DETROIT – For Tony Granato, the vacancy behind the Red Wings’ bench was a perfect fit for someone who brings an abundance of passion and energy to the rink with a willingness to learn every day.
“You don’t look past Detroit,” said Granato, who accepted a one-year contract, with a second-year option, to become an assistant on Mike Babcock’s coaching staff.
“You try to find ways to succeed through situations whether (it’s) rebuilding or dealing with injuries like they had to this year. They always find a way,” Granato said during a conference call with Detroit media Tuesday afternoon. “You have to give a lot of credit to management, the coaches and the players and how they have been able to sustain that. I’m really looking forward to being a part of it and seeing what makes the Red Wings tick.”
Granato is the seventh assistant coach hired by the Red Wings during Babcock’s nine-year tenure as head coach. It’s expected that Granato will oversee the Red Wings’ penalty kill unit, which, despite a vast number of injuries to key players, was ranked No. 12 with an 83 percent efficiency rating last season.
“The younger players and the players who were asked to step up and play more significant roles really had a big impact on the season,” Granato said. “But I think (Henrik) Zetterberg, obviously, (Pavel) Datsyuk, (Johan) Franzen, and you’ve got (Daniel) Alfredsson, you’ve got tremendous experience in leadership with some players who have had unbelievable careers and have been the staple of the organization for a long time. So I’m looking forward to working with those guys but I think the core of the young players, like I said, stepped up and made big impacts last year, and they make it awfully exciting as well.”
Granato replaces former assistant Bill Peters, who last month was named head coach of the Carolina Hurricanes. The Red Wings are also looking to fill a void created by the departure of Tom Renney, who, on Tuesday morning was introduced as the new president and CEO of Hockey Canada in Calgary.
Following a 13-season playing career with the Rangers, Kings and Sharks, Granato has spent the past 12 years coaching in the NHL, including three seasons as head coach of the Colorado Avalanche, where he posted a 104-78-17-16 regular-season record. He is coming off a five-season stint as an assistant to former head coach Dan Bylsma in Pittsburgh. Granato also served as Bylsma’s assistant on the American men’s team at the Sochi Olympics.
However, last month the Penguins announced that their coaching staff would not be retained for the upcoming NHL season. Granato, who will turn 50 on July 25, also spent four seasons as an Avs assistant to Bob Hartley (2002-03) and Joel Quenneville (2005-08).
“When Bill left and I knew my position in Pittsburgh that it was going to be a situation where I was going to have to look for a position,” Granato said. “I got excited about potentially getting an opportunity to come in for an interview. I’m really glad it worked out.”
Babcock has told reporters that he did his due diligence before making a decision on a new assistant, asking people around the league about Granato’s coaching credentials. By all accounts, everyone raved about the former player turned coach. But Granato did his research, too.
“When the Detroit position came available, I looked at the team, I looked at the staff, I looked at the management team led by Kenny (Holland) and ownership,” said Granato, a native of Downers Grove, Ill. “This is a premier organization and I wanted to be part of it. I’m lucky it became available when it did and I’m thrilled to be part of it.”
Granato brings with him a passionate energy that was evident during a Red Wings-Avalanche game in February 2008. In that game, Avs forward Ian Laperriere delivered a questionable hit from behind on Nicklas Lidstrom, which resulted in a sprained knee and several games missed for the Red Wings’ captain.
“I’ve gotten a lot of texts of that picture (above),” Granato said. “I think it shows the competitiveness that we have. I think it shows the intensity that we both have. We were both defending our players, and yes, it’s a funny thing right now. It’s one of my favorite pictures of me on the bench. It shows Mike’s intensity, and like I said, it shows mine as well.”
Granato is an uncle to Red Wings prospect Landon Ferraro, who is the son of former NHL star Ray Ferraro. Granato’s younger sister, Cammi, one of the first women to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, is married to Ray Ferraro, though she isn’t Landon’s mother.
“I didn’t think much of that going into certainly making this decision,” Granato said. “I’ve watched him over the past few years develop into a pretty good player. Hopefully he continues to develop and be part of it as well.”
With the exception of his nephew, Granato said he doesn’t know much about the organization’s rising young stars like Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar and Riley Sheahan. But he plans to use the next few months to get acquainted with their playing styles and tendencies.
“I just started watching video on them,” Granato said. “I’m just getting a taste of that right now, and I’ll continue to do my homework over the summer to get to know them a little bit better. But I do know there are some exciting prospects that have some great potential to play more significant roles as we move forward.”