The Blackhawks are trying everything to fix their power play. And that includes the peculiar move of having director of player development Barry Smith coach.
The Hawks need a productive power play, which has scored only three times since the All-Star break, but the decision to keep using Smith can be perceived as a sense of desperation or a sign that the brass isn’t keen on the progress made under coach Joel Quenneville and assistants Mike Kitchen and Mike Haviland.
“Barry is here to help us, whether it’s the staff on the ice, players or us,” Quenneville said when asked about Smith’s participation. “That’s what he’s here for.”
Smith has been on the ice for several practices. On Saturday, he handled the power-play instruction, which included defenseman Johnny Oduya at the point and an emphasis on more movement when set up. On Thursday, Kitchen ran it, specifically working on entries. Quenneville said Smith hasn’t been trying to tweak a particular aspect.
“The last couple of weeks, we’ve been trying different personnel,” Quenneville said. “We got it going a little bit. We were disappointed with our St. Louis game [0-for-5]. Friday night, [we had] only one. [It] wasn’t very good.”
Quenneville, who leads all active coaches in victories, should be able to steer his team as he sees fit, especially because his power-play units have been effective throughout his career. Just last season, the Hawks were fourth in the NHL. When he coached the St. Louis Blues, they regularly ranked among the top 10. His worst season came in 2007-08, his last with the Colorado Avalanche, as it finished 28th on the power play. Going into Saturday, the Hawks were No. 25.
Smith was a top assistant under Hall of Famer Scotty Bowman, the Hawks’ senior adviser and father of general manager Stan Bowman. But if the use of Smith is a sign of some unhappiness, no one is saying it.
“[Smith is] a very smart guy and awesome to talk to,” Patrick Kane said. “I know he’s been with some great power plays in Detroit.”
Smith joined the Hawks during their nine-game road trip, but Patrick Sharp also said he was around last postseason.
“He’s just another experienced voice to help out,” Sharp said. “[Kitchen], [Haviland] and Joel do a good job with relaying messages to the players. Barry has been around a long time. He’s had a lot of success. Anytime a guy like that wants to help out, we’re more than happy to listen.”
Is there a message in his arrival?
“I don’t think the players on the power play really need a message sent,” Sharp said. “I don’t know if that was the purpose behind Barry coming in. It’s more or less just to help. … There’s no savior that’s going to come in and solve all the problems. It’s up to the guys on the ice.”
Personnel might be the issue, especially in front of goalies.
“It seems like in the past we’ve had a good power play [with] a good net-front guy,” Kane said. “[Troy] Brouwer was good at it. [Tomas] Kopecky was really good at it, [Dustin Byfuglien] obviously, and then it seems like the players on the outside are kind of the same. [Jamal Mayers] has done a great job in front [recently].”