Joel Quenneville and Stan Bowman will be back with the Blackhawks next season, not because of what they’ve done in the past, but because of what they can do in the future.
That’s the way team president John McDonough put it Thursday, finally ending the speculation over the job security of the head coach and general manager who helped bring three Stanley Cups to Chicago.
“I believe in continuity [and] they’ve had an incredible body of success,” McDonough said. “We’re not tethered to the past. This has been a very disappointing year and our expectations are incredibly high. We’re not going to deviate from those expectations. But I believe both Stan and Joel are the guys that are going to bring this back.”
The news was well-received in the Hawks dressing room.
“That’s great,” Patrick Kane said. “You’re not going to find a better coach than Q.”
Said Jonathan Toews: “A lot of things went sideways this year. … Everyone’s committed to fixing the issues and the problems that we faced this year, and the same goes for Joel and Stan.”
McDonough spoke with Bowman last week about the GM’s future, and Quenneville’s. McDonough then had a lengthy chat with Quenneville on Thursday morning, three days before the end of the first losing season of his 21-year coaching career. Quenneville has two years left on his contract at about $12 million, but the Hawks’ second-half free fall raised the possibility that his message had grown stale after a wildly successful decade.
McDonough said he didn’t believe that was the case. And he pointed to the encouraging progress of young stars in the making, such as Nick Schmaltz, Alex DeBrincat and Vinnie Hinostroza, as a major point in Quenneville’s favor.
“Joel’s done a very good job with the young players,” McDonough said. “And I think it’s inspiring to see that there are a lot of good young players on the way. I know at one point, that was kind of a knock on Joel, that he wasn’t proficient at coaching young players. Nothing could be further from the truth.”
McDonough pointed out that a year ago at this time, the Hawks were one of the favorites to win the Stanley Cup. Since then, they’ve been swept by the Predators, traded away Artemi Panarin and Niklas Hjalmarsson, unsuccessfully reimagined their roster with grittier players, U-turned into a full-blown youth movement, and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
Corey Crawford missed the final three months of the season with a head injury the team tried to keep under wraps. Brandon Saad struggled in his return. Jonathan Toews’ production dropped. Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook took a step back. Basically anything that could have gone wrong, went wrong.
McDonough said he’s “very optimistic” that Crawford will be ready to play next season. And while the Bruins, Penguins and Kings all took a few years to retool on the fly, McDonough said the bar will not be lowered in Chicago. The timetable, as ever, is now.
He said there’ll be some “deep and heavy conversations” about how to fix the team, and that the core needs to be better, the special teams need to be better (Quenneville will have final say on any staff changes, he said), and that Quenneville, Bowman and McDonough himself need to be better.
But one awful season wasn’t enough for him to blow it all up and start over. Not after everything the trio has accomplished in the last decade.
“The standards are very high here,” McDonough said. “People want to put a brand on it. They want to [call it] a retool, or a rebuild. I’d like to re-win. I think these teams come in all shapes and sizes. You’ve seen a lot of teams that missed the playoffs last year that are now back in the hunt to win the Stanley Cup. I want that to be the Chicago Blackhawks going forward. I have confidence in Stan and Joel figuring this out.”
Quenneville said he had tried to tune out the speculation over the past couple of months, but clearly was relieved to get the green light.
“We’re excited today,” he said. “It’s been a tough year, but we all expect and look forward to getting back to where we want to be, and that’s a contending team, and learning from this experience.”