The Chicago Blackhawks were firing Coach Joel Quenneville as commuters were on their way to work this morning. As word spread around town, the most common question on everyone’s minds was why? Or why now? The Blackhawks have been in a downward spiral as a franchise for several years. Surely the team could use a seasoned coach with three Stanley Cups to help guide them back to playoff contention. Unfortunately for Joel Quenneville he lost a power struggle that has been brewing for years. Unfortunately for the franchise firing Joel Quenneville does not solve the many issues facing the team after he’s gone.
Firing Coach Joel Quenneville
Joel Quenneville’s has coached the Colorado Avalanche, St. Louis Blues, and the Blackhawks. His career coaching record is 890 wins, 532 losses, 77 ties, and 137 overtime losses. That works out to a .609 winning percentage over his 22-year career. His record with the Blackhawks is an even more impressive 452 wins, 249 losses. and 96 overtime losses for a .627 winning percentage. Quenneville’s 1636 games coached and 890 wins are second to only one man. That man is hockey legend Scotty Bowman who was hired by Rocky Wirtz to be a senior consultant after Wirtz took over the Blackhawks in 2007.
Scotty Bowman is a true legend in the sport of hockey. His arrival in Chicago ushered in a new regime for the Blackhawks. Dale Tallon was shown the door and Bowman’s son Stan Bowman was promoted to general manager. Scotty Bowman also brought in his longtime assistant Barry Smith. Smith had followed Bowman around the NHL for 11 seasons before being hired and Blackhawks Director of Player Personnel in 2011.
Scotty Bowman’s meddling influence on the Blackhawks has been an issue before for Quenneville. Back in 2012 when the Blackhawks were mired in a losing streak Bowman installed Barry Smith to review the team’s practices. This did not sit well with Quenneville and ended pretty quickly. As covered by Jay Zawaski for chicagonow.com :
“Yesterday, the Blackhawks decided to let Smith on the ice for practice to assist in drills…, especially the power play. When asked after practice, Quenneville brushed it off as another set of eyes at practice. What else is he going to say?”
Fast forward to today and low and behold Barry Smith was named as an assistant coach to newcomer Jeremy Colliton. This leaves no doubt in many minds that Scotty Bowman was the one who orchestrated his son’s decision on firing Quenneville.
As covered previously, the Blackhawks are facing a dilemma with their core. Here are the numbers of the “Blackhawks for life” contracts all of which contain a no-movement clause:
- Patrick Kane age 29 – $10.5 million per year through 2023 (NMC)
- Jonathan Toews age 30 – $10.5 million per year through 2023 (NMC)
- Brent Seabrook age 33 – $6.875 million per year through 2024 (NMC)
- Duncan Keith age 35 – $5,538,462 million per year through 2023 (NMC)
These as well as the contracts for:
- Brandon Saad age 26 – $6 million per year through 2021
- Artem Anisimov age 30 – $4.550 million per year through 2021
- Corey Crawford age 33 – $6 million per year through 2020
Per Capfriendly.com these seven contracts eat up around $50 million of the annual salary cap of $79.5 million. For the record, “cap guru” Stan Bowman gave out every one of these contracts except for Brandon Saad‘s. Because of this Bowman has struggled to fill the remaining roster spots for years due to these anchor contracts eating up much of the cap space. Bowman has also been very unsuccessful the last two off-seasons trying to acquire free agents on a shoestring budget. This inability to put a competitive team on the ice made it nearly impossible for Joel Quenneville to coach them back into playoff relevance.
Here is this dilemma as stated by Rick Telander of the Chicago Sun-Times:
“There’s another ancillary saying in sports: You can’t fire the whole front office, so fire the coach. Remember, Q didn’t make the trades, the draft picks, the salary-cap decisions, etc.”
Add in the impending dilemma with 9 Blackhawks players becoming restricted free agents after this season Stan Bowman’s job will be harder than ever.
Since being anointed as general manager in 2010 Stan Bowman has had a less than stellar draft record. Over the past several seasons the decline of the Blackhawks defence corps has become a problem for the team. At a time when the defence drafts picks Bowman made should be blossoming, there are only two of his picks playing at the NHL level. Stephen Johns (Dallas Stars) was drafted by Bowman in 2010 and Henri Jokiharju who was drafted in 2017. The other 14 defence draft picks by Bowman 2010-2014 have not been able to crack the NHL level as of yet. Fingers are still crossed one or more of them will make it someday.
This lack of success has caused Bowman to look elsewhere to improve his struggling defence corps. Unfortunately for the team, the defence is going to struggle until some of the more recent draft picks can take that next step like Jokiharju. Until then Corey Crawford and Cam Ward will be in a shooting gallery trying to survive.
Jeremy Colliton is taking over a team in a funk, on a five game losing streak, above all looking for an identity. Colliton’s record coaching the Rockford Ice Hogs was a good one during his first season. For more on Colliton check out this from Dave Melton from Secondcityhockey.com :
“Rockford flourished under Colliton’s guidance, reaching the Western Conference Finals of the Calder Cup Playoffs for the first time in franchise history. Rockford went 40-28-4 in the regular season before catching fire in the postseason, sweeping the Chicago Wolves and the Manitoba Moose in the first two rounds.”
Colliton becomes the youngest head coach in the NHL at 33 years of age. His work will be cut out for him while replacing a three time Stanley Cup winning coach. Colliton will need to win the team over and challenge them to turn their embarrassment into an effort. The Blackhawks players have been served notice they need to improve. It’s time to regroup and play better in all aspects of the game.
The only potential problem is Scotty Bowman’s plant Barry Smith. Colliton and his team will undoubtedly be under a microscope as the season goes forward. With Smith as an assistant coach, there will always be a cloud over the locker room. If things do not go well, the pressure on Colliton will grow. As a result, the players need to realize this and perform better going forward.
Quenneville paid the ultimate price today due to general manager Stan Bowman’s lack of success with the roster, contracts, and salary cap. Unfortunately, Bowman and Director of Player Personnel Barry Smith get a pass. Both of them should have been held accountable for the rosters put on the ice the last few years, but with Scotty Bowman in Rocky Wirtz’s ear that wasn’t ever going to happen. It was put on Joel Quenneville’s shoulders even though he did not make the personnel decisions leading to the recent decline of Blackhawks. Consequently, Quenneville won’t have to wait long to be a head coach again. Somewhere in St. Louis and other towns with struggling NHL teams there is a growing call for an out of work Stanley Cup winning coach to lead them to the promised land.
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