Coach Q Fired After 10 Seasons.
Will His Replacement Last 10 Months?
The biggest news in the hockey world on Tuesday — and probably for this entire week — was the firing of Chicago Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville. Because when a team fires the second-winningest coach in NHL history, it’s kind of a big deal.
Quenneville’s departure comes on the heels of a five-game losing streak and a 6-6-3 record to start the 2018-19 season. Jeremy Colliton, the head coach of the Blackhawks AHL affiliate, was named Quenneville’s successor. Assistant coaches Ulf Samuelsson and Kevin Dineen were also let go, while Barry Smith was moved from the ‘Hawks front office to an assistant coaching role.
Like a lot of Blackhawks fans, I am disappointed that Coach Q was fired. Quenneville was to the Blackhawks what Mike Ditka was to the Bears or Phil Jackson was to the Bulls. Yes, beyond the obvious point that all three have mustaches, all three were the coaches during their team’s most-dominant — and therefore, most-popular — eras. Whenever “The Quenneville Era” will be mentioned in future conversations, it will no doubt be remembered as an extremely successful time in Blackhawks history. The team made the playoffs in the first nine seasons with Quenneville behind the bench, before missing the postseason in his tenth year. Most significantly, the Blackhawks won three Stanley Cup Championships in a six-year span with Quenneville at the helm.
Although Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman, President and CEO John McDonough and Team Owner Rocky Wirtz pondered this decision for weeks, it still feels rash; a bit knee-jerk of a reaction to a season that started out strong but fell off the rails just as quickly. It was only last season when Quenneville’s Blackhawks lost more games than they won, and much of that can be attributed to instability in net when Corey Crawford went down with injuries. But Q wasn’t getting the best out of his team anymore; not last year, and not this year. And as it has been said ad nauseam, it is easier to fire a coach than an entire team.
Still, win or lose, I’m going to miss the guy, as well as the sense of stability he brought to the team for 10 seasons. There is something reassuring about having the same head coach year after year, and that the Blackhawks were willing to stick with Q through thick and thin — from those two rebuilding years between the 2010 and 2013 Cup Championships, to that disappointing first-round playoff exit in 2017.
That all said, maybe this coaching change will fire up the Blackhawks, particularly the five who played under Colliton with Rockford last season.
Colliton was primarily a minor-league player during his eight-year career. He retired at 27 due to post-concussion syndrome, and coached in Sweden’s second-tier league for three-and-a-half seasons before returning to North America to coach the AHL Rockford IceHogs. In his one season in the AHL, he compiled a 40-28-4-4 record and led the team to the Western Conference Finals. This season, he was 7-3-0-1 before getting promoted.
At 33 years of age, Colliton is the youngest head coach in the NHL, but surprisingly, not the youngest NHL head coach of all time; that honor goes to Gary Green, who was named the Washington Capitals head coach in 1979 at age 26. The adjective “Interim” has not been placed in front of Colliton’s title of “Head Coach,” but I will bet my Joel Quenneville rookie card that Colliton will be replaced before the start of next season.
This is not the Mike Keenan/Darryl Sutter situation in the early 1990s, where the Blackhawks had to promote Sutter or risk losing him to another team.
Rather, there were not many quality coaching candidates available at this time. (John Stevens? Pass.) So, Colliton is the guy, at least for now. If Bowman planned for Colliton to fill the Blackhawks head coaching role on a more permanent basis, why did he only fill one assistant coaching spot? Why weren’t either Derek King, Sheldon Brookbank, or both also promoted from Rockford?
Chicago isn’t a small-market NHL team that will make do with any coach; at least not since the Alpo Suhonen days. When a higher-profile or more-experienced coaching candidate comes along — here’s hoping it’s Bruce Boudreau! — look for Bowman to move Colliton to the other assistant coaching role. Assuming, of course, that Bowman is still around by then. ■
Follow Sal Barry on Twitter @PuckJunk.