Hawks Insider

Blackhawks begin Derek King era: 'It sucks when someone gets fired'

Hawks Insider
Derek King

The Blackhawks wiped out their coaching staff on Saturday, relieving head coach Jeremy Colliton and assistant coaches Sheldon Brookbank and Tomas Mitell of their duties after a 1-9-2 start to the season. It was a move that probably wasn't surprising, given how badly the team struggled out of the gates.

The next order of business was trying to figure out who would take over as the interim.

Blackhawks interim GM Kyle Davidson called Rockford IceHogs head coach Derek King to offer him the job because he was looking for an "outside voice" and you could only imagine the reaction from King.

"When I got the call, I almost fell out of my chair," King told NBC Sports Chicago in an exclusive interview.

King has developed a close friendship over the years with Colliton. The two of them were on staff together in Rockford and communicated frequently as the bench bosses of the AHL and NHL clubs. King didn't want to get the job like this. But that's how this business works.

'You never want to see this," King said of Colliton losing his job. "He's a friend. If anything, it's not we coached with each other, he was the head there and I was the head in Rockford, it was just we were friends. And we had a good relationship, so I feel [for him]. He understands, though. I had a good conversation with him yesterday. It's part of the business, we all get that. This is what we signed up for."

 

King's message to the team on Sunday morning was simple. Go out there and play loose and have fun. Don't be so tight. And that's exactly what the Blackhawks did.

The Blackhawks allowed a season-low 21 shots on goal and Alex DeBrincat scored the overtime winner against the Nashville Predators to give King his first NHL win as a head coach. He immediately picked up the puck and, after the game, gave it to King, who will surely remember this day for a long time.

"It's fun to win games," DeBrincat said. "It's been tough this first month of the season, but the guys battled hard today, got the win. That's what matters right now, getting wins and having fun. Good for Kinger to get his first win and wanted to make sure he got that [puck]."

Still, it was a bittersweet moment for the Blackhawks. Three coaches lost their jobs on Saturday, and nobody feels good about that.

"It's always tough to hear," Patrick Kane said. "As players, you always feel like you could have done more to make that situation not happen. But came in today and I thought Marc Crawford and Kinger did a good job of getting the message across that we wanted to play free, we wanted to play on our instincts and also play with a lot of energy. … It's definitely always, I guess, sad when something like that happens."

The Blackhawks made a coaching change not because they were losing, but because of how they were losing. The message didn't appear to be getting across, and the leadership group is accepting responsibility for the role they played in that.

"I don't know if it wasn’t the message that wasn't getting across as much as – I mean let's face it, there's been a lot going on this year and it's been hard for a lot of the players who have kind of inherited this situation in our organization," Jonathan Toews said. "It was just every little thing seemed to go wrong and we’d all seize up and make mistakes and wouldn’t support each other well. It sucks when someone gets fired over it and loses their job.

"As much as guys like Brooksie and Jeremy and Tomas put into helping this team win, it's very disappointing for them, but I think for us as players we feel responsible as well."

The Blackhawks needed a win more than anything on Sunday to help lift the weight off everyone's shoulders. It's been a whirlwind of a season so far, both on and off the ice.

The Blackhawks can only hope Sunday's win can be a launching point for the rest of the season as they enter the King era.

"I made it clear that this wasn’t about me," King said. "I love the fact, it’s your first game and you get a win, obviously you’re pumped about it. But this is not about me. This is about those guys. I told them, you guys should be proud of each other because you stuck together and you fought through it and you got a win out of it."

 

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