The Coaching Staff
Jeremy Colliton and his staff were placed in a very difficult situation. How do you follow Coach Q? Sports history teaches us that you never want to be the first guy to replace a legend, whether it be a player or coach. And so far, it has played out exactly as you would expect. Moments where it looks like they are making great progress, followed by moments that make you wonder whether they should be coaching this team.
For this exercise, we will focus only on the bench coaches for the team. That includes Jeremy Colliton, Head Coach; Sheldon Brookbank, Assistant Coach; Tomas Mitell, Assistant Coach; Marc Crawford, Assistant Coach; and Jimmy Waite, Goaltending Coach. When they came on board for the 2019-2020 season, Blackhawk Up’s Jimmy Lynch talked about their roles here.
Coach Colliton is lauded for his communication skills, as well as his work with younger players. He plays things pretty close to the vest and is not a screamer-type coach on the bench. The players on the squad speak pretty well of him, and he seems to carry the approval of the veteran leaders on the team. He is still very young by NHL coaching standards, the same age as Brent Seabrook.
The ultimate arbiter of success or failure is the record of the team. And this team, with 2 seasons (albeit very strange ones) with Colliton as the Head Coach, the ‘Hawks have failed to qualify for the playoffs. They have maintained a competitive team until late in the season, but seem to falter near the end of the year, and lack the push to make it to the Playoff 16…
Ultimately, I don’t think Colliton is experienced enough to navigate this rebuild on the fly. He seems stubbornly committed to running his defensive scheme, which has the ‘Hawks near the bottom of the league the last 2 seasons. A more experienced coach would adapt to something that could get better results. My choice would be to replace him for next season.
Sheldon Brookbank was identified as the Blackhawks Defense and Penalty Killing (PK) coach. The eye test says the ‘Hawks struggled on defense, and the basic stats back that up. In the 2020-2021 season, they gave up the second-most shots in the league, second only to Buffalo. The prior season, they gave up the most shots in the league. (per Hockey Reference).
On the PK, they slipped from 9th in the league (82.13%) in 2019-2020 to 28th (4th lowest) in 2020-2021 (76.82%). Much of this stemmed from teams being able to sustain long periods of time in the Blackhawks zone, and wearing them down, causing mental and physical errors.
When the two areas you are responsible for get appreciably worse from year 1 to year 2 under your guidance, that’s far from a good sign. I would replace him for next season.
Tomas Mitell was tabbed as a Player Development Coach for the ‘Hawks. Based on the performance of the young forwards this past season, I would say he did his job reasonably well. The question here is whether you trust him with the influx of young talent coming onto the Blackhawks roster for the next 2-4 years. Since my intention would be to replace the Head Coach, I would assume he gets caught up in the turnover and is replaced for next season.
Marc Crawford is the most experienced coach on the Blackhawks staff by far. The expectation was that he would manage the Special Teams. If he was working with Brookbank on the PK, that’s a pretty rough performance for him.
On the Power Play, the ‘Hawks were 28th in the league in 2019-2020, at 15.21%. They improved a lot in 2020-2021, finishing 11th at 21.71%. Much of this can be attributed to Alex DeBrincat’s rebound season, but the Power Play did improve by 6.5%. That’s more than just one player.
As a steadying veteran on the bench, there is nothing Crawford hasn’t seen or been a part of. As a former Head Coach, he knows how to run a team as well. I think you need that presence on the bench, so I would keep him for next season.
Jimmy Waite: Based on his reputation, and the performance of his charges, I would not do anything with Jimmy Waite. He has been with the ‘Hawks since 2014 and just based on last season alone, the performance he got out of Kevin Lankinen and Malcolm Subban is worthy of keeping him around. He stays in Chicago for next season.