DETROIT – Jeff Blashill was impressed with the top choice to fill one of Red Wings' assistant coaching gigs – and that was before the two sat down for a face-to-face interview last week.
Blashill announced Tuesday that he hired former Boston assistant Doug Houda to work with the Red Wings’ defensemen and oversee the team’s penalty kill next season.
Houda, who will turn 50 on June 3, received a three-year contract this week.
“Doug was my first call and I’m real excited and thankful to add him to our staff,” Blashill said. “I think he’s going to be a great addition, very excited that we were able to secure him.”
Houda was the Red Wings’ second-round pick in the 1984 NHL draft. He began his 15-season NHL career a year later – making his debut with the Red Wings on Oct. 10, 1985. He played for six different clubs, including the Hartford Whalers, Los Angeles Kings, Buffalo Sabres, New York Islanders and Mighty Ducks of Anaheim.
Aside from his familiarity with the organization, Blashill said he was blown away by Houda’s coaching knowledge as it relates to the penalty kill and defensive-zone coverage.
“I thought his knowledge on penalty kill was very deep,” Blashill said. “He’s run the penalty kill for Boston for a number of years. He’s used different types of systems to success in different years, depending upon personnel. And then I also thought his work with individual defensemen was really good. Kind of the different system thoughts that he’ll bring with him from Boston. Overall he was very impressive in both his approach and in his knowledge as a coach.”
Houda spent the past 10 seasons with the Bruins. Before then he was a minor-league assistant for three seasons with the Rochester Americans, the Sabres’ AHL affiliate.
Houda interviewed last Wednesday at Joe Louis Arena but Blashill had already done enough homework on the candidate, speaking to players who have played for the former NHL defenseman in the past. He declined to reveal which players he spoke to but said everybody was complimentary of the Blairmore, Alberta, native.
“Everything I heard (he) was extremely respected by the players,” Blashill said. “(He) was very, very knowledgeable on the penalty kill, was very good at setting forth what he wanted done on the penalty kill, very good developer of defensemen and good bench management, so all things came up real positive.”
Houda replaces former assistant Tony Granato, who accepted the head coaching position at the University of Wisconsin, where he played from 1983-87.
Blashill said it was necessary to identify someone that possesses a coaching acumen bundled with the respect of his players, akin to Granato who built a strong reputation.
“I thought that was an important part of the process,” Blashill said. “Tony Granato had a great amount of respect from our current players and I wanted to replace him with a coach in the National Hockey League with lots of experience who had that type of similar respect and Doug certainly has that.”
Houda will be responsible for improving the Red Wings’ defensive corps, which regressed last season. Two areas that Houda will be asked to work on improving first are puck management and defensive positioning.
“Our D need to grow and be better,” Blashill said. “We have a number of defenders who can improve. … It’s a stick-on-puck league in terms of defending now in the National Hockey League. That’s an area that Doug has said to me he’s hypercritical about, it’s extremely important to him, and you know, those are two big areas of improvement for our D.”
The Red Wings also announced this week that goaltending coach Jim Bedard and assistant Pat Ferschweiler will not be brought back. After 18 seasons with the organization Bedard was not offered a new contract, and Ferschweiler, who finished his first NHL season, will be reassigned within the team’s organizational structure.
“The idea of adding another bench coach was because I wanted to add some more NHL experience to our bench,” Blashill said. “We felt that by doing that we could find some candidates that hopefully have been through a lot of the different situations that I and our staff will face on a regular basis. Having people that have been through it can only help.
“I also felt one of the best areas for growth with our hockey team is going to be the internal growth of our individual players. … One of Pat Ferschweiler’s greatest strengths is his skill development aspect of his coaching. He was in charge of player development for me at Western Michigan and in Grand Rapids and that is going to be a significant part of his role moving forward, is to create a systematic approach tailor made to each player to develop each player to the best of his abilities. Not just our young players but the majority of our players. I think we all need to get a little bit better in order for us to have the success we want.”
As for the team’s other coaching vacancies, Blashill isn’t in a rush, though he indicated a desire to add an assistant who has NHL head coaching experience.
“It certainly won’t be restricted to just that,” he said. “But there’s decisions throughout the year and throughout games that if somebody’s been through those roles they’ve got a unique perspective and one that I’d like to be able to learn from and grow our staff as a result of. That’s certainly an area that I’m looking at but we’ll see when the final candidates are together. We’ll see if that comes to fruition.”
Blashill said Jeff Salajko is the lead candidate to become the team’s next goaltending coach. The 40-year-old Salajko is in his third season as the goaltending development coach with the Grand Rapids Griffins.
“I got a number of other good candidates that have contacted me,” Blashill said. “We’re going to go through the process, first with Jeff and then we’ll move forward if needed. I don’t want to term it close or not close.”