Blackhawks Should Officially Offer Ryan Huska the Head Coach Job

On June 20, the Chicago Blackhawks’ world was shaken…for 11 minutes, as NHL studio analyst Kevin Weekes released a video to his Twitter account stating that they were close to hiring Ryan Huska as their new head coach. Although, a few minutes later, he redacted the statement and noted that the hiring process for the position remains fluid in Chicago as they continue to work on it.

There are two things to process with this news. One is that it looks like current head coach Derek King will not be returning to the team next season, although he is still considered a candidate, and two, Huska looks like a name that is a serious candidate for the job. If that’s the case, they’re looking in the right direction.

Huska’s Coaching Career

Huska is a name that has flown under the radar, yet, his resume is quite full as he has been coaching since 2002. He started as an assistant coach with the Kelowna Rockets of the Western Hockey League (WHL) from 2002 to 2007 and was named head coach in June 2007. He stayed in that role until 2014, maintaining a winning record through all seven years of his tenure, as they made the playoffs every season. They also won the WHL Championship in 2009 in only his second year of coaching. Finally, during his final season with Kelowna in 2013-14, he helped the team set a franchise record in wins with 57.

Ryan Huska Calgary Flames
Ryan Huska assistant coach of the Calgary Flames (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

In June 2014, he was named head coach of the Adirondack Flames (now the Stockton Heat) of the American Hockey League (AHL), the affiliate team of the Calgary Flames. He stayed in that role for four years until 2018. During his time with Adirondack/Stockton, he maintained his winning ways, keeping a .500 and above record, although they only made the playoffs once during his tenure. Then, he got noticed by the big leagues and was named assistant coach of the Flames in May 2018. He has been in that role for the last four years and is currently in charge of the team’s defense.

Some other fun facts are that he was an assistant coach for Team Canada at the World Junior Championship on two separate occasions and won a silver medal in 2011 and a bronze medal in 2012. He was also drafted by the Blackhawks in the third round of the 1993 NHL Draft (76th overall) and played in one NHL game in his career. His debut game with the Hawks came against the Flames in Jan. 1998, which is a fun coincidence.

Huska’s Fit with the Blackhawks

Regarding the hockey side of coaching, Huska seems like a coach that can right the ship, especially on defense. The defense has been an Achilles heel for the team for the past five years, and while they have tried different coaches, such as former head coach Jeremy Colliton and former assistant coach Marc Crawford, nothing has clicked. Defense does win championships, so it is essential to focus on that aspect, and Huska has had success with the Flames on that front. During his four years, the Flames’ highest goals-against average (GAA) came in 2019-20, when they allowed 2.87 goals per game. The Blackhawks GAA has not been below three since 2019-20 when they allowed 2.89 goals per game.

Related: Flames Won’t Get By on Defense Alone

Ryan Huska

The Flames’ penalty kill has been respectable as well, as they’ve always placed in the middle of the pack, averaging 13th in the last four years. This past season was their best on the penalty kill with Huska behind the bench. Besides placing sixth during the regular season with an 83.2% success rate, they were third in the league in the playoffs with an 86.11% success rate. The Blackhawks’ penalty kill ranked ninth-worst in the league this season with a 76.23% success rate, as they have ranked in the bottom 10 of the penalty kill rankings two out of the last three seasons. Chicago struggles to keep the puck out of the net, and a fresh perspective from someone like him can help the team immensely.

The other thing that stands out about Huska is his experience with development. Because he has worked at various levels before the NHL, including the WHL and AHL, and found success, he knows what it takes for players to take the next step in their careers. The Blackhawks are the seventh-youngest team in the NHL, with an average age of 26.28. Since they are still young and have a lot to learn before competing again, they’ll need a coach who knows how to get the most out of the players so they can progress. That value alone has to be very attractive from Chicago’s standpoint.

Huska From the Players’ Perspective

Huska seems to have the personality that the Blackhawks are looking for in a head coach. General manager Kyle Davidson stated in May that the qualities that they’re looking for include great communication skills and one that holds players accountable. According to players that have played for him, that description hits right on the money.

Andrew Mangiapane, one of the star players for Calgary this season, stated, “Honestly, to me as a person, to me as a player, he’s [Huska] meant everything, I went in there as a rookie. It was tough. But it’s what you needed. He was strict but he was also attentive to details. He wants you to succeed.”

Garnet Hathaway, former Flame and current Washington Capitals’ forward stated, “He’ll pull you in his office for one clip. At the time you may think hey, this doesn’t mean a lot. But time and time again, it always seems to come back to help. It’s that repetition. Knowing what the right play is. You won’t always make the right play at the right time, we’re all human. But at least try to make the right play and to know what the right play is, I think that’s what he’s helped a lot with. He’s a supportive coach, but he’s detailed and he’s critical in a way that helps.” (from ‘How Ryan Huska helped the Flames young core succeed by focusing on development over wins’, The AthleticNHL, 3/27/19).

When looking at head coaches, you want to hear from the players directly and these descriptions speak volumes. I’m sure that will play a big part in the hiring process.

Related: 5 Chicago Blackhawks Head Coach Candidates for 2022-23

Huska might be a name you were unfamiliar with until the news linked him to the Blackhawks. I was too, but looking at his resume, I think the team would be doing the right thing if they were to officially offer him the head coaching job. The proof is in the pudding, as he has brought a winning touch wherever he has gone. He knows how to get results out of his team and look no further than Calgary this season, as they ranked sixth in the entire NHL and were first in the Pacific Division. The Flames also seemed to improve year after year with him on the staff.

Huska’s name might not be as flashy as other available candidates like Barry Trotz, but he could be the perfect coach for the ongoing rebuild. Although the news of his hiring was incorrect at the moment, it still could happen, as Davidson stated they wanted to name a head coach closer to the NHL Draft, which starts July 7. Hiring Huska could be the start of better days to come.

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