Blackhawks front office puts own reputations on line by firing Joel Quenneville
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It was a nice thought from Patrick Kane in regard to the winless road trip the Blackhawks wrapped up over the weekend. If only he hadn’t been sick during the trip. If only Duncan Keith hadn’t missed nearly an entire game after being ejected. If only all the players had dug a little bit deeper — maybe, just maybe, Joel Quenneville would still be their coach.
Alas, Quenneville — on the Mount Rushmore of Chicago coaches and one of the greats of his era in the NHL — was fired Tuesday, 15 games into his 11th season with the Hawks and with the team in an 0-4-1 slide that took the shine off a 6-2-2 start.
Replacing Quenneville, 60, who was the league’s longest-tenured coach, is Jeremy Colliton, 33, who instantly became its youngest. Colliton, a native of Blackie, Alberta, was in his second season as coach of the Hawks’ AHL affiliate in Rockford.
“A decision like this isn’t made on one game, one play or one specific thing,” general manager Stan Bowman said. “It’s sort of a collection of things. Certainly, the road trip was concerning. But I think even heading into that, there were some elements to our game where they weren’t where they needed to be.”
It’s a move that will be debated in bar rooms and re-litigated in the media for years to come. Given the longstanding friction that many believe existed between Bowman and the man who led three Hawks teams to Stanley Cup titles, though, it also smacked of inevitability.
Under Quenneville — the second-winningest coach in NHL history, behind Bowman’s father, Scotty — the Hawks won 452 regular-season games and 76 postseason games and raised the Cup in 2010, 2013 and 2015.
But the team lost first-round series to St. Louis and Nashville, respectively, in 2016 and 2017 — the sweep by the eighth-seeded Predators was especially gruesome — and missed the playoffs for the first time under Quenneville last season.
Team president and CEO John McDonough called Quenneville “the greatest coach in the history of our franchise.” Yet he threw his “full support” behind Bowman, who put his own reputation on the line emphatically.
Bowman, who was promoted to GM nine months after predecessor Dale Tallon hired Quenneville, disputed the common characterization of his relationship with the coach as a power struggle.
“There’s no truth to that whatsoever,” he said. “Quite the contrary. Joel has been great to me the entire time we’ve been together. I would say we have a very good relationship. Do we agree on everything over 10 years? No, we don’t. But we see the game very similarly, and I think that’s one of the reasons we were able to have as much success as we did together.”
The Hawks often sputter offensively nowadays and seemingly have fallen off a cliff defensively. The power play has been a nagging problem through the years. Some of that clearly is on Quenneville and his staff, including Kevin Dineen and Ulf Samuelsson, who also were jettisoned in the seismic shakeup.
Roster decisions have blindsided Quenneville at times, though, and that’s on Bowman. The impacts of the trades of Artemi Panarin and Niklas Hjalmarsson have been felt nightly at opposite ends of the rink.
“We’re all accountable for this,” Bowman said. “This is not just on one person today, or just on Joel or the other coaches. We all play a role in this, and we have to get better.”
According to McDonough, no consideration was given to removing Bowman instead of, or in addition to, Quenneville. McDonough expressed the front office’s full belief in the current roster — a sentiment many Hawks fans might disagree with in the strongest terms — and shot down the use of the word “rebuilding.”
“We want to win,” he said. “We want to ‘re-win.’ ”
Doing that again — ever — at the level achieved on Quenneville’s watch will be mighty difficult. There was George Halas. There was Phil Jackson. There was the magnificently mustachioed man known as “Q.” That’s the sort of company Quenneville keeps now, his run of excellence in this town officially over.