RALEIGH, N.C. — Ask a Blackhawks player what he likes about Joel Quenneville, and you’ll often hear the word “consistency.”
“It’s just that consistency — we know what to expect,” Jonathan Toews said. “We know the ability that we have and we know what’s going to happen when we play well, and what to expect when we don’t play so well. There’s that understanding there between the players and the coaches, and we just keep going forward doing the things that we know are going to make us successful.”
Well, how’s this for consistency: In 18 seasons as an NHL coach, Quenneville has never been below .500 — not even if you count overtime losses as regular losses. Not once. That’s how a coach gets to 750 wins, as Quenneville, at just 56 years old, did Monday night against the Carolina Hurricanes.
Sometime next season, Quenneville likely will pass New York Islanders coaching great Al Arbour (782) and become the second-winningest coach in NHL history, behind only the legendary Scotty Bowman, who has an unthinkable 1,244 victories.
“I’ve been fortunate, been around real good teams,” Quenneville said. “Right from the outset, started with a real good team in St. Louis. We had some good teams even when I was an assistant coach with the Quebec Nordiques. With the Avalanche, we had excellent teams. The timing’s been fortunate in a lot of ways to work with great players, a lot of top teams, working with some great management people, as well. I’m in the right place a lot, so I’m very happy — exactly happy — with where I’m at right now.”
Indeed, Quenneville hasn’t had any reclamation projects in his career. In St. Louis from 1996-2004, he coached the likes of Brett Hull, Pierre Turgeon, Pavol Demitra and Chris Pronger. In Colorado from 2005-2008, he had Joe Sakic and Alex Tanguay. And in Chicago, he took over from Denis Savard just as Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Patrick Sharp, among others, came into their own, leading them over the hump and to two Stanley Cups.
Sure beats coaching ragtag groups of young, struggling players. But as another Chicago coach, Phil Jackson, can attest, managing a star-laden team is its own challenge.
“He does a lot of great things,” Brent Seabrook said. “Gives us a lot of chances to rest. We’ve played a lot of hockey the last five or six years, and he knows the temperature in the room and when guys need a break. He does a good job of things like that, keeping us prepared but also keeping us excited to be at the rink.”
The flip side could be found on the other bench Monday night at PNC Arena. Carolina’s Bill Peters — who coached Corey Crawford, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Bryan Bickell during his three seasons as the head coach of the AHL’s Rockford IceHogs before joining Mike Babcock’s coaching staff in Detroit for the 2011-12 season — is in his first season as head coach of the Hurricanes. His team is playing out the string in another lost season, but is showing some competitive fire down the stretch. After a disastrous start, Carolina entered Monday’s game a competitive 16-12-6 since New Year’s.
Peters said Quenneville and his staff were in constant communication with the IceHogs during his time there.
“When you’re around Chicago, and you’re around Scotty Bowman, and you’re around Joel Quenneville and guys who’ve won and won a lot, if you’re paying attention, it’s an opportunity to learn,” Peters said.
While Quenneville’s never known losing as a coach, he certainly knew it as a player. In 13 seasons as a defenseman, he made the playoffs just five times, and won just one playoff series.
If anything, it’s made his coaching success that much more satisfying.
“When you’ve got a team that’s ready to win, that’s what your intentions are from the start of the season,” Quenneville said. “Whether it’s easier or not [with a top-tier team], I think it’s way more enjoyable to be on the winning side of things.”