Analysis

Should Chicago Blackhawks Fire Joel Quenneville, Who Is Next In Line?

By Thomas Keeney
GLENDALE, AZ - APRIL 08: Head coach Dave Tippett of the Arizona Coyotes looks on from the bench during a game against the Minnesota Wild at Gila River Arena on April 8, 2017 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Norm Hall/NHLI via Getty Images)
GLENDALE, AZ - APRIL 08: Head coach Dave Tippett of the Arizona Coyotes looks on from the bench during a game against the Minnesota Wild at Gila River Arena on April 8, 2017 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Norm Hall/NHLI via Getty Images) /
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As the Chicago Blackhawks wrap up a third straight season of non-championship hockey, there is a possibility coach Joel Quenneville could be fired during the offseason. If so, what specific change is the organization looking for in order to replace a Hall of Fame coach? Who might be the best fit to join the Blackhawks?

Changing a coach or general manager is extremely impactful to an organization, in the NHL or in some other league. There are countless examples of teams changing upper management every few years, and the team ends up in a continual state of flux. Losses mount, another change is made and the cycle continues. Buffalo, both in the NFL and NHL,is a good example of this continued dysfunction.

An organization that considers making changes in a general manager or head coach must know two things to be successful. First, it must have certainty tha losses are due to that specific person or his/her system (technical or personal/cultural). Secondly, there must be a clear understanding of which specific changes are needed to win and who is best to implement them. OK, it’s actually three things, but you get the point.

Knowing all of this, it’s amazing how many organizations make changes to these two critical positions without even knowing if the coach or GM is the reason for previous losses. Ownership sees the team losing and attendance dropping (or some other financial impact), so it makes a change.

The leaders then interview coaches or GMs and hire the one(s) who best describe(s) the goal at hand and how it/they plan to get the team there. (Interview tip – when asked about the goal, say “Winning the Stanley Cup.”)

The other thing an organization must understand is that neither the general manager nor the coach can be successful without working in sync with the other. That’s why you see so many new GMs hire a new coach even if the prior coach had been successful. They need a person completely committed to their shared vision.

For example, a coach focused on a speed game needs the organization, led by the general manager, to acquire fast players. Or let’s say the GM embraces a youth movement (due to signing exorbitant no-trade contracts on non-effective veterans), but the coach prefers playing veterans. You end up having two of your most impactful young players, Vinnie Hinostroza and Alex DeBrincat, averaging less than 12 minutes a game. It doesn’t work.

So, assuming Chicago Blackhawks general manger Stan Bowman stays on past 2017-18, what changes would he be looking for in a new coach to ensure the Chicago Blackhawks win more games next year than they would with a three-time Stanley Cup-winning coach? What specific changes will lead to more wins?

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Positives of the Blackhawks organization

There are a few positives the Chicago Blackhawks have over most teams if they make a change at coach. First, the Chicago Blackhawks organization is already first class.

A new coach will not need to get involved with organizational issues related to the facilities, travel conditions, charity outreach or season ticket sales. The focus is solely in the locker room; instilling an enhanced passion to play, initiating a relentless work ethic where every player (even a star) is focused to play hard every shift (i.e. Vegas style) and finally, a renewed commitment to the team.

Each and every Blackhawk player must be willing to come to the aid of a teammate in trouble without exception. This is not the case today. For a new coach, this is a perfect situation — focus on coaching and nothing else.

Another positive is the Chicago Blackhawks’ personnel. The current roster has a talented mix of youth and core veterans. The team is missing a few pieces from a personnel perspective, which needs to be addressed this offseason.

Having only a couple players to sign for next year, Bowman during this offseason will need to draft well (Brady Tkachuk?), add more young talent (Dylan Sikura, etc.) and address a few key missing pieces — a No. 2 defenseman who can score on the powerplay, a much stronger backup goaltender and an upgrade to the center position.

For a new coach, looking at a lineup with Patrick Kane, Nick Schmaltz, DeBrincat, Brandon Saad, Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith is pretty exciting. Most teams require a material retooling to jettison current players and acquire new talent, which can take years. Aside from the changes mentioned above and a healthy Corey Crawford, this team can win now.   This is a huge positive when recruiting for the best coach available.

The final component affecting a selection of a new coach for the Chicago Blackhawks is timing. If Bowman indeed fires a Hall of Fame coach, he knows he will need immediate success in order to stay with the club as general manager.

This means any new coach selected needs to be able to implement and execute his system quickly, and win with much of the same roster the team has today. Unless Bowman knows and trusts a young coach well enough to bet his job/career on him, this probably rules out college or first-time NHL coaches.

So now that we better understand the task at hand, who might be a fit as the new Chicago Blackhawks coach?

Coaching options

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  • There are quite a few coaches who might be an option. I’ve grouped them into three categories  — doubtful, potential and probable.

    DOUBTFUL

    Michel Thierrien, Lindy Ruff, Jack Capuano, Paul MacClean, Adam Oates and Ron Wilson

    All of these men have coached in the NHL but have never won a Stanley Cup as head coach. Adam Oates and Jack Capuano are younger and may have a better feel for the current game, but in my mind would not be trusted by Bowman to win immediately.

    The others have solid pedigrees but are listed as doubtful based on their age and approach to the game. Ruff is still involved in the NHL as an assistant coach, but it’s doubtful he’ll get another crack at the head role. If Buffalo didn’t hire him back last year, it’s not going to happen. Never say never, but I’d be shocked if any on this list even got an interview.

    POTENTIAL

    Darryl Sutter

    In 1,285 games coached in the NHL, Sutter has more than 600 wins and a winning percentage of just under 50. He was fired from the L.A. Kings after the 2016-17 season (along with his GM) after winning the Stanley Cup twice (sounds familiar, right?).

    Who can forget the classic playoff battles between the Kings and ‘Hawks — the 2014 series is the best hockey I’ve ever seen (damn you, Alec Martinez). Sutter has a history with the Chicago Blackhawks, as he was both a player and a coach for the club. The reason I list him as potential and not probable is the style of play he coaches.

    Sutter is a hard-nosed, nose-to-the-grindstone, defense-first type coach who prefers a tough veteran team with a few skilled players added in. Although he would immediately bring some jump to the roster (even Toews would block shots under Mr. Sutter), the personnel on the ‘Hawks doesn’t translate well for Sutter’s coaching style.

    The ‘Hawks’ roster is far from tough, and it’s safe to say the texture of their noses are closer to a puppy’s nose than one who could stand up to a grindstone. The postgame interviews would be epic, but sorry to say not a great fit. Pass.

    Dan Blysma

    Bylsma has coached 585 games in the NHL with a 57 percent regular-season winning percentage, which is really high for an out-of-work coach. He’s younger than most on this list and won a Stanley Cup in his first year with Pittsburgh. During his tenure, Pittsburgh had a great powerplay, which every fan knows would be a huge plus for the ‘Hawks. (Sidebar: It’s amazing Kevin Dineen still has a job. Please discuss among yourselves.)

    The reason I have listed him as potential is I question his coaching acumen. When he was hired at Pittsburgh, he came from its AHL affiliate and had coached its younger players and took over a system that was already in place.

    After the Cup win, the team never got back to championship form, and even with some talented squads, he wasn’t able to translate his system to success again. His short tenure in Buffalo and the fact some younger players wanted him gone (it was rumored Jack Eichel pushed him out) doesn’t help this perception he wouldn’t be the best fit for the Chicago Blackhawks. He might make a great assistant coach running the powerplay, but not the head guy.

    Sheldon Keefe and Jeremy Colliton

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    Both of these gentlemen coach in the American Hockey League — Keefe for the Toronto Marlies and Colliton for the Chicago affiliate Rockford IceHogs. In researching this post, Keefe came up on virtually every list of potential NHL head coaches. He sits behind Mike Babcock in the Toronto organization (who isn’t going anywhere soon), so I’m sure he’s listening to offers from other clubs.

    Colliton is in his first year in North America after a successful coaching career in the Swedish League, so it might be a little early for him to move up to the big club. Due to the tight window that the Chicago Blackhawks need to win in, and the trust Bowman must place on a new coach, I doubt either would make the cut, but they’re certainly talented and will be seen in the NHL soon.

    PROBABLE

    This group has the highest probability of being selected if in fact the ‘Hawks fire Quenneville. A couple are coaching in the NHL now, but a first-round playoff losses could prove to be their last with their current clubs. Let’s see who’s in the running.

    Alain Vigneault

    Coming into this year, Vigneault coached 1,134 regular-season games in the NHL with an impressive 54 winning percentage. He’s taken two different teams to the Stanley Cup Final (Vancouver and the Rangers), but has never won it.

    He won the Jack Adams Award in 2007 for the best coach in hockey and was a finalist three other years, which shows he definitely knows how to coach and illustrates his ability to translate his system into winning with different rosters and talent levels.

    He understands the modern game and has a history of working well with young players, which is a plus. Having said all that, if I am Bowman, he would not be my first choice.

    First, although the Rangers have had some success, I’m not a fan of their style of play (or Vancouver’s, for that matter). The other potential issue is that he’s French Canadian. I know we love Mr. Savard, but I just don’t see Vigneault fitting in well with the fan base.  It would be a terrible Binny’s commercial, for sure. Great coach, and certainly in the mix, but I’m not sure he’s the one.

    Bob Hartley

    With 955 games coached in the NHL, Hartley has a 49 winning percentage (463 wins). He’s won the Stanley Cup with the Avalanche in 2001 and a Calder Cup in 1997 and is well thought of in coaching circles.

    In June 2015, he won the Jack Adams Award with the Calgary Flames. They had a young lineup and fell back out of the playoffs the next year, which led to his firing. He’s currently coaching Latvia’s hockey club in Europe.

    As he’s known to work well with younger players and has won before, he might be a good fit.  He’s French Canadian as well, but with a name like Bob Hartley, you’d never know it (maybe I was a little hard on Mr. Vigneault — he might make a good Binny’s commercial).  Depending on his contract situation in Europe, he’s someone definitely to consider.

    Barry Trotz

    With 1,442 games coached in the NHL before this year, Trotz has more than 700 wins and a 49 winning percentage. The career winning percentage is distorted, as he was the first coach in Nashville history, and during the first six years of the club’s existence it didn’t make the playoffs.

    In the past 13 seasons, Trotz has a 55 winning percentage, which is outstanding.  As a comparison, Coach Quenneville has a 56 winning percentage over that same timespan. The downside is Trotz has not won the Stanley Cup, but did help a player to the Calder Trophy as a coach back in 1994. He’s a solid coach who would be a great addition to lead most any NHL team.

    Dave Tippett

    Tippett has coached 1,114 games in the NHL with a 50 winning percentage. He won the Jack Adams Award in 2010 and is highly regarded as a players’ coach, similar to Coach Q.

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    The part that draws me to Tippett as a top candidate for the position is his initial record when taking over NHL teams. In Dallas, the team had a 21-point improvement his first year at the helm, and in Arizona (where coaches go to die) the team improved 28 points in his first season.

    With a talented roster in Chicago, he could be a perfect fit for a quick turnaround back to contention. His temperament is also similar to that of Coach Quenneville, which I’m not sure is a good thing or a bad thing.  Great coach who will be available Day 1 after the season ends. Someone to consider.

    Summary

    It’s not easy to make a coaching change after having such a great history of winning these past 10 years in Chicago. If Coach Quenneville was to be fired in the offseason, there might be another coach to add to this list, as some team may fire its coach just to hire Quenneville.  He’s one of the greats.

    The question for Bowman and the Blackhawks organization is if they feel a new voice in the room can bring this roster back to championship form. I personally don’t believe a team can win without a more gritty style. The Blackhawks are an easy team to play against, and that might be due to all the hockey that was played these past 10 years. Or it could be due to some veteran players not being pushed by the head coach and just cashing a check, which rubs off on the younger players..

    Are any of these coaches better than Quenneville?  Probably not.  Is the new coach of the L.A. Kings, John Stevens, better than Sutter?  Doubtful, but his impact this year has been huge. He implemented a more offensive system and brought the Kings back to life.  Both Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown are having career years.  It’s due to a new coach, not a better coach.

    Next: Blackhawks' Bowman Has Made A Defensive Stand

    Will the Chicago Blackhawks have a new coach next year? Will Bowman stay pat and bet his job on Coach Quenneville, or make the move to another coach?  Based on their inconsistent play this year, I’m guessing a new coach will be behind the bench next year.  We’ll just have to wait for Bowman’s decision.  If it is a new coach, a huge thank you to Coach Q — it’s been a hell of a ride.

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