They say bad things come in threes, and that adage certainly has rung true for our beloved Chicago Blackhawks during their road trip this past weekend. They lost three games against Eastern Conference teams, lost two of those games by three goals, and fell to third place in the Central Division behind the Colorado Avalanche. Additionally, the injury to Hawks captain and leader Jonathan “Captain Serious” Toews was the bitterest of salt that could have been rubbed on these open wounds.
Despite such an embarrassing and demoralizing stretch, ultimately the Hawks have still locked up a playoff spot, which is the important thing when you put it all into context. However, the way they’ve backed into the post season is a bit too reminiscent of the 2011 playoffs for my liking, since we all know how that ended, so frankly I’m concerned. Given the way the Hawks have struggled as of late (well since January if we’re honest here) with seemingly the same problems for so long (lack of quality shots, no set 2nd and 3rd lines, the power play, etc.) I have now given a name to my pain, and that is Coach Joel Quenneville.
With two Stanley Cup Rings and 700 career wins under his belt, it’s somewhat odd that Blackhawks Coach Joel Quenneville doesn’t seem to get the props an NHL coach with such a resume would warrant. Some have argued that given the talented roster of the Blackhawks, anyone can succeed as coach, and that Coach Q has merely been in the right place at the right time.
That theory is up for debate, but I will say this: while it might not necessarily be a fair comparison due to a multitude of other factors and as much as it pains me to say, one ruler I often measure Joel Quenneville against is Detroit Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock. Say what you will, but the best thing about Babcock has been his ability to take Red Wings rosters and consistently make them potent threats over the years, despite their talent or lack thereof. Babcock being able to accomplish this resides in his ability to effectively manage the talent he has to its fullest potential.
When it comes to Coach Q however, I hate to say it but his talent management is lacking, and it’s become especially glaring this year. Quenneville has had all year to establish a second and third line, and his failed ability to do so has cost the Hawks, and it’s about to cost the Hawks even more dearly if not ameliorated.
If ever there was a time Coach Q needed to dispel any and all negative notions regarding his prowess as the Hawks’ head coach, it’s now, with both Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews out with injury. The absence of the franchises’ two biggest fixtures pulls the curtain back a lot further than it ever has been for the Blackhawks. Minus Kane’s offensive production and Toews leadership, more eyes than ever are going to be evaluating Quenneville’s ability to hold the team together and sustain success.
So far, it hasn’t been good for Coach Q. The Hawks have a subpar record of 2-4-0 during Kane’s absence. Now with Captain Serious off the ice as well, Quenneville is missing two of his biggest tools to build a successful game plan. While there is certainly a good deal of onus on other Hawks players to step forward and deliver to fill the voids left by Kaner and Tazer (more on that later), it is on Coach Q to put them in positions where they can optimally flourish.
The good news is Q-Stache has already achieved this with the fourth line of Marcus Kruger, Brandon Bollig, and Ben Smith, so he’s got a template in place to replicate. This line has been successful primarily because Coach Q has left them alone to develop chemistry. Now hopefully the absence of Kane and Toews will cause Quenneville to part with his conventional thinking and start getting creative with the personnel he has because he certainly has more than enough capable players to build around. The question here is whether or not Quenneville will get out of his own way. Again, the Blackhawks already have their playoff ticket punched, so there is certainly no harm in Coach Q pushing aside his usual conservative stubbornness and becoming a bit more unorthodox with the depth chart. Furthermore, the absence of Kane and Toews will hopefully force Q-Stache to recognize which players aren’t pulling their weight (i.e. Michal Handzus) and which are being under utilized (i.e. Jeremy Morin). The results may be quite surprising and there is certainly nothing to lose at this point other than pride; pride which can be quickly regained by a deep playoff run.
Bottom line, it’s imperative that Joel Quenneville hones his invaluable experience as a two-time Stanley Cup winning coach to right the currently off-course Blackhawks, because when it comes to the post-season, it’s ultimately the captain that goes down with the ship.
FOR THE DAGGER!