As Joel Quenneville made clear countless times during his decade with the Blackhawks, NHL coaches are in the winning business.
After a remarkable run that included three Stanley Cup championships, the inability to win enough finally caught up to him.
The Hawks fired coach Joel Quenneville on Tuesday and named 33-year-old Jeremy Colliton to replace him, making him the 38th coach in franchise history.
Quenneville, 60, is the second-winningest coach in the histories of the Hawks and the NHL. He went 452-249-96 with the Hawks, behind only Billy Reay’s 516 wins. He’s 890-532-77-137 overall, behind Scotty Bowman’s 1,244 victories.
The team also fired assistant coaches Kevin Dineen and Ulf Samuelsson and named Barry Smith an assistant on Colliton’s staff. The rest of the coaching staff will remain.
The Hawks failed to make the playoffs last season for the first time during Quenneville’s tenure. They are 6-6-3 this season and have lost five straight after a winless three-game trip to western Canada.
“A decision like this isn’t made on one game, one play, or one specific thing,” general manager Stan Bowman said during Tuesday’s press conference at MB Ice Arena, the Hawks’ practice facility. “It’s sort of a collection of things. Certainly the road trip was concerning. But I think even heading into that there were some elements to our game where they weren’t where they needed to be. It’s not just based off the record of the team, so it’s more a totality of circumstances than it is just based on one specific game.”
The Hawks haven’t won a playoff series since winning the Stanley Cup in 2015. Quenneville, who took over as Hawks coach five games into the 2008-09 season, was under contract through 2019-20 at a reported $6 million per season.
Owner Rocky Wirtz and team President John McDonough signed off on the decision to make a change.
“Sometimes, as painful as it is, you need a fresh start,” McDonough said.
That fresh start will be led by Colliton, 33, who is the youngest head coach in the NHL. He was 12 games into his second season with Rockford of the American Hockey League. Last year, the IceHogs went 40-28-4-4. Colliton, a native of Blackie, Alberta, was named IceHogs coach on May 18, 2017 — his first coaching job in North America after he spent four seasons as the coach of Mora IK in Sweden.
Colliton, whose NHL playing career comprised 57 games in five seasons for the Islanders from 2005-06 to 2010-11, is younger than four Hawks: Chris Kunitz, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Corey Crawford. But Colliton rejected the idea his age will hinder his ability to lead the Hawks.
“Ultimately, it’s about winning,” Colliton said. “I have to earn their trust by them believing that I can help them win, that I can help them be better individually, that we as a staff can put together a plan so they can have success. So if I can do that, there’s no problem. It doesn’t matter how old I am.”
While Quenneville took the fall for not getting enough out of this team, Bowman assembled the roster. However, McDonough said that during this process he did not consider firing Bowman.
“(Bowman’s) body of work is excellent,” McDonough said. “I want him to succeed. I want our roster to succeed. This is the first head coach that Stan Bowman has hired and I’m excited about that. Stan has been very high on Jeremy for a long time and I’m anxious to see how this is going to play out.”
Colliton has experience working with the Hawks players during the last 18 months. He’s been with the veterans during training camp and the prospects at development camp and in Rockford. After Tuesday’s practice, Jonathan Toews spoke of his reverence for Quenneville but immediately accepted and embraced the changes.
“We're going to look for some more energy, a different look to our game,” Toews said. “I’m sure from the outside looking in, a guy like Jeremy can identify some of the things maybe if you're up too close to the action, you can’t see the forest through the trees.”
McDonough made clear he believes the Hawks, currently in sixth place in the Central Division, are a playoff team. And with 67 games remaining in the regular season, there is plenty of time for Colliton to get them there. Or not.
“The challenge is to hit the ground running,” Colliton said. “We don’t have much time. We play Thursday. We had a good practice today, good energy. We pushed on some things that we want the guys to focus on. It’s just communication with everyone, as early as possible, with as many as possible, so that everyone is on the same page and we know what the plan is.
“We plan to win.”