A year after the Blackhawks fired legendary head coach Joel Quenneville, who led the franchise to three Stanley Cup titles during his time in Chicago, it’s time to start talking about another coaching change. Quenneville’s replacement, Jeremy Colliton, should feel his seat getting hotter and hotter with each lackluster performance that his team turns in.
For the record, I never wanted the Blackhawks to fire Quenneville. I didn’t think the team’s poor play leading up to his exit was at all his fault and was more a result of bad roster decisions by the front office, but as we all know coaches take the brunt of the blame when things go south. I still don’t think it was the right decision to fire Q, but nonetheless, here we are.
I also thought it was a bit interesting that the Hawks chose to replace Quenneville with Colliton, who at the time of his hiring was just 33 years old and had never been a coach behind an NHL bench in his career. The Hawks’ thought process for this was understandable to an extent seeing as how analytics are playing a bigger role in the NHL these days than in year’s past, and Colliton is a guy willing to use and embrace those analytics. He was (still is) also very young, which matches the trend of new coaching hires not only in the NHL, but across all pro sports these days.
That being said, there was a lot of optimism surrounding the Blackhawks leading into this season. Colliton had all summer and training camp to work on and implement his system. The players also had all summer and all training camp to adapt to Colliton’s system, which is drastically different than the one that was employed by Joel Quenneville in his time in Chicago. GM Stan Bowman made a flurry of offseason moves to upgrade the team’s defense and goaltending. And after playing at a nearly 100-point pace during the second half of last season under Colliton, one could only assume that this year’s Blackhawks would be better than last year’s.
That has not been the case.
The Hawks currently sit 4-7-3 on the season, with just two of those wins coming in regulation. Their defense has been alarmingly awful, and the offense has regressed tremendously since last season ended. The only bright spot thus far has been the play of Corey Crawford and more specifically, Robin Lehner.
Too many games so far this season have the Blackhawks shown up with little to no effort and been blown away by the opposing team. What’s worse is that a lot of those ten losses (regulation and overtime) have come against bad teams who the Hawks allowed themselves to get dominated by. The Predators, who granted are one of the better teams in the league, handed the Blackhawks one of their worst defeats of the last decade on October 29th in Nashville. The score was *only* 3-0, but the way in which the Hawks got absolutely embarrassed in that game was inexcusable. Pekka Rinne even said it was a game unlike any other that he has played in during his long NHL career.
If the Blackhawks were going out each night and giving it their best effort while still losing, that’s one thing. That’s not what’s been happening, though. They appear to be going through the motions and not really caring, while also losing more often than not. Effort, while it’s ultimately up to the players to give it, falls on the coach. A good coach will teach good work ethic, much like Joel Quenneville. That the Blackhawks are not showing much effort on a nightly basis leads me to believe that Jeremy Colliton is not preaching it. It could also mean something worse:
Colliton has lost the locker room.
Hiring such a young coach who was barely older than many of the players on the team was a risky move by Stan Bowman to begin with. Heck, Colliton is two years younger than Duncan Keith and only a few months older than Brent Seabrook. Such a young coach walking into a locker room full of future Hall of Famers and proven winners just screams potential disaster, especially when said coach is replacing an all-time great.
Add in that Colliton just decided to bench a healthy Brent Seabrook, the team’s undisputed locker room leader, in back-to-back games, and he’s asking for a room full of pissed off players who might quickly be losing their respect in him. Despite whatever amount his contract might add up to, the players in that locker room will talk until they are blue in the face about how Seabrook is worth every nickel of his contract. When the veteran core group of players sees one of their own get benched the way in which Seabrook was benched (it was not handled well by the coaching staff), they are bound to start doubting the man in charge. And when the head coach begins to lose the faith of his most important and veteran players, it’s only natural that the younger and more inexperienced players will follow their lead. This can lead to the type of on-ice performances we are seeing from the Blackhawks.
Yes, it’s only been one calendar year with Jeremy Colliton behind the Blackhawks’ bench, but that one year might be all we need to see. It’s time for Stan Bowman (who should also be on the hot seat, but that’s another story) to admit that he made a mistake in hiring Colliton and fire him. Marc Crawford, currently one of the team’s assistant coaches, should take over in an interim role for the remainder of the season before the front office gets reevaluated by John McDonough and company at season’s end.