Today is the last day of the Olympic Break, so it is fitting that today will be the last post in the Olympic Break Report Card series. We have already covered goaltending, offense, and defense. Thus, we have saved the arguably best part for last: coaching.
Let’s start with head coach Joel Quenneville, who has carried on the tradition of mustachioed Chicago Championship Coaches. Coach Q ranks third in all-time regular-season coaching victories. To date, he has 695 wins, behind Al Arbour (782) and Scotty Bowman (1244). He also has two Stanley Cup championships in four years, something no other coach in the Salary Cap era has accomplished. Although the current season has had its ups and downs, Quenneville has kept the ship steady and the team near the top of the league standings.
Another hallmark of a great coach is respect – not just the respect he gets from players, staff, and fans, but also the mutual respect he shows in return. He knows he has a talented group of guys, and when they have an off game – or two, or three – he’s not inclined to throw them under the bus. He will communicate his frustration in subtle, measured tones by merely saying “we expect more” or, in the case of the younger players, send them back down to Rockford as the hockey version of a time-out corner.
Where Quenneville truly shines is his strategy. He will make roster and line changes that may make people scratch (no pun intended) their heads, but deep down the fans know that there is a method to his madness and that his system works. He continues to tweak the lines well into the season, and considering the lifting of the roster freeze and the March 5 trade deadline looming near, there certainly will be more tweaking to come.
The rest of the Blackhawks coaching staff is nothing to sneeze at, either. Assistant coaches Mike Kitchen and Jamie Kompon are no strangers to working with Quenneville, having spent several years as assistant coaches when Q was the head coach of the St. Louis Blues. Kompon, moreover, served as an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Kings when they won the Cup in 2012. Although there have been some issues with the consistency of special teams this season, the Blackhawks are still third in the league in the power play (22.1%). The overall penalty kill stat (26th with 79.7%) still leaves much to be desired, but the games leading up to the Olympics indicated that the team is making strides in this area.
Goaltending coach Steve Weeks is new to the Blackhawks this season, who was hired after the previous coach Stéphane Waite left for the Montreal Canadiens. It is a bit early to tell what kind and how much of an impact Weeks has had on the Blackhawks goalies, if any. Corey Crawford’s stats may not be as stellar as they were last season, but he is still making key saves and often holds the fort through regulation so that the Blackhawks can at least walk away from most games with a point. Antti Raanta is likewise doing quite well, despite being vaulted unexpectedly into the NHL level.
Blackhawks fans, what do you think? What grade would you give the team’s coaching at the Olympic break?