Peters Latest Product of Babcock’s Growing Coaching Tree

From the time they started whacking at a vulcanized rubber disc on ice, the professional hockey coaches were all by themselves behind the bench. Sometimes they served the dual role of player AND coach. But never did they have any help calling out lines, setting up a power play or designing a penalty kill.

That all changed in 1972, when Philadelphia Flyers coach Fred Shero hired an interloper of sorts.

Mike Nykoluk, a career minor league player who appeared in 32 NHL games in his rookie year of 1956-57 but who spent the rest of a 16-year pro career in the American Hockey League, was brought in by Shero to serve as the NHL’s first-ever assistant coach.

The rest of the league didn’t follow suit very readily.

Every team other than the Flyers had one man behind the bench. Nykoluk, for several seasons, was the lone wolf when it came to assistant coaches.

Gradually, other NHL teams took the plunge—the Flyers winning two straight Stanley Cups in 1974 and ’75 likely didn’t hurt—and by the time the 1980s began, pretty much every club employed at least one assistant and sometimes two.

That was ironic, because when the ’80s arrived, Nykoluk had graduated to head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs, a job he held from 1981-84.

But the idea of a so-called “coaching tree,” i.e. one man spawning assistants who would become head coaches in their own right, is a new concept in the NHL, and the one doing the spawning is Mike Babcock.

Babcock, the Red Wings coach since 2005, has been quietly sending assistants off to other NHL clubs to run their own show.

The latest is Bill Peters, who was named head coach of the Carolina Hurricanes the other day.

Peters served a three-year apprenticeship under Babcock before accepting Carolina’s offer to replace the fired Kirk Muller.

“I’ll take the culture of winning in Detroit with me,” Peters told the Detroit Free Press before being introduced in Raleigh.

It’s a culture that several others before Peters have taken with them from Detroit.

Todd McLellan (San Jose), Paul Maclean (Ottawa) and now Peters (Carolina) are Babcock assistants-turned-NHL-head coaches, and Jeff Blashill (Grand Rapids) and the late Brad McCrimmon (Kontinental Hockey League’s Lokomotiv Yaroslavl) are two other Red Wings assistants who, since 2008, have left the organ-eye-ZAY-shun to become head coaches.

Babcock is the first head coach in the NHL to have so many assistants move directly from his team to another as a head coach, somewhere, with no stops in between.

Hall of Famer Scotty Bowman didn’t have a coaching tree, per se. Many of Scotty’s former players became head coaches in the NHL, but Bowman’s roster of assistants only produced Dave Lewis (who succeeded Scotty in Detroit in 2002) as a head coach who moved into that role immediately after working for Bowman.

The idea of a coaching tree isn’t new in Detroit, however.

Chuck Daly may have been the Prince of Pessimism when he coached the Pistons from 1983-92, but he was also the King of Opportunity for various assistants.

Dick Harter (Charlotte 1988), Dick Versace (Indiana 1989), Ron Rothstein (Miami 1988) and Brendan Malone (Toronto 1995) were all Daly assistants who became head coaches.

The Hurricanes’ hiring of Peters, who interviewed with two other teams as well, might be the most prominent example of Babcock’s coaching tentacles wrapping themselves around the NHL.

The Hurricanes have been scuffling for years, often on the outside looking in when it comes to the playoffs, having missed the postseason in all but one year since their only Stanley Cup was won in 2006.

They could have gone for an established, regurgitated head coach. They could have hired a recently-retired player. They could have just gone for a name, period.

But new GM Ron Francis, who knows a thing or two about the effect of a coach in the NHL, given that Francis played 23 seasons in the league, went with Peters, who is none of the aforementioned type of candidate.

This tells me that when you have “I worked for Mike Babcock” on your resume, that packs a wallop.

“You have to take the time to go through it and make sure you get the right guy,” Francis told the media at Peters’ introductory press conference, “and that’s what we did.”

But Peters only received a three-year contract from Francis and the Hurricanes, which is a little on the chintzy side. Maybe that’s the rookie coach effect.

No matter. Peters continues the trend that Babcock, perhaps unwittingly, has established: work for me and you’ll have your own team to helm in due time.

There’s more irony dripping from Peters’ hiring by Carolina, and that’s Babcock’s own status in Detroit.

His contract expires at the end of next season, and in two NHL cities—Pittsburgh and Toronto—writers who have noticed Babcock’s status with great interest have pumped for their teams to poach the Red Wings’ coach next spring.

The feeling here is that Babcock will sign an extension with the Red Wings, maybe as soon as within the next 30 days.

Meanwhile, the hunt is on—again—for an assistant coach in Detroit.

If you’re wanting to run your own team someday, it looks like the best path to that is to serve as an assistant to Mike Babcock.

Five coaches since 2008 would concur.

Round 1, Game 1 Enotes

According to the rules, there is no skills competition in the post-season. Yet for the Red Wings in Game 1 of their playoff series against the Boston Bruins, a skills competition broke out with three minutes to play in the third period.

Maybe you’ll see a better stick move at center ice than what you saw with Pavel Datsyuk tonight, which resulted in the only goal of a 1-0 Red Wings victory.

Maybe you’ll see a better one, yes sir. Maybe you’ll see a hamster driving a car and pork chops fall from the sky, too.

Datsyuk’s ridiculous behind-the-back drag of the puck to himself at center ice, sliding the disc between his own legs, led to a wrist shot that beat Bruins goalie Tuuka Rask from just beyond the face-off circle. The mind-numbing play came with 3:01 left in the third period and the Red Wings lead the series, 1-0.

Even Datsyuk had never made a move like he did tonight, that I ever recall. It would be inconceivable to think that we’d have seen it before and forgotten it.

It’s already the play of the 2014 playoffs. Datsyuk sewed it up. We’re one game into round one and you won’t see a better hockey play between now and June.

It was as if Datsyuk, skating full bore through the neutral zone, suddenly remembered that he didn’t have the puck. So he did something about it.

I swear Datsyuk’s stick grew about six inches in length as he reached behind him and used the stick’s blade to scoop the puck and slide it between his legs in time for him to stick handle into the Boston zone. Then it was a matter of allowing traffic to clear as no. 13 drifted to his left, ever patient, and wristed a shot that eluded the masterful goalie Rask, who may have been surprised that Datsyuk had the puck to begin with.

Next came the longest three minutes of the Red Wings season thus far.

Boston pulled Rask with about 1:20 left, but never got a serious scoring chance.

The Bruins’ best chance at a goal occurred moments before Datsyuk’s brilliance, when a deflection at the goal mouth was rejected by Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard.

BOX SCORE

Lost in the shadow of Datsyuk’s magical play was the fact that the Red Wings played the perfect road game for a no. 8 playoff seed in Game 1. They were hard on the puck, didn’t commit many turnovers and didn’t have to kill too many penalties.

It is just one game of what promises to be a six or seven-game series. And Boston is likely going to win a game in Detroit. But as far as giving credence to the notion that the Red Wings will be, as coach Mike Babcock said this week, a “tough out,” this game did that.

When you see what Datsyuk did tonight, it is even more amazing that the Red Wings managed to slip into the playoffs minus Datsyuk since the Olympic break, essentially.

Advantage, Detroit. Game 2 is Sunday.

BOTTOM LINE: Whether the Red Wings survive this series or not, Datsyuk provided the fans with an unforgettable playoff moment.

THE WINGED WHEELER SAYS: This was no flukey victory, despite the fact that it took a super-human play to score the winning goal. Had the Red Wings lost in overtime it would have been crushing. But now, the Bruins have to bring their A-Game on Sunday. The Red Wings showed that they are no. 8 seed in name only. The almost nightly grind to make the playoffs since the Olympics paid off in a big way in Game 1, as the Red Wings brought the same urgency that carried over from the final quarter of the regular season.

Red Wings in the Playoffs? So What Else is New?

So the Red Wings made the playoffs this year. So what?

Isn’t that what they do every year?

It’s spring, and the Red Wings will be playing hockey while the Tigers play baseball. What’s the big deal?

The Red Wings are in the Stanley Cup playoffs, and I may as well have just told you that caffeine is in coffee and GM is in trouble.

The Red Wings are the longest-running post-season show going in professional sports. They are “The Mousetrap” of hockey.

The Red Wings have been doing this playoff thing for 23 seasons in a row. They are the team that has its table by the window, reserved, while other post-season patrons have come and gone.

For all we know, the NHL might not even hold the playoffs if the Red Wings aren’t there to participate in them.

Our daughter turns 21 on Monday and her parents hadn’t even met the last time Detroit didn’t have an entry in the Stanley Cup tournament. And now here is our daughter, who is going to be old enough to legally tip a drink to celebrate the first playoff puck drop next week.

The Red Wings’ 23-year run in the playoffs has outlasted marriages and even the second marriages of those divorced in between. It’s seen four presidents, gobs of Congressmen and dozens of political scandals. It started when Dennis Rodman was normal.

So this is what they do, these Red Wings. They play hockey when the lawn mowers are whirring, the grills are smoking and the trees are blossoming. We start watching them with sweats and fuzzy slippers on and by the time they’re through, we’ve switched to shorts and flip-flops.

The Red Wings are in the playoffs. So what else is new?

Well, there’s this. The Red Wings made their playoff push down the stretch without anyone named Zetterberg and, mostly, without anyone named Datsyuk.

The Red Wings are in the playoffs with a cache of rookies, a few reliable vets and an old man who spent 17 years somewhere else. It seems like everyone on the roster is either 22 or 40.

There’s Tomas Jurco and Tomas Tatar and Riley Sheahan and Gustav Nyquist, which isn’t exactly a Who’s Who of Red Wings lore. Heck, they’re really not even a Who’s Who of last year’s Red Wings.

There’s the old man, Daniel Alfredsson, who is 41 years old and without a Stanley Cup—hockey’s Ernie Banks, though Alfredsson, at least, has seen his share of playoff hockey (16  of his 18 NHL years, to be precise).

But once the puck drops next week to kick off the team’s annual kick at the can, it will only matter that the boys in the blood red sweaters with the winged wheel on their chest are present and accounted for. It won’t matter what the names are on the back of the jerseys.

These are the Red Wings. They have a mystique, like the Raiders had in the NFL or the Yankees have in MLB or the Celtics have in the NBA—all teams whose uniforms never change, nor their marketability.

Don’t for a moment think that the NHL isn’t happy to have the Red Wings along for yet another post-season ride. Hockey fans may tire of seeing Detroit as a playoff team, but the league never will.

The Red Wings are money. Their North American-wide fan base travels well with them, and that will probably be even more so now that the Red Wings are in the Eastern Conference and won’t be starting any playoff series more than 700 miles away from Detroit.

This will be old school playoff hockey, even if the Red Wings may not even face an Original Six team in any round. It’s old school because this will be like hockey in the old days, when there wasn’t a team west of Chicago and all the traveling was done by train.

The Red Wings won’t be taking any trains to Pittsburgh or Boston—their two possible first round opponents—but neither will any playoff game start after 7:30 p.m. No more cross country treks to Los Angeles or San Jose or Anaheim.

Over the past 23 seasons, the Stanley Cup playoff formats have changed, the divisions have changed names and teams, the Red Wings have even switched conferences, have played for four different coaches and through it all, one thing has remained constant.

Springtime hockey in the Motor City.

The Red Wings have accomplished this 23-year post-season streak in a time unlike the Original Six days, when 67% of the teams made the playoffs just by showing up each night. In fact, unless you were the Rangers or the Bruins, you were in the playoffs in the 1950s and much of the ‘60s.

This current streak has been kept alive in a time where just 16 of 30 teams qualify, or barely 53% of the league.

Look at three of the four teams the Red Wings defeated in the Finals in their Stanley Cup championships starting in 1997.

The Philadelphia Flyers, the ’97 victims, barely made the playoffs in 1998 and were dismissed in five games in the first round.

The Washington Capitals, who lost to the Red Wings in the ’98 Finals, finished 14 games below .500 the next year and out of the playoffs.

The Carolina Hurricanes, the 2002 Finals participants, nosedived to 21 games below .500 and were the worst team in the Eastern Conference in 2002-03.

Only the 2009 Penguins, who lost to the Red Wings in the ’08 Finals, rebounded—and they won the Cup.

So it’s not like making it all the way to the Cup Finals guarantees success, even just one year hence.

But the Red Wings have suffered Finals losses, first-round knockouts, Conference Finals disappointments and have won four Cups during this 23-year streak—yet no playoff result of the previous spring has managed to have anything to do with keeping Detroit out of the post-season party the following season.

The Red Wings are in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Again.

And where is Dennis Rodman these days?

Nyquist’s Penchant for Scoring Just May Lead the Red Wings into the Playoffs

They say defense wins championships, but last I checked, nobody won the Stanley Cup by tossing shutouts every game. You still have to have pucksters who can bury a goal now and again.

Or in Gustav Nyquist’s case, again and again and again.

Nyquist is a typical Red Wings forward: skilled, Swedish and unearthed. Somehow 120 players were selected ahead of Nyquist, who went to the Red Wings as the 121st choice in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.

The 24-year-old Nyquist is yet another find of Red Wings’ European Scouting Director Hakan Andersson, a former fishing tour guide who clearly still knows how to catch them.

The Red Wings’ roster is filled with guys whose NHL success belies where they were selected in their respective drafts.

Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and Johan Franzen, to name just three, are stars who you would think were first round picks. After all, what scout worth his travelogue could have missed on these guys, eh?

But Zetterberg, the Red Wings’ Swedish captain, was a seventh round selection in 1999. The Russian Datsyuk was taken in the sixth round in 1998. And Franzen, another Swede, was a third round pick in 2004.

Now here comes Nyquist, who’s popping in goals like the opposing goalies are pylons, drafted by the Red Wings only after 120 players—six teams’ worth of nightly skaters—ahead of him were snatched up.

The Red Wings don’t draft players, they pan for them.

The name of the game is to score more than the opposition, and by that standard, Nyquist is the quintessential NHL player, because pretty much every puck he shoots these days finds the back of the net.

Nyquist didn’t join the Red Wings until November 21, from Grand Rapids of the AHL. In his first game this season, he scored twice. It seemed like a harbinger, because of Nyquist’s heroics in the 2013 playoffs, which included a game-winner in overtime in Anaheim in the first round.

But after that two-goal debut in November, Nyquist’s scoring stick fell asleep, and on January 18, he had just five goals.

In 29 games since January 18, Nyquist has 23 goals.

That’s Crosby and Ovechkin-ish.

With Zetterberg and Datsyuk felled by injuries for much of the 2014 portion of the season schedule, it’s been Nyquist to the rescue. When he scores a goal, the Red Wings are 16-6.

It seems as if every Nyquist goal has some sort of importance attached to it. He’s either giving the Red Wings the lead, tying the game, or winning the game.

Nyquist is a Bruce Martyn kind of player: He shoots, he scoooooores!

The brilliance of Nyquist is that he scores from everywhere on the ice, and from any position—skating, falling, sliding, what have you. All that’s left is for him to beat a goalie from the third row of the stands—and that might be coming.

If you miss a Red Wings game on any given night, you might want to just flip on ESPN’s “SportsCenter,” because one of Nyquist’s goals is likely going to end up there as an evening highlight of the most pretty.

So much have Nyquist’s exploits in 2014 been talked about around the league, that some NHL observers have suggested that Nyquist should garner some Hart Trophy (MVP) consideration. Now, that’s likely Sidney Crosby’s award to lose, but to even be mentioned is something else, given Nyquist’s paltry five goals in mid-January.

Part of Nyquist’s hockey genius lies in his speed. Even Franzen, Mr. Streaky himself, marvels at his fellow Swede.

“He’s faster with the puck than without it, and that’s pretty uncommon,” Franzen told the Detroit Free Press after Friday night’s 3-2 win over Buffalo—a game in which Nyquist, strangely enough, didn’t score.

But this goal scoring stuff isn’t unique to Nyquist’s NHL career. Everywhere he’s played, he’s been a goalie’s nightmare.

Nyquist has been beating goaltenders like mules since he was 16 years old and scoring nine goals in just 14 games playing for the Malmo Redhawks in a Swedish under-18 league.

After being drafted by the Red Wings, Nyquist went to the University of Maine and in three seasons he scored 50 goals in 113 games.

Then it was time to turn pro, and in two seasons in Grand Rapids, Nyquist deposited 45 goals past AHL goalies.

Nyquist first endeared himself to Red Wings fans when he won Game 2 of the Anaheim series last spring in overtime, a huge tally that tied that series, 1-1. The Red Wings went on to win the series in seven games.

But so prolific is Nyquist this season, that his shooting percentage (goals divided by shots on goal), is 19.9%, which is more than twice the league average. The Red Wings as a team have a shooting percentage of 8.8%.

That means, basically, that Nyquist scores a goal for every five shots he takes. That’s some deadly stuff.

Apparently not content with scoring goals in every way imaginable, Nyquist himself is thinking of different ways to score.

“You look at Pav (Datsyuk) and Z (Zetterberg), they have two guys hanging on their backs and they’re still so strong on the puck,” Nyquist told the Free Press. “That’s something I can learn from.”

I’m sure opposing goalies are just thrilled to hear that. The guy who has 23 goals in his past 28 games wants to start scoring with guys hanging on his back.

Come to think of it, that’s pretty much the only way you can stop Nyquist from scoring in 2014—so far.

So the next time you see two defenders draped over a player, and all you can see of that player is the puck leaving his stick and eluding the goalie, you’ll know who that player is.

No. 14 in red and white.

 

Game 74: Red Wings-Toronto Enotes

There is more than a subtle bittersweet feeling whenever you see Darren Helm excel on the ice.

You can’t help but wonder might have been.

What might have been, if Helm, the speedy Red Wings center, wasn’t so gosh darn injury-prone.

What might have been, if the Red Wings could insert Helm into the lineup with impunity, with any semblance of regularity.

Unfortunately, Helm has been injury-prone and he has missed a wealth of games over the past two seasons-plus.

There’s no use crying over spilled milk, but when Helm does what he did tonight in Toronto—score his first career hat trick, and in the manner that he did it—it’s hard not to wonder if the Red Wings’ place in the standings would be higher than it is now.

But for now, they are high enough.

Helm’s three goals led the Red Wings past Toronto, 4-2, as the Maple Leafs have picked a lousy time to go on an eight-game losing streak—all in regulation, by the way.

Helm scored in just about every way imaginable as he used his many tools.

First, he used his speed on the penalty kill to bust loose on a breakaway, then when that attempt failed, Helm stuck around in front of the Leafs net, batted down a pass in midair from Joakim Andersson, and flipped a backhand past Toronto goalie Jonathan Bernier to tie the game, 1-1, about three minutes into the second period.

For his next trick, Helm camped in front of Bernier and in a rare play, broke his stick deflecting Jakub Kindl’s slapshot past the Leafs netminder for a 3-1 Detroit lead as the Red Wings scored three times in a space of less than five minutes.

Finally, Helm showed his soft hands as he squirted free for another breakaway, using a nifty backhand-to-forehand move to deposit his third puck past Bernier to give the Red Wings a 4-2 lead at 8:38 of the third period.

The Air Canada Centre crowd booed the Leafs lustily as the final seconds ticked off the clock.

Toronto actually led 1-0 but the Leafs have scored the first goal of the game just twice in their past 10 contests, and neither time did they win. The Leafs are two points behind the Red Wings (34-26-14) for a wild card berth, but Detroit has two games in hand.

Jimmy Howard made 25 saves for Detroit, which snapped a three-game losing streak.

And while every victory these days is to be savored, it’s also OK to admire Helm and be wistful and imagine him healthy all year. Chances are, the Red Wings wouldn’t be scrambling for a playoff spot with eight games to play.

BOX SCORE

BOTTOM LINE: The Leafs are playing with hardly any confidence these days, and it showed tonight.

THE WINGED WHEELER SAYS: With eight games to play, it stands to reason that the Red Wings need at least 10 points to feel safe as far as the playoff race goes. That would give them 92 points, and it’s hard to imagine that not being enough to qualify.

Game 69: Red Wings-Pittsburgh Enotes

If the Red Wings manage to extend their playoff-making streak to 23 straight years at the end of this season, it will be easy to point to tonight’s dramatics against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Joe Louis Arena and call it the biggest win of the year.

In a game fraught with playoff pressure and wackiness, the Red Wings (32-24-13) picked up two huge points by beating the Pens, 5-4 in overtime—by scoring the winning goal with 0.4 seconds remaining.

The Red Wings’ ageless warrior, Daniel Alfredsson, got credit for the winner—his second goal of the night—when his wrist shot rebounded off Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who’s had much luckier nights, and bounced off even more unlucky defenseman Rob Scuderi and trickled over the goal line as time ran out.

After a brief confirmation with the folks in Toronto, the goal was affirmed and the Red Wings, with 77 points, are just one point out of the no. 8 seed.

BOX SCORE

It was far from easy, even after Detroit staked itself to a 2-0 lead.

Three Penguin goals within three minutes late in the second period put Pittsburgh ahead, 3-2, after 40 minutes.

The puck was bouncing off Penguins defenders into the net all night, to the tune of three goals.

The second of those three times gave Detroit a 4-3 lead with about seven minutes left in the third period. The goal was credited to Todd Bertuzzi, but it may be changed to Luke Glendening—it would be Glendening’s first career NHL goal—because replays seemed to indicate that Bertuzzi’s wrist shot deflected off Glendening before it bounced off a Pittsburgh defenseman and past Fleury.

Craig Adams tied the game with 5:34 left.

The game winner happened when a Pittsburgh rush with 12 seconds left suddenly turned the other way, with Alfredsson leading a 3-on-1 break. Alfie skated down the right wing and fired the puck with three seconds left, triggering the pinball effect, sending JLA into a frenzy.

It was a big win, and maybe will be considered the biggest, coming against a powerful Penguins team with the Red Wings decimated by injuries.

 

 

 

 

 

And I Quote……

 

“Anything in life can be a grind if you let it, if you’re soft between the ears. You get to play in the NHL and you get to play every day, I don’t know how bad that can be. I don’t know where the grind is.

“Let’s just get ready to go. We got Toronto in our building (on Tuesday) and we need something positive. I think it’s real important as a group, you got to stay together and each guy’s got to bring his personal best each and every night.”

—Red Wings coach Mike Babcock, to MLive.com.