New voices hope to inject new life into Blackhawks’ coaching staff

Kevin Dineen likes to talk hockey. With players, with coaches, with friends, with fans, with reporters, with anyone. But he especially likes to talk hockey with people who work for other NHL teams. So every time he gets together with his brother, Jerry, a video coach for the Rangers, Dineen is probing for any little tidbit he can find about the way Alain Vigneault runs his team. 

“And don’t think that when
[Artemi] Panarin shows up, or when [Brandon] Saad showed up in
Columbus, they’re not going, ‘OK, what are you guys doing on your breakout? What are you doing on the forecheck?’ ” Dineen said. “It’s more information, it’s different voices, different ideas. We’re always trying to learn and plagiarize and steal things from each other.”

That quest for more voices, for more information, was part of the rationale behind Stan Bowman’s overhaul of the coaching staff. Joel Quenneville’s longtime assistant and confidante Mike Kitchen was fired, with 16-year NHL defenseman Ulf Samuelsson taking his place. Then the Hawks added Wisconsin associate coach Don Granato to the staff, adding a third assistant for the first time in Quenneville’s tenure.

The way the Hawks see it, after two consecutive first-round exits, there can’t be too many cooks in the kitchen.

Joel Quenneville will have three assistant coaches for the first time during his Blackhawks tenure. (AP Photo)

“A different way of looking at things, a different set of opinions, different eyes,” Quenneville said. “We’re wide open, as far as ideas go. Having a fresher look and having different ideas is something I look forward to.”

Dineen will continue to handle the power play, which finished tied for 22nd in the league last season. Samuelsson will take over Kitchen’s duties on the penalty kill and with the defense. Granato will join goaltending coach Jimmy Waite in the press box during games.

Quenneville, Dineen and Samuels-
son were teammates on the Hartford Whalers in the 1980s. Granato never made it past the ECHL in the early 1990s, but he was the head coach of St. Louis’ AHL affiliate during Quenneville’s tenure as the Blues’ coach. After that, he took over the U.S. national development team before moving to Wisconsin for a year.

Granato’s ability to connect with younger players appealed to Bowman, who has assembled a roster teeming with first- and second-year players. Granato saw just how much kids have changed during his four-year stint with the national team.

“It’s amazing how much kids have changed in the last decade,” Granato
said. “At Christmas time [last season], when the kids went home for seven days, I got three books on Generation Z or whatever. I did. And I read them. The influence of technology — I couldn’t believe the difference between these kids who were born in ’95 and these kids who were born in ’99, how they intake things, what they need and don’t need.”

Granato coached Auston Matthews and Matthew Tkachuk as 15-year-olds against 20-year-olds in the USHL and said the experience was invaluable.

“I’ve had a lot of opportunity to work with young athletes in pressure situations,” he said. “And the goal at the national team is to win a world championship 18 months later, so you’ve got to speed everything. Your job is basically to speed development. . . . The fun part, the amazing part of the U.S. program, it was the exact replication of Nick Schmaltz trying to get to the NHL — a highly stressful situation in giving up 20 pounds, and strength and experience.”

As Granato pointed out, only time will tell if he can speed up the development of younger players such as defenseman Gustav Forsling and forward Alex DeBrincat. But he’s a new voice, a different voice, with different experience. And after falling flat on their faces each of the last two postseasons, the Hawks are looking for all the input they can get.

“As a staff, you get involved with everything,” Samuelsson said. “We had lengthy discussions [Friday] about a few different things already. It’s going to be a fun process. I’m looking forward to it.”

Follow me on Twitter@MarkLazerus.

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

RELATED STORIES

Toews think Hossa has a lot left

Kane upset by Panarin trade