No organization is perfect. Every team has a front office, coaching staff, locker room, PR department, etc. that's lacking in some way. There are no general managers who "win" every transaction. There are no head coaches who make the correct strategic and personnel decisions 100 percent of the time. Imperfection trickles down within an organization because humans are imperfect. And naturally, when things go wrong, fans want someone to yell at.
One of the more common criticisms of the Chicago Blackhawks organization when it comes to their imperfection is the seemingly abstruse hockey philosophy of head coach Joel Quenneville. Coach Q is a beloved coach by many Blackhawks fans, and for good reason -- he's brought three Stanley Cups to Chicago in the past decade.
However, those Cups haven't made Quenneville above reproach with fans. It's no secret he tends to give ice time to players for occasionally questionable reasons, and that leads to criticism of the future Hall of Fame bench boss. He often gets part of the blame when the team trades a good young player like Teuvo Teravainen away.
It all begs the question of how fans should look at these moves. Bowman is Quenneville's boss, but it's clear the Blackhawks' power structure isn't that simple. Q's input in the team's roster management is undeniable, yet it generally only gets brought up when the team makes a poorly received move. It's one of the most interesting dynamics in trying to follow and evaluate this team. How should fans look at who's ultimately crafting this team? Our Robert Zeglinski and Adam Hess discuss:
Robert Zeglinski: I think it's best to understand that this answer, like many things, has nuance. Fans need a scapegoat. Who no better than the head coach? There's long been a rumor of a divide in decision making between Q and Bowman and that leads fans to immediately split sides of credit, which is completely nonsensical. Is it fair to think that a lot of Q's personnel preferences mire Bowman's plans of development sometimes? Yes. Is it fair to immediately place blame on Q for the tight salary cap and other seasons that haven't ended in a Cup? No, and that's where the rub comes in.
This isn't even mentioning that Teuvo was one of his favorite young players that he played across the lineup in key situations last season. Yet, he wanted him out? Q is curiously treated like this complete idiot who has no understanding of the game and somehow has total autonomous influence over his general manager. It makes one wonder how many conspiracy theories we need to create for ourselves to make an excuse. I often hear that the Blackhawks of this era could have won the same amount of championships if not more with or without Q, which has no basis.
Hockey isn't played in a vacuum and that slanders all the good Q does like meshing relationships and matchups. Adam, do you think Stan is considered above criticisms at times because of how he's worked the salary cap? Do people forget about the bad contracts he's signed?
Adam Hess: I think you make a good point when you say that the rumored divide between Quenneville and Bowman plays a major role in all for fans. When I look at some of the players that Bowman has brought into this system that looked like they could fit but didn't because Q apparently didn't like them, I definitely understand where fans look at that and get frustrated, especially with someone like Trevor Daley who went on to have success in Pittsburgh after apparently being disliked by Q.
To address the question you posed to me, I don't know that I think Bowman is above criticism as much as people seem to want to almost make excuses for him. I have done it as well, because Bowman has a hard job and maybe the hardest job of all NHL GM's. He needs to keep his roster in tact, while also keeping it cap compliant, and do it all in an environment where other GM's are not looking to do him any favors. I think people attribute some of his bad moves to his job being difficult, or place more blame for the bad contracts onto the players. It's just interesting to me that Quenneville isn't really given that same benefit when players he keeps in the lineup don't perform as well. Would you agree with that?
RZ: Absolutely. It's perfectly fine to criticize men like Bowman and Q because they have such difficult and complex responsibilities. Like you said, Stan has to maintain an NHL roster, keep it cap compliant, and also somehow have the team set for Cup contention each year according to expectations. The same principle applies to Q as a coach. I almost liken it to Phil Jackson or Joe Torre, which I think is a perfectly apt comparison.
Both men were coaches of generational championship teams and there always seems to be this internal debate that anybody could have won with Jordan or Jeter and their great respective teams. The main part of being a head coach other than actual game strategy, is juggling personalities, people, and egos. Jackson did it with Jordan, Rodman, and Pippen. Torre did it with Jeter, Pettite, etc.. And Q is currently conducting his own symphony in the same vain with Toews, Kane, Keith and Co. Yes, it's incredibly nauseating when he talks about adding "that element" in icing Brandon Mashinter or Brandon Bollig, but that doesn't mean there isn't a method to his madness. To me, it's lazy to assume that someone could have this team come together in the same successful way that Q does. What do you think Q does well in that respect that people don't give him enough credit for?
AH: I think you've nailed it on the head there. He knows this team so well. It's a byproduct of being their coach for seven years now. He knows what they need and when they need it. He knows how to manage their personalities, knows when a player needs a kick in the ass or when he needs to benched for a period. One of the things I think Quenneville does so well is make purposeful moves, and I think sometimes that garners him criticism. He will bench a player to "send a message," which people don't like. But with a coach who has been around as long as Q has, and has had the success he's had, I think more people need to be willing to see where moves like that can actually send a message and actually benefit the player(s) involved rather than just being mad that Quenneville is trying to send a message.
RZ: Agreed. People seem to have this complete affront to old school mentalities like benching a player as you said, but there's rhyme and reason to it. It's a measure of accountability for a franchise that's taken on most other new school principles, like analytics. I think you need a meshing of both to be successful but no one wants to enter that grey area because they don't think there's necessary progression. We want to act like we know what's going on in the locker room and the conversations they're having, but it's just all meaningless speculation.
There's always an interplay. When Q benched Teuvo and Antoine Vermette in Game 3 of the 2015 Western Conference Finals, that was derided (and rightfully so) as an awful decision to take out important dynamic depth forwards. When the Hawks lost the game 2-1 and immediately lost home ice after stealing it in Game 2, the fever pitch never seemed to be higher. But Q was doing what he thought was right because as you mentioned, he thought it would benefit the players. Vermette would get the legendary winning goal in double OT in Game 4 and Teuvo took over a topsy turvy Game 5 (the Hawks would still lose Game 5) en route to winning the West and eventually the Cup. Maybe they were motivated extra by Q basically questioning their performance or maybe they weren't, it doesn't matter. It was his decision for his team that probably did pay off which we'll never fully understand.
AH: Right, I think sometimes professional athletes in a moment like that, being scratched on a huge stage, has them motivated to step their game up, and both Vermette and Teuvo did so after that. It's a motivating factor, and while there are probably other ways to motivate a player without having to negatively impact the team, in that case it worked out, so I think Quenneville then almost deserves some credit for it.
And I don't say all of this to say that Quenneville is a perfect coach. By no means is he perfect. Nor am I putting anyone down for criticizing him because I do it, as well. But sometimes I think people are too quick to criticize him and don't want to give him any benefit of the doubt. And I think that applies to Bowman as well, where fans maybe criticize him almost too much for things like the Bryan Bickell contract. Obviously that was bad, and criticism of Bowman for it is fair, but he also had no way of knowing Bickell would fall off so harshly. And while that may contradict one of my earlier statements a bit, I think it's true, because this isn't a discussion about why Bowman is bad and Q is good. That would just be flipping the script of how we ended up with this discussion in the first place. Both men are good at their jobs, it's just that maybe Q deserves more credit than he's given at times and maybe Bowman should be a bit more criticized for his mistakes.
RZ: Ha, I don't think anybody will mind if we contradict what we've said because it's a complicated conversation. It's okay to assign equal blame and it's okay to give credit where credit is due regardless of personal bias. That's part of being human. We aren't the first nor will we be the last to have this debate over the merits of the Joel Quenneville and Stan Bowman era.
Should things go as swimmingly as they have in the past, I for one look forward to everybody melting down with a Q personnel decision. It'll likely happen in a big game in the playoffs possibly en route to another championship as the cycle will repeat itself.
Still as we've discussed here, in the future, let's maintain perspective and try not to analyze everything through our tinfoil hats and microscopes. Even while we're likely to continue pulling our hair out over their decisions, let's just stay calm and let things play out.
While no one's perfect, Joel Quenneville is a great head coach. Stan Bowman is a great general manager. At the end of the day, it's really that simple.