Blackhawks notebook: Dominik Kubalik excited for ‘fresh start’ with Red Wings
Plus, new assistant coach Kevin Dean says the Hawks will use a zone defensive scheme next season.
Former Blackhawks forward Dominik Kubalik grew up in the Czech Republic watching VHS tapes of old Red Wings games — particularly those involving legendary Czech goalie Dominik Hasek — at his grandfather’s house.
On Wednesday, he was there again, with his grandfather, when he signed a two-year contract worth $2.5 million annually with the Red Wings.
“It’s a fresh start, it’s a clean table and I’m very excited about the opportunity,” Kubalik said Thursday. “Hopefully I’ll start like I did in Chicago.”
That’s what the Wings are betting on. Kubalik seemed destined for a long Hawks career after his explosive 2019-20 rookie season in which he had 30 goals and 46 points in 48 games.
The last two seasons were not the same, though. Kubalik actually expected to be moved out of Chicago at the trade deadline this past March, then was confused when he wasn’t.
“All the rumors were out [there], and I felt, ‘It’s going to happen,’ ’’ he said. “But eventually it didn’t. So I didn’t know what to think. . . . The situation was tough because I didn’t know, until now, what was going to be the plan or what they were going to do with me.”
Closure on his Hawks tenure finally came last week, when he was informed he wouldn’t receive a qualifying offer.
“I got better every year,” he said. “For me, it’s not usually [about] the points or my game. Sometimes it’s even better if you grow like a man, like a human being. . . . I feel more confident about [myself], and I know what to expect, and I know how to play [in the NHL]. I had a great three years [in Chicago].
“My hope was that someone still believed in me and would give me a chance, which happened.”
Dean of zones
The despised hybrid scheme that characterized the Hawks’ defense under Jeremy Colliton, then faded under Derek King is gone for good.
New assistant coach Kevin Dean said that he and coach Luke Richardson agree in favoring “zone coverage more in the D-zone, not man-on-man.”
“That’s going to be up to Luke to firm that up, but in our early conversations, we seem to be kind of aligned,” Dean said. “Close hard when it’s your turn to close, separate when it’s your turn to separate, get some support from the low forward and get going the other way. But not man-on-man where you’re following somebody around all the time.”
Richardson, Dean and King haven’t all met in person to divvy up the coaching responsibilities — and the staff might not even be complete yet — but it sounds like Dean will oversee the defensemen, and it would make sense for King to oversee the forwards.
“My strength is on the defensive side of the puck,” Dean said. “[I’ll] teach these young defensemen . . . [how to have] good structure in their game in terms of stick position, body position, angles.”
A Wisconsin native and 12-year pro defenseman, including two seasons playing for the Hawks, Dean spent the last five years as a Bruins assistant.
His contract wasn’t renewed after this past season when the Bruins cleared out ex-coach Bruce Cassidy’s staff, but close friends soon put him in touch with Richardson, leading to this new opportunity.
“I’m a pretty patient guy,” Dean said. “I understand and respect that hockey is a very hard game. It’s supposed to be fun. If players are having fun, they’re going to come to the rink with a better attitude, bring energy and want to get better.”