Blackhawks

Ready or not, Blackhawks entering new era with hiring of 33-year-old Jeremy Colliton as head coach

Ready or not, Blackhawks entering new era with hiring of 33-year-old Jeremy Colliton as head coach

After missing the playoffs last season for the first time since 2007-08, the Blackhawks made it clear that changes would be made if the results didn't as well going into the 2018-19 season.

The Blackhawks started out 6-2-2 and did so without Corey Crawford for the first five games, which gave the city of Chicago hope that 2017-18 may have been a blip.

But since then, they've lost five in a row (0-4-1) and the same issues that were magnified last season are still there: the power play remains near the bottom of the league, they've given up the second-most high quality scoring chances at even strength and the depth scoring has been a non-factor.

Something needed to change.

In an effort to do that, the Blackhawks relieved the second winningest coach in NHL history and three-time Stanley Cup winner Joel Quenneville of his duties and named Jeremy Colliton the new head coach

By no means is Quenneville at sole fault for what has transpired over the last several seasons. There's certainly blame to go around everywhere. But the Blackhawks know they can't sit back and let another season pass without being in contention during the prime years of Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, both of whom are off to their best starts of their careers in Year 12.

Quenneville was in his 11th season in Chicago, by far the most of any active head coach; for reference, Jon Cooper is now the new leader in his seventh season with the Tampa Bay Lightning. That's how spoiled the Blackhawks have been with Quenneville, who will forever be known as one of the greatest coaches in Chicago sports history.

By bringing in Colliton, the Blackhawks are hoping a new voice can help change the fortunes of this season and beyond but also instill new philosophies in a game that's constantly evolving. At 33 years of age, Colliton becomes the youngest active NHL head coach.

Colliton led the Rockford IceHogs to their first-ever Western Conference Finals after compiling a 40-28-4-4 record in his first season as an American Hockey League head coach in 2017-18. Before that, he spent four seasons as head coach of Mora IK in Sweden, where he guided his team a league-best 35-13-4 record and 105 points during the 2016-17 campaign.

People around the league have raved about Colliton's projection as an NHL head coach one day, but perhaps didn't see it coming this soon.

Core players have been traded. Assistant coaches have been fired. Quenneville was the perfect coach to oversee a well-oiled machine for the last decade. But times have changed.

In the middle of a retooling period, the Blackhawks felt it was time to part ways with the future Hall of Fame coach and hand the keys to somebody with no NHL coaching experience, but has a new way of thinking.

Ready or not, welcome to a new era.

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Blackhawks notebook: Kane-Toews chemistry, Seabrook's contract, Crawford update and Smith's role

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks notebook: Kane-Toews chemistry, Seabrook's contract, Crawford update and Smith's role

It's no surprise that Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews each had offensive explosions after getting put on the same line together on Sunday against the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals. But at the same time it was.

The duo played 273:28 minutes at even strength together last season, according to naturalstattrick.com, but had a minus-6 goal differential during that time. It was bizarre because they controlled 56.9 percent of the shot attempts and 60.5 percent of the high-danger chances.

Perhaps the hockey gods are repaying them for what they deserved a year ago. Or those are the results you're eventually going to get when you put two future Hall of Famers on the ice at the same time.

“For an offensive guy that wants the puck, he’s pretty much the perfect center to play with," Kane said. "He wins a lot of battles, he wins faceoffs, he’s obviously able to make plays and he can get to the hard areas, too, so he opens up a lot of space. We haven’t played with each other a lot over the past handful of years, but we played a lot together early on, so I think sometimes we just kind of revert back to what we did back then. It makes the game simple. It’s not like you have to think too much or even talk too much about what we want to do. We just want to work hard, win battles and play well defensively. If we do that, we should get a lot of chances.”

Toews turned the clock back before he and Kane were even in the NHL.

"I remember since we were like 12 or 13 playing against each other in Triple-A hockey, he was one of the smallest guys out there and he just seemed to be able to handle the puck so well even at that age," Toews said of Kane. "He could back defenders off and create time and space. He was tough to check because he was slippery and he was just deceptive. I think that's what sets him above everybody else in the league and most star players that maybe can take advantage of skating, size and speed where he doesn't really need any of those things. He's so smart when he gets the puck."

Whether or not they stay together for the long term remains to be seen, but the when Nos. 19 and 88 are clicking, usually the Blackhawks are too.

Brent Seabrook's contract

It's no secret in Chicago that Seabrook's contract sticks out as one that won't exactly age well for the Blackhawks under a salary cap system. At age 33, he's in Year 3 of an eight-year deal that carries a $6.875 million cap hit. 

While his best years on the ice may be behind him, his teammates believe Seabrook is still as important as ever inside the locker room and the team unity. Kane came to his defense on Monday after practice in response to a question about the core veterans trying to sustain a winning culture in a trying season.

"People want to get on Seabs about his contract," Kane said. "But to us, he’s underpaid [for] what he brings in this locker room and the way he’s such a great leader, such a big part of this locker room, takes in every guy just like he’s known him his whole life. He’s an unbelievable teammate. Even that game when we missed him when he was sick, you lose your heart and soul of the team a little bit because he’s such a big piece."

Corey Crawford update

Jeremy Colliton's playing career was cut short because of his concussion history. He knows exactly what Crawford is going through, which means he knows how to handle his situation from a coach's perspective.

Crawford skated with the team for the first time over the weekend, but Colliton cautioned not to read anything into it. He didn't provide much more information than that.

On Monday, Colliton offered a longer-form response on why he's been mum about Crawford's status:

"Him going on the ice, I said it two days ago, not to read too much into it. It’s going to be a process here. The day-to-day, it doesn’t really matter. It’s over time. Is he feeling better? Is he progressing? I’m not in his ear, 'How are you feeling?', asking [head athletic trainer Mike Gapski], 'How’s Crow feeling?' It doesn’t help me, it doesn’t help him and minute-to-minute, it doesn’t matter. It’s over time, how does he feel, is he getting better? Did I talk to him today? Yeah I talked to him today. But I didn’t ask him how he was feeling. Because day to day, it’s a non-issue. I just want him to be happy and over time, feel better. And then we’ll see if he can play at the end of that."

Barry Smith's role

When Blackhawks practiced wrapped up on Monday, Smith addressed the team in a huddle, got a stick tap ovation and received a handshake from every player. This was his last practice as the assistant coach, and Tuesday vs. the New York Islanders will be his last game behind the bench before Sheldon Brookbank officially takes full control of those responsibilities along with Don Granato.

After Tuesday, Smith will transition back into his role with the Blackhawks as Director of Player Evaluation.

"Certainly his experience and just his presence," Colliton said on what Smith brought to the table. "Great guy, very, very fun to be around. I knew him from last year, he’d been around Rockford. We were a little bit shorthanded and he left his wife and his previous life, lived in a hotel for two and a half months and was a great resource for me and the staff, and really appreciate that. He’s been through the wars already, so for him to come back into it was very selfless of him, I thought."

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Blackhawks' Patrick Kane named NHL's third star after another monster week

Blackhawks' Patrick Kane named NHL's third star after another monster week

For the third time in a month, Patrick Kane has been named an NHL star of the week. 

The 30-year-old Blackhawks winger received third star honors after recording 10 points (four goals, six assists) in three games.
Kane kicked off the week with a four-point outing in New Jersey, where he scored two goals and had a pair of primary assists while logging a career-high 28:50 of ice time in an 8-5 loss to the Devils on Monday. He followed that up by registering an assist in a 4-3 loss to the New York Rangers on Thursday.

Kane wrapped up the week with a five-point game on Sunday against the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals, scoring two goals and adding three assists in an 8-5 win during NBC's Game of the Week.

Kane's point streak is up to a season-long eight games. He has 20 points (seven goals, 13 assists) over that span, and has moved up to fifth in the NHL with 70 points.

Islanders goaltender Robin Lehner was named the first star, respectively, after going 3-0-0 and stopping 65 on 67 shots for a .970 save percentage and 0.67 goals against average in three games while Rangers forward Mika Zibanejad was named the second star after having seven points (five goals, two assists) and scoring the game-winning goal in all three games.

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