The topic has been talked about and debated all over social media lately: Should the Chicago Blackhawks fire Joel Quenneville? We take a look at why it may be the only real option left.
Joel Quenneville is three games away from posting his 750th game as the head coach of the Chicago Blackhawks. He’s coached 128 playoff games with the franchise. He’s won 435 regular-season games, 76 playoff games and the Stanley Cup three times in his tenure in Chicago.
Yet, it is starting to feel like it may be time for those numbers to come to a halt and for the Blackhawks to move on from their head coach.
Quenneville is the longest-tenured head coach in the NHL, and for good reason. His work in helping the Blackhawks turn from laughingstock to model of a “modern dynasty” cannot be understated, and he has had great success in the past decade.
But hockey, like every other sport, is a business. And the performance reviews for Quenneville are going in the wrong direction.
The case for moving on
Since winning his third Stanley Cup with the franchise, Quenneville and the Blackhawks have failed to get past the first round of the postseason and look to be missing out on the big dance altogether this season.
That’s missing a playoffs with three “NHL Top 100” players still on the roster in Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith. That’s missing the playoffs with additional Stanley Cup champions still on the roster in Brent Seabrook, Corey Crawford and Brandon Saad.
Now, chalking this up to simply being all Quenneville’s fault would be completely foolish. Players are getting older and underperforming. Injuries have played a factor this season. Some player contracts are taking up far too much of the pie, leaving not enough money for the rest of the roster to be filled. These factors are out of Quenneville’s hands.
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But the hard reality is that the ‘Hawks are at a fork in the road. In one direction, they can stand pat, hope their young prospects emerge as skilled contributors and that the aforementioned stars can put off father time for another few seasons. In the other direction, the franchise has to be shaken up to make lemonade out of some slowly rotting lemons.
If that second direction is the route the franchise takes (the more likely direction considering the moves we saw last summer), then what options are there in order to shake up the team and start with something fresh?
Kane, Toews, Crawford, Keith, Seabrook and Artem Anisimov are all currently on contracts that take up almost $38 million of the Blackhawks’ salary cap space. Add in Marian Hossa, and that total exceeds $43 million. That is well over half of the $75 million salary cap the Blackhawks get to work with this season.
What is more important about all of these deals is the six players outside of Hossa have some type of no-movement clause in their deal, and the first deal is not set to to expire until the summer of 2020 (Crawford).
With Hossa being injured long-term and basically immovable in a trade, paired with the chances of moving a player with a no-movement clause being slim at best, this almost certainly sets that $43 million in stone for two more full seasons.
We can all point the finger at general manager Stan Bowman and say that these contracts were careless and are the real cause to the Blackhawks’ downfall; and that may be completely accurate. There is no doubt Bowman and the organization have some serious regret in a few of these deals.
But the sad truth is those contracts exist. There are no take-backs. This is reality. “If ifs ands and buts were honey and nuts” and all that.
The general options
So what are the Blackhawks left with to try and make some sort of dramatic change in the next few years?
Do you trade Saad and his $6 million AAV contract after acquiring him for Artemi Panarin just last summer? Do you bring in more over-the-hill veterans on one-year, $1 million deals a la Patrick Sharp and Brian Campbell? Do you pray to the gods that the young players on cheap contracts become stars overnight?
You can hope re-tooling and re-tinkering will be the solve to this mess, but there is one other option that could maybe turn things around: fire Quenneville.
Is firing Q a guarantee to turn the team around? Not at all. Is there another coaching candidate out there that is far and away a better option than Quenneville? Not clearly, no. Is Quenneville the reason the ‘Hawks have regressed, and has he lost the locker room altogether? There is no way to say “yes” for certain.
But, more importantly, can this team continue under Quenneville and fully expect to become competitive again in the next few years? Can the Blackhawks simply stay the course and hope something changes? I would say the answer to both is no.
So, even though there are memories that will live with the franchise for ages and even though it might be hard to do, firing Quenneville may really be the only choice left to desperately try to fix what has become an incredibly broken team.
There is no guarantee it will be the solve to all of these problems, but it may be the last-ditch effort you are forced to try instead of accepting that mediocrity is all that the immediate future holds for the Blackhawks.