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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How will the Blackhawks utilize Kirby Dach?

How will the Blackhawks utilize Kirby Dach?

The Blackhawks recalled No. 3 overall pick Kirby Dach from his AHL conditioning stint on Friday night after he appeared in three games with the Rockford IceHogs. He missed the first week of training camp with a concussion and the organization wanted him to get a taste of the pro action and back up to speed after not playing in any preseason games, either.

"I enjoyed the experience there," Dach said. "I had a lot of fun. Got to see a couple buddies. It was good for me to get down there and get some pro games under my belt and just feel what the pace is going to be like. It'll be another step up here, but I feel good and I feel like I'm ready to go."

Whether Dach makes his NHL debut on Sunday against the Washington Capitals won't be revealed by head coach Jeremy Colliton until after morning skate on Sunday. But where does he fit into the lineup going forward?

The Blackhawks are 2-0-1 in their past three games and aren't necessarily looking to shake up their rotation, even though they're still searching for consistency on all four lines.

The easy answer is for Dach to slide into a third-line center role behind Jonathan Toews and Dylan Strome, but the trio of David Kampf, Dominik Kubalik and Brandon Saad has undoubtedly been the most consistent for the Blackhawks this season. And we saw in the home opener what happened when they were separated. 

The Blackhawks held an optional practice on Saturday morning and didn't run through line rushes, but before Dach was assigned to Rockford, he took several spins on the first line with Toews and alternated with Drake Caggiula and Alex DeBrincat. It's possible Dach starts on the wing, where he can play top-six minutes and not have as much responsibility as a center would.

"I've played wing in previous years, so it's not something that's new to me," Dach said. "At the same time I'm open-minded to just getting into the lineup and helping the team win."

The Blackhawks can give Dach up to nine NHL games before deciding whether they want to burn the first year of his entry-level contract or send him back to the Saskatoon Blades of the WHL.

"As a kid you always grow up dreaming of playing in the NHL, so there'll be nerves," Dach said. "But there will also be a lot of excitement. I've just got to do my best to focus on my game and be ready to play whenever my name's called upon by the coaching staff."

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Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Blackhawks scratch out a win and Kirby Dach recalled

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USA Today

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Blackhawks scratch out a win and Kirby Dach recalled

Pat Boyle and Charlie Roumeliotis welcome Nick Gismondi into the fold before discussing Friday's win over Columbus. Robin Lehner played stellar and is forming quite a tandem in net with Corey Crawford (4:10), while the DeBrincat/Kane connection is alive and well (6:10), and the Blackhawks' struggles at even strength continued (12:10). Then, the guys react to the breaking news of Kirby Dach's recall from Rockford and discuss where he might fit into this lineup (15:10).

Listen to the entire episode here or in the embedded player below.

Blackhawks Talk Podcast

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