Detroit — Alex Tanguay, the former Avalanche star, is coming over to the other side.
Tanguay, who participated in the heated rivalry between the Detroit and Colorado organizations some 20-25 years ago, was named an assistant on coach Jeff Blashill’s staff on Wednesday.
And Tanguay is already hearing from Red Wings’ alumni from those days.
“Kris Draper called me a couple of days ago and said, ‘You’re the first one to cross that bridge,'” Tanguay said during a media Zoom call announcing the hiring. “It was such a unique rivalry. I missed much of the fighting from the 1990s. I was drafted in ’98 and started playing in ’99, but the Joe was such a special place to play, and the organization was so good and the team.
“I’m just glad to be part of the organization now.”
Tanguay, 41, joins Blashill’s staff after spending the last two seasons as an assistant coach with the Minnesota Wild’s minor league affiliate, the Iowa Wild.
Iowa was 54-31-9 over the last two seasons, had the American League’s fifth-best power play (21.9%) in Tanguay’s first season and averaged 3.15 goals per game during this shortened 34-game season.
Iowa also had the second-best shot-per-game average in the AHL in each of the past two seasons, averaging 32.68 combined in Tanguay’s tenure with the club.
“I wanted to find somebody unique, especially from the offensive side of the puck, somebody who thought a little different perspective,” Blashill said. “I wanted to find somebody who thought offensively in somewhat unique ways and ultimately Alex was a great fit for us because of that. He’s got offensive beliefs based on his playing career, playing experience, coaching experience and just how the way his mind thinks hockey.
“One of his greatest strengths will be helping our individual players get better within our structure and find ways to ultimately be more offensive.”
Tanguay went into broadcasting with the NHL Network after retiring as a player and spent three seasons doing television before the competitive juices started flowing again.
“I missed the competition a little bit,” Tanguay said. “Tim Army, the coach in Iowa, was an assistant coach in Colorado and he had a spot available on his staff. I took the job and ran with it and tried to build my own theory and learn from the coaches I’ve had in the past but be my own self.”
Tanguay met with Blashill and general manager Steve Yzerman, and felt a positive connection with both.
“It’s a big challenge (joining the Wings). I was looking for an opportunity to get myself inside the door of the NHL and conversations with different people within the hockey circles,” Tanguay said. “When I started talking with Jeff, I had a real good interaction and started talking strategies and what he was looking for and had conversations with Steve. It was great conversations.
“I’m real happy to be a resource now for those guys and become part of their team and help make this team grow and get their young players to be better and more effective.”
As a former, and somewhat recent, NHL player, Tanguay may have a perspective that will be beneficial relating to many players on the Wings’ roster.
“When I coached in Grand Rapids, Chris Chelios helped us out there and I always thought Chris thought like a player still, and in a good way,” Blashill said. “As a coach, when you coach a long time, you start thinking like a coach and there’s nothing wrong with that. That’s a positive thing. But having played recently, Alex can still look at it from a mindset of a player because it’s still fresh, it wasn’t long ago he played.
“I was really impressed for a guy who had a real successful career and he started a successful career on TV, and chose to get out of that and get to Iowa as an assistant coach. That, to me, spoke volumes about his commitment to be a coach.”
Tanguay’s success with Iowa’s power play gives hope to a Wings team that ranked next to last in the NHL on the power play, and has struggled now for several seasons.
“For us to be better on the power play, we all have to be better — myself, Alex who will oversee it, and our players,” Blashill said. “We all collectively have to take responsibility.
“Through his (Tanguay’s) mindset, through the way he sees the game and find ways to get open more, and that’s a critical thing for the power play, scan for the best options. He was a cerebral player himself and he can glean those experiences to our players as he goes through the process.”
Tanguay believes power plays have become more spread out and personnel are being used differently from when he played. But ultimately, it’s simple coaching.
“This is not about reinventing hockey,” Tanguay said. “It’s putting players in situations to succeed and facilitate for them. We’ll try to work different things and try to make some adjustments to work and make the power play better and more consistent. It’s going to be an every day challenge.”
During his playing career, Tanguay, a former Colorado first-round draft pick, went from Colorado to Calgary, Montreal, Tampa Bay and Arizona, recording 283 goals and 580 assists with a plus-163 rating in 1,088 games.
He added 59 points (19 goals, 40 assists) in 98 career playoff games, including scoring the Stanley Cup-clinching goal for Colorado in 2001.
Tanguay has seen many of the Wings’ prospects in Grand Rapids the last two seasons while coaching in Iowa, and will study individuals on the NHL roster the rest of the summer.
Because like Tanguay said, he might be more versed on former Wings.
“I’m more familiar with the (Wings) alumni,” Tanguay said. “You don’t have to remind me it will be the 20-year anniversary of the 2002 (Wings’ Stanley Cup, after defeating Colorado in the Western Conference Finals). I remember that. It’s still very fresh in my mind.”
Blashill said injured forwards Dylan Larkin (neck/upper body) and Tyler Bertuzzi (back surgery) are on their respective timelines in recovery, but wouldn’t say for sure either player would be ready for the start of September’s training camp.
“(Larkin) hasn’t started training yet but he’s along the timeline we expected in his recovery,” Blashill said. “Tyler probably has been able to do a little more lately and he’s getting to the stage where he can start to get out of the pure rehab and get into strength training, trying to build his body back up.
“I’ve seen both of them, and both are in good spirits and headed in the right direction in terms of their recovery.
“We expect both of their recoveries to be along a timeline that they’re ready for camp. Whether that happens, or doesn’t happen, you just don’t know and that’s true of all our players. But we anticipate the timelines to be in a spot where they’d be ready for camp.”