The new man in Detroit, Jeff Blashill, is different from his predecessor, Mike Babcock, on many developmental levels.
Babcock is a Canadian, who played defence for McGill University in Montreal, but wears his Saskatchewan roots on his sleeve and got his introduction to coaching in the British hockey league.
Blashill was born in the Detroit suburb of Southfield, but grew up in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., before playing goal for four years at Ferris State, where he ultimately became an assistant coach.
The two, 10 years apart in age, crossed paths for the first time when Babcock, after losing Paul MacLean off his coaching staff, called Blashill out of the blue and asked him to interview for a job as a Red Wings' assistant.
Some coaches always dip into their inner circle when assembling a staff. For years, Babcock's modus operandi has been different; he is always open to new people offering fresh ideas and different approaches.
Two summers ago, five teams contacted the Red Wings asking permission to interview Blashill about a possible head coaching job, but he elected to stay in the Detroit organization and bide his time. When Babcock left to join the Toronto Maple Leafs last summer, the Red Wings quickly moved Blashill up.
When general manager Ken Holland likes about Blashill is he makes the team accountable at the same time as he lets the players know he is in their corner, something that's not always easy to do.
So what attracted Blashill, right out of college, to the coaching life?
"I wasn't a good enough player – that's one," said Blashill, with a laugh. "I don't know necessarily why I became a coach. It was something that intrigued me. My coach in college asked me if I wanted to get into coaching, so I did.
"I know what I really enjoy about it. I love helping guys get better and teams get better and that intrinsic feeling you get from seeing that happen. I love that. I love the competition of it. Between those two things – the competition and the value of watching teams and individual players get better – that's what I enjoy about coaching."
The most important lesson Blashill learned from working with Babcock was making sure the players knew who was in charge.
"That's easier to do at the lower levels," Blashill said. "What I learned through my year as an assistant here – and probably through my last three years in the American League – is that the principles of coaching remain the same at the lower levels as they do in the NHL. It's still coaching.
"But as the head coach, I need to be the one in charge, making decisions. That doesn't change. Now everyone's got different managerial styles. My managerial style is to take input from lots of different people. I talk to our trainers, our assistant coaches, our leadership group, from our GM. I get input from them and make a decision. But ultimately, I'm the one making the decision and there has to be decisiveness for sure."
Not every new coach can make a smooth transition in his first year, but Blashill has the advantage of prior working knowledge of just about every player on his current roster. The primary leadership group – Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and Niklas Kronwall – was in place when he was with the team four years ago. Most of the younger players currently in the Red Wings' lineup also played for him in Grand Rapids.
"The biggest thing is, he coached half the team already in Grand Rapids, so that makes it easier for him, and it makes it easier for us," Zetterberg said. "Then also, the system is similar to what we've been playing. That's not really very different."
According to Blashill, the two most important qualities on any winning team are character and talent, and he suggested in his introductory press conference that the Wings collectively ooze character. It will help immensely when Datsyuk, recovering from off-season ankle surgery, gets back, but that isn't expected to happen until mid-November.
In the meantime, they are trying to find their way – a three-game winning streak off the start of the season that was followed by a three-game losing streak, which they were trying to snap in Friday's date with the Calgary Flames.
"For me, personally it's been good," said Blashill, of his adjustment to life as an NHL head coach. "We're like everybody. We want to win more hockey games. We want to continue to find ways to get better, both as an individual – myself – and as a team. Is there better ways to instruct? Is there better ways to get guys motivated? Things like that. But the one thing I know is I felt I went through a process to get to this job that's prepared me to be in this job – and now we've got to go execute."