The Chicago Blackhawks made three new hires today - and a little bit of organizational history in the process.
Along with former NHLer Erik Condra (player development) and erstwhile NTDP strength coach Juan Gonzalez (strength and conditioning for AHL Rockford), the Hawks added Olympic women's gold medallist Kendall Coyne Schofield. She'll be Chicago's first female development coach ever.
Coyne Schofield is used to making noise in the hockey world: apart from her official duties on the ice with Team USA, she made major headlines when she went toe-to-toe with the NHL's best at the 2019 All-Star Game's fastest skater competition.
Now, there will of course be skeptics of this hiring and there always is when an organization does something a little different. Coyne Schofield is joining a small group of women in NHL player development roles, and that group itself only formed recently with the likes of Toronto's Hayley Wickenheiser and skating coaches such as Dawn Braid and Barb Underhill.
But don't take the NHL's lethargy as proof that Chicago is on the wrong path here. In fact, Coyne Schofield has an excellent resume, even if she never played in the NHL itself. She is a multiple Olympian after all, and more specifically, her hockey fundamentals are incredible.
Given her performance at the All-Star Game, you could probably glean that skating is a strength for Coyne Schofield and you would be right in your guess. Talk to experts and they will literally cite Coyne Schofield as the type of skater you want to emulate to get the best out of yourself. Her stride is incredible, and doubly important because she's only 5-foot-2. She's also aware of when she's on point with her skating and when she isn't, something she expressed to me in an earlier interview.
“When I get tired, I stand up more,” she said. “When I’m being powerful and explosive, I’m the lowest I can be. When I’m watching film, I’m like, ‘Oh boy, that was a long shift.’ I’m practically upright.”
This is the sort of insight young players need in the film room and Coyne Schofield has the wide knowledge base and the bona fides to deliver it.
The NHL has long been an old boys club, but that is slowly changing because franchises are recognizing that in a salary cap world, you need to grab every advantage you can and a big area for that is in front office jobs and player development.
Perhaps it's no surprise then that two of the most valuable franchises in the league, Toronto and Chicago, are also the teams that reached out to Olympic women's players to help out in their player development departments: the Leafs and Hawks have the money to spend on talent and that allows them to be innovative in their hiring. In the case of the Hawks, they've also typically had one of the largest scouting departments in the league - another area not covered by the salary cap.
No doubt there will be some that consider Coyne Schofield's hiring a "gimmick," but take gender off her resume and even the haters wouldn't bat an eye at the move. Straight-up, it's a good fit - just like the NBA's San Antonio Spurs made a great hire when they picked up Becky Hammon to join as an assistant coach back in 2014.
For too long, hockey's scope has been limited and that has been to the detriment of the sport. The analytics movement certainly helped, as teams were forced to enter a world they knew nothing about (math), so holding onto the familiar - guys that played in the NHL - was not possible. The Seattle Kraken, they of the blank slate, have already hired a number of women for their franchise, while Team USA heads into this year's world juniors with new video coach Theresa Feaster. She's the daughter of former NHL GM Jay Feaster, the guy who built a Stanley Cup champion in Tampa Bay without any hockey background whatsoever before working for AHL Hershey in the 1990s.
Talent is everywhere if you have an open mind - and often, your team can benefit because of it.