Editorials

Chicago Blackhawks’ Case For Sticking With Coach Joel Quenneville

By Colin Likas
CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 12: Head coach Joel Quenneville of the Chicago Blackhawks gives instructions to his team against the Winnipeg Jets at the United Center on January 12, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 12: Head coach Joel Quenneville of the Chicago Blackhawks gives instructions to his team against the Winnipeg Jets at the United Center on January 12, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /
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Plenty of Chicago Blackhawks fans are curious about the idea of firing coach Joel Quenneville. I’m here to play devil’s advocate.

No, this is not a direct response to the Chicago Blackhawks defeating the Detroit Red Wings on Thursday.

Blackhawks fans are dissatisfied with the way the team has performed this season. Though Chicago earned a win Thursday, there have been more losses of late, and the squad is four points out of a Western Conference playoff spot with multiple teams to jump over.

Fans have wondered if coach Joel Quenneville has lost the locker room. Since the players are not so easily fired, the initial ire will always fall on the head coach. And with Q providing the same voice in the Windy City for nine seasons, it’s not exactly hard to see why.

But I’m here today to offer a different viewpoint: One in which Q is not let go by the Blackhawks, regardless of whether or not they qualify for the postseason.

Reasons for unhappiness

Just by skulking around social media, there are a few reasons I can garner for why fans want Quenneville gone, versus just overhauling the roster, firing general manager Stan Bowman or blotting out the sun.

— Q’s voice is being tuned out in the locker room

— Q is not getting this team ready to play on a nightly basis

— Q’s lineup choices are too erratic for this team to succeed

These are all fair enough points when it comes to talking about removing a coach. Let’s go through them one by one, and I’ll explain why I think they shouldn’t lead to a Q axing.

Voice tuneout

Some have posited the veterans in the locker room are tuning out Q after all these years, which is thereby making the youngsters tune out. With the likes of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and maybe even Patrick Sharp around and the team struggling, perhaps those guys are doing their own thing, and the newer faces are following along.

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  • This is entirely possible. But why exactly is that Q’s fault? I’m going to say this a few times in this post, but the Blackhawks are a professional hockey team. This is a team filled with grown men (not entirely made up of them, but filled with them).

    You’re telling me the Blackhawks cannot possibly succeed if Q’s voice isn’t constantly the only voice heard? That makes no sense in a professional sense. At the high school level, it’s important for the coach to be heard loudest. At the college level, this is also fair. But in both of scenarios, you’re dealing with a more veteran individual leading kids.

    In a professional sports league, that is not the case. Yes, you’ll have your Alex DeBrincat types, but you also have grizzled, seasoned veterans. Maybe they should stop acting like entitled children and start acting like part of a team, if that’s what we’re seeing.

    Of course, we don’t know Q has lost the locker room. This is just something that’s come up among fan discussion. But if it’s the case, I doubt it’s because he’s just sitting around twiddling his thumbs. The man wants to win so hard, he looks like a tomato on his best days.

    Why, then, would veterans tune him out, knowing younger players may look to them for an example of how the Blackhawks are run? In my mind, unless Q is just spouting nonsensical gibberish at practices and during games, this sort of issue falls on your tenured superstars.

    Team preparation

    This runs along the same lines as the previous point, though it’s not exactly the same. Q has more control over this, in my mind.

    This is where practices and strategy come into play. So if you want to note the powerplay is hot garbage, you can turn to Quenneville and hand-picked assistant Mike Kitchen and say, “This is a reason the Blackhawks struggle.” And I will not stop you there. In that regard, Q is not getting his guys ready to play.

    But I’m not sure that’s what we’re talking about. Yes, having a better powerplay would damn sure help this team. Maybe it’d even have the Blackhawks at 57 points with half the Western Conference. I think what we’re talking about, though, is the Blackhawks’ apparent lack of energy and drive.

    There have been a number of games this season when it looks like the team is stuck in the mud. This is why a fourth line that absolutely ate it in terms of things that actually matter — John Hayden, Lance Bouma and Tommy Wingels — became the center of some sort of weird rallying cry for part of fan base.

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    This line was running around like a chicken with its head cut off while the Blackhawks were getting kicked in the shins. Meanwhile, other guys appeared to be waiting for the suffering to end. So, this leads to the idea the fourth line is constantly ready to play, while no one else is.

    And this falls back to the head coach. That, to me, is inane in this case. Two reasons for that.

    One, these are grown men. If they can’t get themselves up for their job, what exactly are you supposed to do as Q? You bench them, or … wait for your GM to toss them to the Arizona Coyotes?

    Two, we’re talking about a number of guys who have some serious wear and tear on their bodies, and who have been asked to play major roles on a team that doesn’t know whether it’s rebuilding or not. Of course they’re going to look slow. We’re not even talking solely about Seabrook at this point.

    Do people want Q to go to each player’s house individually and make sure he’s staying up to snuff with their offseason training and dieting? This is not high school or college. These are professional athletes. More than anything, Q is there to set lineups, provide strategy and curry favor with officials. So why is he being blamed for not being the world’s best cheerleader, when he never was before?

    Lineup choices

    Alright, so this is the most interesting of the three. I have ragged on Q just as much as anyone for his baffling lineup decisions. The latest has seen Sharp randomly inserted into the top six at times because … reasons.

    We could go on for days talking about Q’s odd lineup choices. From using a defenseman as a third-line forward, to dressing pugilists for the heck of it, to scratching guys who shouldn’t be — Q does a lot of weird things with his lineup.

    But let’s be totally honest. This is only a problem now because the team is losing more than it’s winning.

    This would’ve been more of an issue in 2010-11, but the non-core roster was abysmal, and the Stanley Cup high was still ongoing. We started to see more grumbling in 2011-12, but again, the roster still wasn’t great. (Though Q no doubt had his role in that, at least as far as John Scott goes.)

    Get another Cup in 2013, then another in 2015, and everything is cool. There didn’t even seem to be an excess of Q anger the last two seasons, as the Blackhawks were generally successful prior to the playoffs before duffing it against St. Louis and Nashville.

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    Now we’re at the present, and Q’s lineup decisions are grounds for firing on a daily basis. Here’s the thing: He’s been doing this since he took over in 2008. Nothing has changed whatsoever.

    Q’s strategy has always been to throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks. And more often than not, it has. The Brandon Saad-Jonathan Toews-Marian Hossa line wasn’t an all-season thing in 2014-15. It came about late down the line. But few will remember that because a championship was won.

    That’s just one example, but like with Q’s odd roster decisions, we could go on about times this same reaction could have occurred toward Q, but didn’t because his blender made things work. It just hasn’t happened nearly often enough in 2017-18, and is following two early playoff exits.

    Check this out. The latest top line of Alex DeBrincat-Jonathan Toews-Anthony Duclair went off Thursday against the Wings. The blender worked again. This is literally how it’s always gone down.

    But the timing and situation have changed, and so Q’s lineup wackiness now means he needs to be shipped out. That doesn’t add up. If you were going to use this as a reason to fire the guy, why didn’t it happen prior to the 2012-13 lockout?

    And if this is given as a primary reason for some players not getting up on a game-by-game basis, I don’t buy it. The core guys are entirely used to this activity, and, again, they’ll lead the youngsters. Doesn’t mean those core guys have to enjoy it, but why would they suddenly decide this is the time to show dissatisfaction with the practice by phoning it in on the ice? Unless they truly are trying to get their coach fired, it doesn’t make much sense.

    Wrapping up

    Look, I’m not saying the Blackhawks can just do nothing and hope to magically turn things around. I’m also not of the party that says this roster has too much talent to fail.

    But I also don’t think the Blackhawks are that far away from being back in the Cup hunt. This is not the Arizona Coyotes. Nor is this the Buffalo Sabres. This is a team that needed some reworking. That reworking also doesn’t have to mean you fire a coach just because he’s been around for a long time, and being around a long time is rarely a thing in the coaching sector these days.

    Chicago Blackhawks

    How about we mix up the personnel? Good news: Bowman has been doing that. And Q is actually benching Bouma and Wingels to let loose a quicker, younger lineup. Sure, the Sharp thing is still baffling, but this is also peak Q. He’s always had his veteran blanket. Michal Rozsival is on injured reserve, so Sharp has stepped in.

    Could Q bear to trust some of his doghoused defensemen? Absolutely. Maybe that’s part of the reason why Gustav Forsling is suddenly in Rockford. With how bad Jan Rutta has been, Connor Murphy and Michal Kempny are now required viewing for Q. This is good.

    But, again, Q has always been like this. It’s not a new event. It just hurts more because there isn’t a goaltender around to bail these guys out. The worst thing that could happen to Q this season was Corey Crawford getting injured. Guess what happened? (Although, if Q was heavily involved in what appears to be an absolute failure to protect a goaltender from his own concussion issues, I’d like to rethink this entire post.)

    The 2017-18 season has been the imperfect mix of events that could make Q look like his time has come in Chicago. A retooled roster after some stunning offseason changes. A group rife with ample inexperience and containing an aging core. An integral player injured.

    We’re already starting to see the Blackhawks find their footing of late. Naturally, the All-Star break has now arrived. But while the team is just 1-1-1 in its last three games, you could argue a 3-0-0 record is well within the realm of possibility.

    Next: Blackhawks' Statistical Decline Shows In Division

    Even if the Blackhawks can’t find their way into the 2017-18 postseason, I’d like to see what Q can do with the 2018-19 roster. It’s bound to have some differences from the current crop, but it should also have a good amount of carryover and promise. Frankly, I think that alone could drag us out of the recent doldrums and back into an area where Q’s intricacies aren’t under the microscope.

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