In Part 7 of the Blackhawks Coaching Profile series, I am covering a familiar face: interim head coach Derek King. He did a commendable job as an interim head coach, but is he worth a long-term look as head coach?
The Blackhawks went through a very tumultuous season with overall underwhelming play on the ice and overwhelming circumstances off the ice. Derek King was the steadying presence through it all. Derek King, who was "called up" from Rockford came to a team who was just 1-9-2 in the first 12 games. He came to a team who had just a major overhaul in their front office. This Blackhawks team was in utter shambles. The team was falling apart and underperforming. They brought a dark shadow over the entire NHL and the Blackhawks cup runs and team history. Things were just a complete mess. But the whole time, Derek King was there.
That calming presence helped King become a hit with many fans. In addition to the "calm, cool, and collected" atmosphere he brought to the team, King seemed to help in the development of some of the young players. This shouldn't seem like a major shock as he was previously the head coach of the Rockford IceHogs, who are the Blackhawks AHL developmental team. But it was impressive nonetheless. Under King, we saw huge jumps from Dylan Strome (after floundering in Jeremy Colliton's system), as well as great improvements and competence from players like Alec Regula, Alex Vlasic, Sam Lafferty (from the Nylander trade), and Riley Stillman.
The team could only do so much and with an aging Toews and largely mediocre and underdeveloped players, including pretty awful netminding. Even with stars like Patrick Kane, Alex DeBrincat, and Seth Jones, the talent gap from the rest of the league was just too much and that is what resulted in the Blackhawks' dismal 28-42-12 record.
Nevertheless, Derek King proved his worth. He brings a charming and chill presence to the team and allows them to "just play hockey." Forget the outside noise, just play. He developed those young players, at least marginally, and he should at the very least, be considered on that alone.
I think King did a brilliant job in a no-win scenario. He was the captain of a ship that was about to capsize. He steered them to safety and resumed their route. Along the way, he was able to elevate the play of several players. I don't think anyone expects players like Regula, Vlasic, Lafferty, and Stillman will be anything more than 3rd or 4th line players (though both Regula and Vlasic got some work as the top pairing of defensemen with Jones), but the depth does matter at some point. I think Derek King wrung out every ounce of coaching he had into this team this season, and I think it shows. But here lies the question: should he be the head coach moving forward?
I think you can make a strong case for keeping him. I really do. I wouldn't be frustrated or surprised if he maintained his role. I would be intrigued about what he could do moving forward. But my gut tells me that King will go back to his role in Rockford and develop the young players there. It's just a gut feeling. Even with the firings of assistant coaches Marc Crawford and Rob Cookson, general manager Kyle Davidson mentioned he intends to keep King in the organization. I don't think he is lying, but I don't think it will be with the Blackhawks. Don't get me wrong, Derek King was the perfect man to take the role he did when he did. I just don't think he is "THE" guy moving forward.