Jeremy Colliton safe as Blackhawks’ coach, but pressure is on entering third year

Despite fans’ frustration, Colliton will almost certainly return as coach for the 2020-21 season, but the expectations will be higher for him.

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Jeremy Colliton still has job security as Blackhawks coach for now.

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Jeremy Colliton will almost certainly return for his third season as the Blackhawks’ coach in 2020-21.

Interim president Danny Wirtz has gone out of his way to publicly express “words of support” for Colliton and general manager Stan Bowman. And Bowman has stood loyally behind his handpicked coach.

Colliton’s even-tempered personality, communication-oriented coaching style and stubborn devotion to his system and hockey beliefs all remain popular in the Hawks’ front office.

But on Friday, Bowman, for one of the first times in the last two years, offered a blunt critique of the Hawks’ on-ice performance under Colliton. 

Asked about the Hawks conceding the most scoring chances in the league this season, Bowman said the Hawks’ management “would all agree” they “need to improve in that area,” then dove into exactly what went wrong.

“We have a lot of players who have a lot of offensive skills, and they want to make things happen to help the team win,” Bowman said. “In the process of doing that, it’s a bit of a double-edged sword. You can create some really good opportunities . . . [but] you can put yourself in tough spots.

“The mentality of our group [needs] more awareness [that] what you do in the moment can affect something 20-30 seconds later, and you can put yourself and your team in a bad spot. That seems to happen probably too often with our group.”

He added he wasn’t solely calling out the team’s younger players, noting the “veterans were very guilty of this,” as well.

Those comments seem to be directed at the players more so than Colliton, and they’re not exactly Simon Cowell-level critical at that.

But compared to Bowman’s media sessions at midseason (January) and at the trade deadline (late February) — when the Hawks’ outlook looked unquestionably worse than it does now, but when he exclusively discussed the positives in the team’s performance — they do represent a significant change in tone.

Expectations are growing, and the pressure is, too, for Colliton’s third year in charge.

In his first season, he was tasked with replacing a legend in Joel Quenneville, the schedule offered very little practice time during his first two months and the Hawks underwent a significant transition. 

This past season, the Hawks slowly improved as the year went on but still finished below .500. The briefly exciting playoff run nonetheless provided a glimpse of what they can achieve.

“A year ago at this time, we were trying to build a foundation,” Bowman said. “In the middle of the season, we got to where I felt we were not going back to the baseline and the foundation as much. We were then trying to go to that next level.

“When we picked up after the pause, that’s what I saw. We were no longer talking internally, and even amongst the team, about the foundation and the way we want to play. We were talking about how we’re going to attack the other team.”

Colliton will be tasked with making the Hawks a contender — or, at least, a deserved playoff team. 

His honeymoon period has ended. The logistical challenges now apply universally to all teams in the coronavirus era. The Hawks’ immediate window of contention, with their old core aging by the year and their young core starting to need expensive second contracts, is closing.

Colliton has run out of time to implement that aforementioned baseline. It should be ingrained by now. Next season, Colliton should be able to use his coaching time to build upon it, perfecting the nuances in the Hawks’ game.

If that proves to be the case, the front office’s confidence in him — in spite of the fan base’s frustration — will be validated. If not, his current job security might vanish.

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