A pretty big question exists in hockey (and really all of team sports) about the importance of the head coach. Just how much influence does he have on a team and how much of a team's success can be attributed to him? I think in the case of Joel Quenneville, you could make an argument that perhaps he gets more credit than he deserves. Don't get me wrong, Joel Quenneville is a good coach, a very good coach in fact. Some might even go as far to call him a great coach. You don't just end up with a record of 660-389-77-74 by accident. But keep in mind, Joel has had the privledge of coaching some very good hockey teams, two of them recently in Chicago. My argument would be that a good coach is important, critical at times in fact, but he can only make a team so much better. And sometimes a great team can make a coach look more important than he really is. I think that's the situation we have with Quenneville. What's the point of me saying all this? Well, merely to point out that, like all coaches, Quenneville isn't infallible and maybe isn't as deserving of the credit he gets. Food for thought.
On to Quenneville's season. If these grades have shown us anything, its that it can be difficult to be critical of people following a championship, especially the head coach, because in theory, he did everything right, pushed all the right buttons. Not exactly the case with Quenneville. He still made tactical errors over the course of the year, most were the same errors he's made in the past and they're errors that will hurt a Hawks roster that won't be as strong next season.
The powerplay was a disaster yet again. And we can argue all day about whose responsibility it is but at the end of the day, its Quenneville's job, and while the Hawks had enough firepower to get by without it this season, that won't be the case next season, where they will have a bit more difficulty scoring even strength goals. Everything from personnel to system changes needs to be altered.
I am critical about his handling of certain players, primarily Viktor Stalberg, which basically felt like Troy Brouwer all over again; a guy who could simply never get out of the doghouse and never earn the minutes despite playing alright and then moving on to somewhere else to have relatively good success. At the end of the day, no one will mourn the loss of a guy like Stalberg, that doesn't stop me from questioning why his talents weren't more utilized and exactly how much of an opportunity was he given. I fear a number of new guys will face similar situations next year.
I question other decisions he made in the playoffs, like benching Stalberg in the Detroit series or only reuniting Toews and Kane as a last resort when its pretty clear that playing them together will almost quite literally produce magic. Those were the kind of tactical miscalculations that I refer to. Fortunately for the Hawks, it didn't end up costing them. Then of course there is all the positive stuff Quenneville did, or at least had a hand in over the course of the season.
He seemed to keep the group very focused during the streak and appeared to be making sure over-confidence didn't sneak into their game. He minimized the minutes of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook and ensured a well-balanced rotation of the defense in general. He stuck with Brandon Saad on the first line even though the production wasn't there to start. He maximized what he got from role players like Marcus Kruger and Michael Frolik.
In the playoffs, he realized he was being outcoached by Mike Babcock in the Detroit series and made the necessary adjustments. He ensured the team was in the right state of mind coming back from being down 3-1 and then went on to flat out outcoach Claude Julien in the Final. And so here we are. Today Quenneville received a three year contract extension and I say deservedly so. A 222-106-44 record with the Hawks, 5 consecutive playoff appearances and 2 Stanley Cups makes Quenneville arguably the best coach in Blackhawk history. But that doesn't mean he's a flawless captain of the ship and even in a Stanley Cup winning season, there are critiques to be made. Next season will be a huge test for Quenneville, just as the season following the 2010 Cup victory was, to prove that he can guide a less talented, less experienced group to back-to-back championships because this season, I think he had a relatively easy ride.
Final Grade: B-