeed.

There are only so many formations and concepts to try and use. But there might be a coach out there who can better utilize the personnel, in whatever ways, possibly tweak the attack to make it more respectable.

“The power play is an area that needs to be better, and that’s not, certainly, on any one particular coach or any one particular person,” Blashill said, during his end-of-season media Zoom call. “The guys that are on the ice have to do a better job, and we’ve got to do as good a job as possible at preparing them and giving them a plan that works.”

Blashill used the word “tactician,” a coach with “different offensive ideas” to describe what characteristics he and Yzerman are looking for in the assistant coach.

“Especially a guy with an offensive kind of mindset, somebody that brings some different, potentially unique, ideas,” Blashill said. “It’s hard to come up with things that are real different or unique in the game, and that’s not necessarily how you win.

“But ultimately is there some fresh ideas or unique ideas or different thought processes?”

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Yzerman acknowledged the Wings need to improve and strengthen their roster, which in turns helps the power play.

It’s no surprise that Stanley Cup contenders such as Tampa, Boston, Colorado, Vegas and Carolina all have skilled, talented lineups that are extremely dangerous on the power play.

The Wings aren’t there yet.

“We need to add to our personnel to get the right fit so our power play has a chance to be more successful,” Yzerman said. “We have to do something different with our power play, for sure. Our power play is 31st, collectively. It struggled the last few years.

“We need to add to our personnel to get the right fit, so our power play has a chance to be more successful and we need to do things a little bit differently than we have done. The spots players are put in and the way we bring the puck up the ice, it needs to be addressed.

“Who will be in charge of that? Who will we bring in to help it? We have to go to work and find that person.”

Blysma, 50, is a native of Grand Haven.

Twitter: @tkulfan

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