Blackhawks

Jamal Mayers reacts to Joel Quenneville’s firing

Jamal Mayers reacts to Joel Quenneville’s firing

Count former Blackhawks Stanley Cup Champion forward and NBC Sports Chicago Blackhawks analyst Jamal Mayers among those who did not see the Hawks firing of head coach Joel Quenneville coming.

“Well obviously it’s gotta be shock, you think about what Joel’s done in his time here,” Mayers told NBC Sports Chicago when asked about his initial reaction to the news. 

Mayers, who played seven seasons under Quenneville in St. Louis, before his two seasons with him in Chicago, went on to list the coach’s Hall of Fame credentials that weren’t enough to save his job  - 3 Stanley Cup championships in 10-plus seasons as Blackhawks head coach, second winningest coach in the history of the NHL - while also relaying his own personal gratitude.

“Certainly (I) feel indebted to Joel, for bringing me back to play for him in Chicago and a chance to win a Stanley Cup and actually make it happen in 2013."

As for the timing of the move, which comes on the heels of an 0-4-1 stretch, Mayers pointed to the 4 day break between games and – while qualifying that he would only be speculating – the sense of urgency for a playoff push, just over 5 weeks into the season. 

“I think (the Blackhawks front office) sees that there’s so many teams clustered together, that the team needed to make a move here in the next six weeks, (and that they think that stretch) is that critical to making the playoffs, and I guess they thought a change needed to be made."

As a former player, Mayers was also quick to point out that the Blackhawks players will bear the burden of this decision.

“I know that the leadership group will be disappointed in themselves, that they let him down," Mayers said. "The reality is that you can’t fire 23 players. It’s the easiest way to shake up a team. I think they’ll take ownership of it. I think they’ll take responsibility. And I think they’ll be upset enough to help change the course of the way things have been going the last five or six games.”

Blackhawks know development won’t be linear for Henri Jokiharju

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AP

Blackhawks know development won’t be linear for Henri Jokiharju

The Blackhawks couldn't have been more pleased with how Henri Jokiharju performed at the 2019 World Juniors. He was one of Finland's best and most reliable players, and played a crucial leadership role for his country that won gold.

But he hasn't been as effective on the blue line as he was before he left. 

In four games since returning to the Blackhawks, Jokiharju has one assist, two shots on goal, a minus-3 rating and is averaging only 14:47 of ice time. He averaged exactly 20:00 minutes of ice time per game in his first 32 contests and was among the top Chicago skaters in 5-on-5 ice time.

On Sunday against the Washington Capitals, he will be a healthy scratch.

"I think as a 19-year-old, we're pleased with his progression," coach Jeremy Colliton said. "It's not going to happen overnight where he becomes a dominant player at this level. There's going to be ups and downs, and that's part of the journey as a young player. You got to go through some adversity, and it's not going to be perfect and that's fine. It's up to us to give us to give him the feedback he needs to continue to improve and up to him to work as hard as he can."

To be fair, Jokiharju hasn't exactly been put in the best positions to succeed as of late. In one of the games, he was moved to the left side as an experiment for the Blackhawks, who organizationally have a surplus of right-handed shot defensemen. In another, the team rolled with seven defensemen, which makes it difficult for any defender to get in a groove.

The other part of the equation is that the Blackhawks are currently at seven defensemen, and have another on the way when Gustav Forsling returns from his upper-torso injury. Somebody needs to come out. Two guys, actually.

The Blackhawks aren’t looking at this stretch for Jokiharju as a setback. They know player developments aren’t linear, especially with young defensemen. So they’ll be patient with him and make sure he’s growing into the player they all want him to become at his own pace, even if it means cutting back his ice time.

"I'm not sure the way to go is to play them until they drown," Colliton said. "I think we try to give them what they can handle and sometimes maybe give them less than they can handle while giving them feedback, whether it's off-ice work or video work or extra practice time. That can be part of the picture. We could end up with a rotation on defense with some of the young guys we have. That wouldn't be a bad thing either. We have some young players. It's tough to play 82 games at this level against top competition night in and night out. It could be an option to lighten the load somewhat."

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After skating with Blackhawks, when could Corey Crawford return?

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USA TODAY

After skating with Blackhawks, when could Corey Crawford return?

The Blackhawks are in the middle of a five-game losing streak, but there was a positive development at practice on Saturday.

Corey Crawford was on the ice 30 minutes beforehand working with goaltending coach Jimmy Waite, along with Collin Delia and Cam Ward. He has been in concussion protocol since Dec. 16 after smacking the back of his head on the post and leaving in the second period against San Jose.

"Positive that he was out there, but I'm not sure it means a ton," coach Jeremy Colliton said. "Hopefully he continues to feel better."

This wasn't the first time Crawford had been on the ice since the injury, according to a source, which is also great news because it indicates he's responding well to the workouts. But he didn't fully participate with the team in practice, so there are still hurdles that he needs to overcome before getting cleared to play.

The good news is, Crawford hasn't been sidelined very long. It's been only a month, so it shouldn't take him too long to get back into game shape compared to this summer when he was off the ice for more than six months and spent all of training camp getting his conditioning back. Crawford went straight into drills on Saturday, with several teammates getting in on the action to help simulate game-type scenarios.

The Blackhawks host the Washington Capitals on Sunday and then the New York Islanders on Tuesday before going on a nine-day break. The team isn't putting a timeline on his return, but it wouldn't be surprising to see Crawford between the pipes again shortly after they return.

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