Joel Quenneville doesn’t seem like a typical “players’ coach” on the bench, not with the endless torrent of F-bombs and spittle flying from his lips, his arms waving wildly as his tie flaps in the breeze.
But it turns out he’s just an acquired taste.
“New guys come into our room and sit on the bench, and they love talking about the things they can’t believe come flying out, especially when we score goals,” Jonathan Toews said. “I won’t get into some of the stuff that goes on between our bench and the refs, but he’s got some great one-liners when we score goals. That definitely loosens the guys up a little bit.”
Despite the scowls and the screams, the intensity and intimidation, Blackhawks players love playing for Quenneville. He stays out of their business in the dressing room, leaving the managing of egos to the long-established leadership core. He lays off them between games, holding fewer practices than perhaps any coach in the league. He’s fiercely loyal to players who have helped him win in the past, and he’s an effective teacher for young guys just coming up to the NHL.
Quenneville’s steady but light hand is a big reason why he’s won three Stanley Cups in the past six seasons. It’s big reason he enters Tuesday’s game against the Nashville Predators just one win shy of matching the legendary Al Arbour for second place on the all-time victories list at 782. And it’s a big reason why the Hawks handed him a three-year contract extension on Tuesday that will keep him in Chicago through the 2019-2020 season, and will pay him about $6 million a year over those final three seasons, according to Nick Kypreos of Sportsnet.
That’s more than twice his current salary, and a sign of just how dramatically the scale for coaches’ salaries shifted when Toronto signed Mike Babcock — who has one Stanley Cup to Quenneville’s three — to an eight-year deal worth $50 million this past summer.
“I guess you could look at it in that perspective, but each negotiation’s different and that’s not really the focus, whether one contract impacts another,” Hawks GM Stan Bowman said. “We like what we have here and we want to keep it going.”
When Quenneville took over the Hawks four games into the 2008-09 season, the Hawks had played in one playoff series in the previous 10 seasons.
“In your wildest dreams, you wouldn’t have expected what happened to happen,” Quenneville said.
Quenneville loves coaching — loves being around the guys, loves teaching, loves seeing the players around him improve and adapt and evolve. But when asked what he loves most, his answer was pretty obvious.
“Winning games,” he said with a smile.
He’s done plenty of that. His .651 point percentage (343-168-69) is the best in Hawks history, and his .624 postseason winning percentage (73-44) is the best for a Hawks coach over the last 75 years. In 19 seasons as a head coach, Quenneville has a 781-451-77-110 record, and has never had a losing season. He’s only missed the playoffs twice, and his 115 career playoff wins are the most among active coaches.
Hawks senior advisor Scotty Bowman is the all-time wins leader with a staggering 1,244 victories. Quenneville would need to average about 46 wins over the next 10 years to match that.
“He wins a lot of games,” Toews said. “A number of us in here have been playing for him for a long time, and had a lot of success together. It’s cool. You hear about different milestones – different guys getting to 1,000 games or 1,000 points or winning Stanley Cups. You feel close to your teammates, but I think when your coach reaches a milestone like that, I mean that’s incredible. We’re happy and honored to be a part of that and obviously to have helped him to a certain degree get there.”
As Quenneville is quick to point out, he walked into an ideal situation in Chicago, with a young core of Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Patrick Sharp just coming into their own. But what’s most impressive about Quenneville’s run in recent seasons is how he’s kept the team at the top of the league despite losing key players nearly every summer due to the salary cap.
And like Phil Jackson before him in Chicago, Quenneville has a knack for keeping superstars happy, and working hard.
“I think the sign of a great coach is to be able to get your most talented players to play their best, and that’s not easy to do,” Hawks GM Stan Bowman said. “That’s the sign of a coach who’s successful — they’re able to get their top players to play well and to do it often. Joel’s got a great feel for that, so we want to keep it going.”