Blackhawks

Hawk Talk: Blackhawks have kudos for Q

Hawk Talk: Blackhawks have kudos for Q

Tuesday, May 25, 2010
10:15 PM

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com

CHICAGO Its undeniable that Joel Quenneville has led a storied career in the NHL. The ex-defenseman is just one of just three men to have played in at least 800 NHL games and been a head coach for at least another 800. He ranks 11th all-time with 535 regular-season wins and, aside from the legendary Scotty Bowman, is the only member of the top 14 winningest NHL coaches with a career points percentage of better than .600.

But one accolade had so far eluded Quenneville, even with 11 of his 13 teams making the playoffs: Coaching in the Stanley Cup Finals. With Sundays win clinching the Western Conference finals over the San Jose Sharks, the Chicago Blackhawks mentor can shake that monkey off his back and focus on taking home the Cup. And those close to him on the Blackhawks couldnt be happier.

With nine Stanley Cup wins and an NHL all-time best 1,244 regular-season victories, Bowman, now a Blackhawks senior advisor, has been around the rink a few times. So without deifying a man who felt such kinship with the Cup he named his son (now Blackhawks GM) Stan, there can be no higher praise of a coach than whatever spills from Bowmans lips. And the Hall-of-Famer was quick to praise the job Quenneville has done with the Hawks.
Its so great for Joel, Bowman said. Youve got to have players, of course, but Joel has paid his dues. Its about time.

Bowman was quick to note that Quenneville had indeed coached in the Stanley Cup Finals, as an assistant under Marc Crawford for the 1997 Cup-winning Colorado Avalanche. But he also knows that the head mans first shot at clinching a Cup is sweet.

No one knows a team better than a head coach, Bowman said. This team has stayed focused despite being young and not quite through all the playoff battles a Stanley Cup team usually has.

Bowman also praised Quennevilles work guiding a team that is so marked by youth overall and guided by such young stars as Jonathan Toews (who turned 22 during the playoffs) and Patrick Kane (21). He recalled only his first Cup winner, the 1973 Montreal Canadiens (ironically, cough, a team that upended the favored Blackhawks in the Finals), as having such a young element on it. But the sum playoff points total of players 22 and younger for Bowmans 1973 Habs was just 19 (led by Guy Lafleurs eight) while Toews (26 points) and Kane (20) lead Chicago in playoff scoring (and Toews leads all NHL playoff scorers), and 22-year-old Niklas Hjalmarsson has chipped in five points as well.

This most recent sweep was perhaps as the coup de grace of a brilliant coaching run for Quenneville this spring. Count Bowman as one of many veteran observers who were downright amazed at how well Coach Q focused his team specifically for the Western Conference finals.

These two teams Chicago and San Jose were neck-and-neck all season, the veteran mentor said. By that measure, you couldnt find two more evenly-matched teams. And yet the Blackhawks are advancing with a sweep. I just dont know how you couldnt have done a better coaching job than Joel did.

Blackhawks center John Madden brings all 37 of his years to the rink as a veteran competitor while skating like those legs are still 27. But for all his knowledge of the game, the Chicago alternacap was unaware that Quenneville was stepping into the Stanley Cup spotlight for the first time. In fact, no sooner than Madden had dismissed needing any extra incentives to win a Cup than this writer supplied him one.

Wow, I didnt realize that, Madden said. Is that true?

When informed that, indeed, Quenneville was leading his first team into the Finals, Madden recounted the joy he felt in helping deliver veteran coach Pat Burns his first Cup, with the New Jersey Devils in 2003. Burns had mentored three previous teams and labored 13 seasons in the NHL as a head coach before drinking from the chalice.

(Cue the opening notes of The Twilight Zone: Quenneville is in his 13th year as a head coach. Burns was 51 when his Devils won the Cup. Quennevilles age? Fifty-one.)

We were so happy to get Burns the Cup in 03, Madden remembered. Hed had some tough breaks that kept him from getting too close over most of his career. It would be great to get Joel a Cup, too. Id be ecstatic.

Quenneville, for his part, has been cool and calm to the core in the early days of his first taste of Stanley Cup coaching. Tuesday he was cracking jokes, like how he had a feeling that the number of ticket requests he was preparing to receive could be a concern. But the mentor also showed surprising perspective for a man whos coaching his first Stanley Cup club.

You never know how many opportunities youll get here, Quenneville said. The process is what youll remember: Where were you, what happened that day. The camaraderie around the room is what you cherish.

Such sentiment is music to the ears of Bowman, who recognizes that Cups are won and lost depending on the perspective a team places on the process itself.

It can break both ways, he said. Youve got to keep your priorities in order, but playing it too straight doesnt work, either. You get excited to be here, but keep it under control.

Cool Hand Q getting out of control? Well have to see it to believe it.

Brett Ballantini isCSNChicago.com's Blackhawks Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnikon Twitter for up-to-the-minute Hawksinformation.

Blackhawks 2018-19 season grades: Front office

stan_bowman_ap.jpg
AP

Blackhawks 2018-19 season grades: Front office

If we're evaluating Stan Bowman's moves as a whole, we have to go back to July 1 when the 2018-19 season really started.

On that day, the Blackhawks announced three signings: Chris Kunitz (one year, $1 million), Brandon Manning (two years, $2.25 million cap hit) and Cam Ward (one year, $3 million). Not exactly splashy additions after missing the playoffs for the first time in 10 years — although, to be fair, it wasn't a great market to throw money around.

Eleven days later, the Blackhawks traded Marian Hossa and his $5.275 million cap hit to the Arizona Coyotes in a seven-player deal that included top-nine winger Vinnie Hinostroza. Bowman acknowledged after the trade that he tried exploring every possible avenue before surrendering that the financial flexibility became more valuable.

But the trade might've put the team in a better position going into free agency had it been executed before July 1. Because of all that, Bowman's grade isn't looking great so far.

Then we get into the actual regular season.

The biggest move Bowman made was the coaching change on Nov. 6 in going from future Hall of Famer Joel Quenneville to Jeremy Colliton, which was a controversial decision in and of itself, especially the timing of it.

“There’s no perfect way to do things," Bowman admitted. "I think we made the best of it at the time. It’s one of those things where you’ve just gotta get through it. I think he’s gonna benefit from not only having a training camp next year but also we had this whole long stretch of a season. ... We’ve got a lot more things we want to get to, and I think we did a good job of — it’s a good start, but I’m sure Jeremy will tell you that we want to be way better next year and we’re gonna push our players to be better. We’re gonna try to do things differently. It’s not just taking this exact same program and we’ll start that. We want to do different things as well and enhance our team. I think there’s reason for hope there.”

Where did Bowman start to earn high marks? The roster tinkering, beginning in late November.

Perhaps recognizing that Nick Schmaltz wasn't progressing the way the team would have liked in a contract season, Bowman dealt him for a potential future second-line center in Dylan Strome and replenished the top-nine forward they lost in Hinostroza with Brendan Perlini, who showed flashes down the stretch. That's turned out to be a win-win for both sides.

The trade that was very clearly one-sided is the one Bowman pulled off with Peter Chiarelli, who was later relieved of his GM duties with the Edmonton Oilers.

Not only did Bowman acquire rugged winger Drake Caggiula, who became such a valuable part of the Blackhawks' second-half turnaround because he was a perfect complement for Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews on the top line, but he unloaded the contract of Manning without having to retain salary or giving up an important piece of the roster. It essentially gave the Blackhawks an extra $2.25 million to work with this summer, which shouldn't go unnoticed when you look at how deep the 2019 free agent class is.

Bowman essentially undid the mistake he made and put the Blackhawks in an even better position going into this offseason by adding a useful player on top of it. So he certainly upped his overall grade.

Now it's time to spend the money he cleared in getting rid of the contracts of Hossa and Manning, and continue building around the current core.

"We're not going to bring the same group back," Bowman said. "That's clear. We don't do that really any year. There's changes to every team, even a team that ends up winning the Cup this year will have some different players. We're going to have some new players next year. What we're going to do is try to improve in the areas where our team needs some help and the way that looks isn't completely clear right now, but we have time over the next couple months to dive in and look at our team in greater detail and figure out how we're going to make that happen.

"There's obviously free agent signings, there's trades, there's growth from within. Those are the ways that your team improves from year to year and we're going to do that. So we're going to have some new players here next year for sure but we have a lot of players that are going to be back and I think a lot of the key guys who had good seasons they're coming back for sure, so we don't need across the board changes but we do need some new players."

Front office: B-

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Blackhawks 2018-19 season grades: Coaching

Blackhawks 2018-19 season grades: Coaching

Jeremy Colliton had difficult shoes to fill. That's an understatement.

He replaced a three-time Stanley Cup winner and the second-winningest NHL coach of all-time in Joel Quenneville. And Colliton jumped in at the age of 33 just days after he and his wife welcomed their third child.

To make things even more complicated, Colliton took over as Blackhawks head coach just one month into the season and had to implement some new components of his system on the fly. That took a while for the veterans who had been playing one way for the last 10-plus years to adjust.

Colliton's No. 1 priority when he came to Chicago was to help fix a power-play unit that ranked third-worst during the 2017-18 campaign with a 16.0 percent success rate and 26th through the first 15 games of the 2018-19 season with a 14.0 percentage. It wasn't getting any better.

But from the day he got hired and on, the Blackhawks finished with the seventh-best power play (21.8 percent). It dried up down the stretch, but that was after a two-month span where it was converting at nearly a 40 percent clip. It was bound for regression.

The penalty kill, however, is something that stayed in the basement of the NHL all season long. They were 23rd under Quenneville through the first 15 games (76.6 percent) and finished last with a 71.7 percent kill rate under Colliton in the remaining 67 games. You can overcome a struggling power play, but it's almost impossible to overcome a bad penalty kill.

At 5-on-5 play under Quenneville this season, the Blackhawks had an expected goals for percentage of 45.8, a scoring chances for percentage of 49.2 and high-danger chances for percentage of 43.6, according to naturalstattrick.com. Under Colliton, they had an expected GF percentage of 45.8, SCF percentage of 46.9 and HDCF percentage of 42.6.

The sample sizes obviously aren't the same (15 games vs. 67) and, as we mentioned above, it took a couple of months for the Blackhawks to really get comfortable with Colliton's defensive structure. They certainly went through growing pains.

But with the Blackhawks expected to be active this summer in free agency and adding players that fit their new head coach's style, coupled with the fact that Colliton will have a full training camp to iron out the kinks and incorporate even more elements into his system, and the team could hit the ground running for the 2019-20 campaign rather than playing catch-up all season long. 

"I think as you go you get more comfortable, you gain confidence, you go through experiences and deal with situations that come up and they're challenging at times," Colliton said. "You get through it. And then the next time stuff comes up, you feel more confident, you feel better about what you're doing. I had confidence when I came in November that I had a plan and we as a staff could make some progress. It took longer than we all would have liked, but I think I'm a better coach now than when I walked in, and I'm going to use that going forward. 

"There's going to be challenging circumstances next year too where maybe doesn't come easy. But I think all the best coaches get better all the time. Every day they're bringing new ideas and new energy and looking outside for inspiration. That's what I expect to."

Coaching: B-

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