Is this the secret weapon the Blackhawks need these playoffs?
By Shaun Filippelli
The Chicago Blackhawks have had some incredibly talented players in recent years but their coaching creativity in utilizing them should not be understated.
It would be to Jeremy Colliton‘s advantage to get this Chicago Blackhawks lineup back to a strategy wherein setting lines is more of a formality than a necessity. Especially if he wants to expect the scoring production they’ll need this post-season.
Not too far back in the organization’s recent history, their offensive talent pool proved to be even more prolific because every individual player was capable of playing alongside anyone else on the team.
But it wasn’t just because they had proven playoff performers like Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Brendon Saad, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, Brad Richards, Dave Bolland, Kris Versteeg, and Teuvo Teravainen throughout their lineup over the years.
Having the right pieces is one thing, but being able to set them in the proper places to perform optimally is something far more sophisticated. Joel Quenneville was a master of that art.
Quenneville wasn’t shy to change his lines as frequently as he felt it would be of benefit to the team. Whether that meant going into the next match-up with a new look or adjusting things right within the game itself.
He brought unprecedented achievements to this franchise. One of Quenneville’s greatest strengths was his ability to read the game, see what changes were needed, and to shift momentum in his team’s favour.
The ability for the Chicago Blackhawks to showcase their best on the ice during any given moment of a game proved to be an advantage for the teams that won three Stanley Cups in six years throughout the 2010s.
In an NHL article that focused on Quenneville’s affinity for line changes throughout their most recent Cup run of 2015, it noted:
"Quenneville shuffled his lines again in the second period, splitting Saad and Toews, a combination that had been together practically all season and throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs."
Further illustrating Quenneville’s willingness to make non-traditional moves for the betterment of his team’s play, it added:
"In the regular season, Saad spent a little more than 100 of his 1,089 5-on-5 minutes playing with Richards, according to hockeyanalysis.com, and even fewer playing with Kane, who was injured for the final 21 games of the regular season."
As illustrated, he had a knack for knowing what his team needed and when. And it was proven time and time again:
"But once Saad joined them on Wednesday, something clicked. It didn’t matter that they had hardly played together all season, or that Kane and Richards were in a slump. That combination put together by Quenneville found something at just the right moment.The result was the winning goal, depriving the Lightning of an opportunity to win the Stanley Cup at home on Saturday and ensuring the Blackhawks will play at least one more game at United Center this season."
Although the Blackhawks enjoyed elite talent through their locker room this past decade, they aren’t the only team in the NHL to have that luxury. They simply proved to be the best at putting it all together to achieve what they were able to.
One of the most captivating things about sports is that they are unpredictable. Quenneville used such tactics to his advantage, whenever he felt it was needed, and often with successful results.
In this era of the game, so much is made of structure, analytics, and systems. Many coaching and lineup decisions seem to be locked in before the game and maintained throughout it.
What Quenneville did with his Chicago Blackhawks rosters defied all of that and it’s time Colliton looks to the not so distant past to see what this team was doing differently when they were still winning.
Sure, names like Sharp, Hossa, and Bolland no longer skate alongside Kane, Toews, and Saad. But have you seen what players like Alex DeBrincat, Dominik Kubalik, and Dylan Strome are capable of?
This has been an underachieving team the past few seasons, which was somewhat expected to follow given the heights of success they’d reached. However, they are in a post-season position and have a chance to do whatever they want with that opportunity.
Chicago has to win their play-in round just to be part of the 16-team playoffs. If Colliton wants to see any type of success as they fight towards a Stanley Cup, he has to adapt and steal this page from Quenneville’s playbook.
What elevated the talent of recent Stanley Cup-winning Blackhawks teams, was that individual skill sets were enhanced by a type of unparalleled cohesion between teammates.
They had become accustomed to being put into every situation, playing alongside any other player those scenarios called for, that the resulting familiarity forced a strategy that opposing systems just couldn’t match.
Making Quenneville’s approach even more unstoppable, was that it was something that couldn’t be easily predicted or contained.
Colliton needs to not only be willing to review and revamp his lines from game to game but be actively doing so at any and every point that it’s necessary throughout them.
This may be a younger talent pool that has more to prove before they’re regarded like the superstars that Quenneville got to lead, but it doesn’t mean they can’t be the next generation to prove that this approach works.
Besides, this Blackhawks team still has a veteran presence like very few in this league. And Colliton needs to know when to call upon Kane and Toews.
Whether to infuse energy alongside DeBrincat, pick up some speed with Kubalik, or get creative playing beside Strome, the possibilities could be endless. Their coach simply needs to allow that to be the case.
If Colliton can hone in on what each player brings to the forefront for the team, he can continue where Quenneville left off with this strategy while making it his own.
Then there’s no telling what type of turnaround this team can experience. He needs to rely less on a pre-set structure and more on letting the right player fill the necessary void throughout each in-game scenario.
Whether the Chicago Blackhawks can make a legitimate run for the 2020 Stanley Cup is yet to be seen. If Jeremy Colliton can utilize creativity in his coaching, it might drastically improve their chances.