Jeff Blashill and Mike Babcock talk strategy during a game last season. (Tom Szczerbowski-US PRESSWIRE)
Yesterday the Detroit Red Wings announced that former WMU head hockey coach Jeff Blashill would become the head coach of their AHL affiliate Grand Rapids after just once season as the special teams coach for the Winged Wheel. With this announcement, Blashill will be undertaking his 4th coaching position in as many years for as many teams.
When Blashill was announced the assistant coach for the Wings last year, many Bronco fans felt bittersweet. Since many alum and fans hail from Michigan and are big Detroit fans, losing the apparent savior of the hockey program to their favorite team wasn't so bad. Later, with the hire of Andy Murray and his success this past season, all worries disappeared. Blashill is still VERY beloved among the Bronco faithful and when this latest move was announced, WMU fans started to wonder why?
Let's look at the facts from last season. Remember, Blashill was in charge of special teams, mainly the powerplay.
- The Red Wings PP last season operated at a mere 16.1%, good for 22nd in the NHL. Only Chicago, NY Rangers, and Phoenix were worse and made the playoffs.
- Why is that bad? The Wings had 298 PPs last season, good for 4th in the NHL. The only team ahead of the Wings to make the playoffs was Philly.
- What about the PK? Well Detroit finished 18th last year, killing 81.8% of their penalties. Middle of the pack.
- Overall the Wings had a 36:25 differential in PP and PK time, meaning the Wings had more opportunities to score than they needed to kill.
In the end, the lack of power-play goals probably hurt Blashill. When the Grand Rapids spot opened up, the Detroit front office probably tried to get Blashill to agree to the job, and maybe the demands of the NHL got to be too much for him and his family.
Now this isn't all bad. Honestly, JB is probably better suited at developing players rather than full blown strategy. Detroit doesn't need to develop their talent, Grand Rapids does. Detroit wins twice by keeping a solid coach in Blashill, and having him coach and improve the play of their minor league players.
But now here is the big question: After 1 year, is he in a better position now than he was when he left Kalamazoo? He will be closer to his brother (coaches high school hockey in Big Rapids) and will still be in the pro levels. But, I'm not the master of AHL coaching salaries, but I don't think he will be making more than Andy Murray is now. The GR job will have a more grueling season (middle of the week games), and he wont have any say really in who he coaches since Detroit pretty much drafts the players.
So here is what I ask you, the readers: What coaching job is better? Grand Rapids or Western Michigan? Developing potential NHL players who are already pros, or coaching college students into potential pro talents and picking who plays for you?