The Blackhawks are turning the page in their franchise.
They fired head coach Joel Quenneville, who won three Stanley Cups with Chicago, on Tuesday. His replacement? Jeremey Colliton, a 33-year-old coach who has one season coaching in North America in the AHL with the Rockford IceHogs. Colliton, who is now the youngest active NHL coach, led the IceHogs to the Western Conference Final and is heralded as a young coach with a bright future.
Blackhawks chairman Rocky Wirtz, team president and CEO John McDonough and general manager Stan Bowman sat alongside Colliton as the franchise introduced him to the media Tuesday afternoon at MB Ice Arena.
Here’s what we learned from the press conference:
Firing Bowman and Quenneville wasn’t discussed
The biggest question after the team announced the move was, “why not Bowman?” John Dietz of The Daily Herald got the answer, and it was a clear no from McDonough that he did not consider firing both men. Bowman has received criticism for giving players no-movement clauses in their contracts, the players he’s drafted not panning out, trading away fan-favorite players and his salary cap management. But in the end, the Blackhawks’ struggles fell on Quenneville.
Bowman says there was no power struggle
Bowman denied reports again that there was any power struggle between him and Quenneville about roster construction. This goes back to 2011-12, when Barry Smith was brought in to join practices against Quenneville’s wishes. The head coach was angry and confronted Bowman about it and resented Smith’s presence, according to Mark Lazerus of The Athletic.
A report surfaced again in 2017 after Quenneville was “upset and surprised” by the team firing then-assistant coach Mike Kitchen after seven seasons. Kitchen and Quenneville coached from 1998-2003 in St. Louis before Chicago.
McDonough: Blackhawks aren’t rebuilding, they’re remodeling
McDonough is the team president and CEO, meaning he’s not only concerned with the product on the ice but how that impacts the bottom line. He made a point to say he’s concerned with how with what sponsors and fans think of the team.
McDonough said this isn’t rebuilding, “it’s remodeling.”— Madeline Kenney (@madkenney) November 6, 2018
“We want to win. We want to re-win ... Sometimes as painful as it is, you need a fresh start.” #Blackhawks
Quenneville guided the Blackhawks to the No. 1 overall seed in the Western Conference in 2017 only for them to be swept by the Predators in the first round. The next season they missed the playoffs after losing two star players to injury in Corey Crawford (concussion) and Marian Hossa (skin disorder). McDonough said it was “unfair” to fire Quenneville after the 2017-18 season because of those injuries, but decided to give him his papers 15 games into the season.
After missing the playoffs for the first time in a decade, McDonough believes they’ll return to the postseason in the spring. After an encouraging 6-2-2 start, the Blackhawks have dropped five consecutive games and currently sit two points out the playoff picture. It’s only 15 games into an 82-game season, and the Blackhawks are without a top-four defenseman in Connor Murphy (back) and are working four rookies into the lineup (Alexandre Fortin, Dominik Kahun, Henri Jokiharju and Luke Johnson).
Time will tell. Or as Quenneville often said, “we’ll see.”
Age isn’t a problem if you win
Finally, let’s talk about the new guy. Colliton, as expected, didn’t receive many questions during the press conference but one that was sure to come up was his age. After all, he will be coaching four players other than him: in Chris Kunitz, Duncan Keith, Cam Ward and Corey Crawford.
#Blackhawks Colliton on being youngest head coach in #NHL: "Ultimately, it's about winning. I have to earn their trust by them believing I can help them win, that I can help them be better individually... After today, I don't think it will be an issue."— Chris Wescott (@TheChrisWescott) November 6, 2018
And McDonough believes Colliton will win.
McDonough continues: “[Colliton is an] excellent communicator. That is one of the things that really, really sticks out.” Adds that the #Blackhawks will give Colliton “everything he needs to succeed.”— Madeline Kenney (@madkenney) November 6, 2018
Bowman shared similar sentiments about Colliton, but made clear to note that this was him praising his new head coach and not bashing Quenneville for lack of communication with players.
John McDonough said of the #Blackhawks "We've had an incredible 10-year run, but that's over. That's behind us."— 670 The Score (@670TheScore) November 6, 2018
Remember the Blackhawks’ ending their 49-year title drought in 2010? How about them scoring two goals in 17 seconds to rally to win the Cup in 2013? Or what about when they won the Cup for the first time at home in 2015 since 1938?
All those memories are in the past. It’s time to put them behind you. This is the new Blackhawks. Just ignore those core players, or the ones that keep being brought back.