Joel Quenneville was a played-out coach who had lost the team during the regular season, the Blackhawks no longer playing hard for him. Quenneville was a panicky mess early on, changing the line combinations not just every game, not just every period, but seemingly every shift for weeks on end. And Quenneville was a fool who had cost the Hawks the Western Conference final after scratching Teuvo Teravainen and Antoine Vermette in Game 3.
Here’s what Quenneville actually is: A three-time Stanley Cup champion, a sure-fire Hall of Famer, and a Chicago icon.
Like his team, Quenneville was criticized heavily by fans and pundits alike throughout a lackluster regular season. But like his team, he was left standing in the end, with one of his finest coaching jobs yet. Thirty-seven years to the day he was drafted 21st overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs, Quenneville further cemented his legacy as a coaching legend in his own time.
“I think you should get better in a job every day,” Quenneville said. “You get a little bit more experience. You get different situations. You know the players better, the league better, might know your opponent better. Every season’s different. You’ve got to evolve a little bit with the way the game has changed.”
He won again this year with a new assistant coach in Kevin Dineen, and a new goaltending coach in Jimmy Waite (in fact, he had a different staff for all three Cups, a remarkable and under appreciated fact).
He did it with basically four defensemen, his stubborn confidence in their ability to withstand all the minutes and all the punishment vindicated in the end.
He pulled the trigger on his nuclear option of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane on the same line at just the right time, when Anaheim proved deep enough to stop two good lines, but not one great line. He then split them back apart when Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman proved good enough to stop any one line.
He outfoxed Anaheim’s Bruce Boudreau, winning the matchup game. And he made Tampa Bay’s Jon Cooper look overmatched in the Final.
Sure, he’s got a supremely gifted team with which to work. But Quenneville, the third-winningest coach in NHL history, has a proven knack for pushing the right buttons at just the right times.
“Joel has done an incredible job of just gauging where we’re at throughout some of these series, knowing what our team needs to do, what look we need to change as far as matchups or lineup combinations, things like that,” Toews said. “He identifies things that will make us stronger going into the later games in the series. As individuals, he also finds ways to enable you to bring out your best. It’s just been a great combination, the players that we have, the leadership group we have in the room, combining that with the type of coaching staff we’ve had over the years.”
The one notable gaffe was his decision in Game 3 against Anaheim to scratch Teravainen and Vermette for Kris Versteeg and Joakim Nordstrom. The Hawks lost that game because of a pathetic power play, not because of the absence of two guys who, to that point, hadn’t contributed much. But it was a move that undercut the Hawks’ biggest strength — their scoring depth. Quenneville tacitly acknowledged the mistake by putting them back in for Game 4, and while it’s likely just a coincidence, the two took off from there. Vermette had the game-winning goal in double-overtime of Game 4, and adding two game-winners during the Stanley Cup Final. Teravainen, meanwhile, had three goals and four assists following the benching.
As it always seems to for Quenneville, everything worked out in the end — the only time of year that actually matters.
“The important thing is it’s about the team, accountability,” Quenneville said of his coaching.“A lot of things go into it. To me it’s never about me, it’s about the group around us, [trying] to maximize everybody’s effectiveness. Team comes first, go from there.”