Take Paul MacLean, for example.
Paul MacLean played 719 NHL games. He then coached an International Hockey League team for three years before he got his first crack as an NHL assistant in 1996 — a decade and a half after he started his pro hockey career.
Oh, but wait.
A year later, in 1997, MacLean was back in the IHL for three more years as a head coach, followed by two in the UHL before he finally returned to the NHL for good as an assistant in 2002. Now, he’s head coach of the Ottawa Senators.
A guy who played more than 700 NHL games had to coach eight seasons of minor league hockey, then spend eight more as an NHL assistant before he landed his first NHL head coaching job.
OK, close your eyes for a few seconds. Now, open them and re-read the news that Jeff Blashill was named head coach of the Grand Rapids Griffins.
Extraordinarily talented people do unordinary things.
Like, run a college hockey team for one season … and then get hired by the Detroit Red Wings.
Jeff Blashill is not on a normal coaching career track.
Which is why his move to Grand Rapids after one season in Detroit is anything but a demotion:
- He’s 38 years-old and, aside from last season in Detroit, he has zero pro experience. Zero. Not even as coach of a team called the Quad City Mallards (which MacLean was).
- This is about career development for Blashill. Was it unbelievable that Mike Babcock called, seemingly out of nowhere, and offered him a job last summer? Absolutely. For many of us, that would be the career mountaintop.
- But not for Blashill. His goal is to be an NHL head coach. A head job in the AHL is an entirely normal step in the process. And, lately, it’s become one of the fastest routes to an NHL bench. Look at Tampa. Look at Dallas. Look at Pittsburgh. For Blashill, coaching the Griffins is the best way to coach the Red Wings. Or, if they’re smart, the Blackhawks.
This guy isn’t normal. Which is why it won’t be a surprise when there’s another press conference in Detroit or Chicago or somewhere else in the next few years.