The Blackhawks have committed to Jeremy Colliton as the coach to run their rebuild.
Colliton signed a two-year contract extension Tuesday on the eve of his third season as the Hawks’ coach. He had been entering the final season of the three-year deal he signed when he replaced Joel Quenneville in November 2018. Still the youngest coach in the NHL, Colliton turns 36 on Wednesday.
‘‘The mindset is, I’m just going to keep trying to get better every day and I’m going to do everything I can to help the players get better,’’ Colliton said, relishing the early birthday gift. ‘‘But the biggest change is just having gone through two seasons and a couple of training camps and a playoff situation, [I’ve learned about] trusting my gut, trusting my instincts.’’
Despite having little success in Colliton’s first two seasons behind the bench (62-58-17 in the regular season and 4-5 in the postseason), the Hawks’ announcement cements their allegiance to him as they enter a new era.
The extension will keep Colliton in charge until the summer of 2023, the same time the contracts of general manager Stan Bowman and core players Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith and Alex DeBrincat end. That appears to be the evaluation point for Bowman’s and CEO Danny Wirtz’s newly enacted visions.
The extension also tightens the close relationship between Colliton and Bowman and affirms their steadfast belief in each other.
‘‘The way we see the game, the direction we’re heading and what we want to focus on in the coming years, he’s a great candidate to move that forward,’’ Bowman said. ‘‘Jeremy’s strength as a coach is his communication and relationship with younger players, and that’s something we’ll need. . . . We’ll need those young players to take a step in their career. Jeremy has embraced that. He loves working with them.’’
Indeed, Colliton’s communication skills, approachability — he was a former minor-league player and captain himself — and strong track record of developing prospects at previous coaching stops in Rockford and Mora, Sweden, are traits often cited as strengths.
He helped center Kirby Dach and defenseman Adam Boqvist improve significantly in the course of their 2019-20 rookie seasons, and he’ll be asked to do the same with defenseman Ian Mitchell and others this season.
The Hawks’ organizational shift from a veteran-laden team on the downside of contention when Colliton took over to a future-oriented team focused on integrating prospects plays into his wheelhouse perfectly.
‘‘I love helping guys get in the league and, hopefully, excel in the league,’’ Colliton said. ‘‘The more guys we’re able to develop and turn into productive NHL players, then we have a chance to be a really good team. The goal is not to have just one year where we’re good or where we have a chance to win; it’s to be an elite team forever.’’
Colliton’s relationships with the Hawks’ remaining veterans, many of whom remain deeply indebted to Quenneville, took longer to smooth over. In defenseman Brent Seabrook’s case, it never has smoothed. But players such as Toews, Kane and Keith gradually have come to appreciate the mentor roles Colliton has asked them to fill.
Still, Colliton’s lack of an old-school authoritative personality and stubborn dedication to his systems have drawn criticism at times.
‘‘You could call it a weakness or a strength, but I’m fairly even-keeled,’’ Colliton said. ‘‘Don’t get too high or too low.’’
Bowman awkwardly alluded to Colliton’s schemes as one area in which he hopes to see him grow during the course of this extension.
‘‘Any system can work; it’s really trying to get your players to execute that system,’’ Bowman said. ‘‘Because . . . regardless of what system you’re playing, the team that executes better is the team that’s going to win. That’s the thing we’re trying to nail down.’’