Chicago Blackhawks: The Coach That Got Away

While we are all wondering when the season is going to begin and what the ‘Hawks will look like this year, there continue to be some things to think about and reflect on.

As far as the fans have been told, we are to be excited about the ‘Hawks prospects such as Brandon Saad, Adam Clendening and others. At the same time, there are big questions around their development and potential. For instance, who is going to work with these kids on skills in order to get them to the next level?

Up until the end of the 2010-11 season, that was an easy answer for the ‘Hawks brass as they had a gem in special skills coach Paul Vincent. And it wasn’t just the prospects Paul would work with, it was everybody.

Since the early 1970’s, Vincent has been a hockey guru, working with kids of all ages. It’s safe to say, since his departure we have not seen the same in-season development of our beloved ‘Hawks that was in play when he was around.

How is this fresh on my mind? Last night, I caught up with an old friend. My old prep school roommate, former Northeastern Husky and East Coast League star Leon Hayward, continues to be a close friend of mine. Leon and I took in a Red Sox game last night at Fenway and chatted about Leon’s father, Paul Vincent.

Recently, former ‘Hawks GM, Dale Tallon inked Vincent to a one-year deal to work with the Florida Panthers. A great gain for a young club looking to break through. Players like Kris Versteeg, Tomas Kopeckey and Brian Campbell are all too familiar with Vincent and without a doubt are looking forward to seeing their old friend in south Florida.

When it comes to what Vincent brought to the table in Chicago, it’s simple. They do not raise the cup in 2010 without him. Period.

When Vincent began with the ‘Hawks, they were one of the youngest teams in the league, had raw talent, but were still considered too green and inexperienced.

The added value that Vincent brought is a highly sophisticated, mental and physical approach to skill work in hockey. It’s not just working with a player on the game itself, but having a personality and mentor that is not directly linked to a players’ spot on the squad, ice time or stats.

Vincent’s track record with the ‘Hawks is unparalleled and consider the results.

If you recall, a very young Dustin Byfuglien needed to hone his game and change his approach. Well, enter Vincent to work with him on his skating, hands, using his body appropriately and teaching him to think more critically about the sport. When Vincent and ‘Big Buff” were part of the Indian head sweater, these two constantly worked together during and after practice.

Also take note that while Patrick Sharp has always been an excellent skater, his shot had yet to be supremely developed. Enter P.V. And it wasn’t just Sharp’s shot, the winger was playing in the middle during the ‘Hawks 2010 cup run. Who was there to work with him in the face-off dot? P.V.

Speaking of face-offs. If you are wondering how Jonathan Toews became one of the premier face-off guys in the league? Vincent is the answer.

And boy, oh boy—wouldn’t it be nice to Vincent around this season if the ‘Hawks are planning on placing Patrick Kane in the center position? Wouldn’t it be helpful to have Vincent work with Nick Leddy so ‘Hawks fans don’t have to wince every time we see Leddy go into a corner battle in the ‘Hawks zone?

It’s not just the young guns or prospects either. In the 2008-09 season, Brent Sopel was a lost cause with the ‘Hawks. He was injured, frustrated and was not a part of the ‘Hawks plans. He then began working closely with Vincent. The final chapter of that story saw Sopel as a critical piece on a cup-winning team.

What Vincent brings to the table is beyond wins and losses. It goes beyond just the team concept. His coaching tactics can dramatically change a players career, financial considerations and lifestyle. For players like Sharp and Byfuglien, it ultimately contributed to their current contracts.

Vincent continues to run MAX Hockey Development in the Boston area. He works with kids of all ages, grooming each individual to be a better person and hockey player. If you are a budding prep school, college, or pro player, Vincent’s name is synonymous with hockey on the east coast.

Personally, he is a man with integrity and class and was kind enough to get this crazy ‘Hawks fan in the building for Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals in 2010. A night I’ll never forget.

So this coming season, and last season for that matter, if you have concerns about Bryan Bickell, Michael Frolik, Nick Leddy and others, I share your worries. I worry because they do not have Vincent around to work with, and that’s too bad.

Hindsight is always 20/20, but the ante should have been re-uped for Vincent in Chicago. But in the end, a GM in Florida, that is now missed in the Windy City, knows firsthand the value of a special skills coach like Vincent.

Chicago’s loss is Florida’s gain, and if Vincent stays with the Panthers for more than one season, Miami could end up having one hell of a party in the not so distant future.

Thanks for reading.