Joel Quenneville hoists the Stanley Cup after the Blackhawks won the championship in 2015.

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Haugh: Sad Day Of Significance For Blackhawks

The Blackhawks' firing of Joel Quenneville puts the onus on Stan Bowman.

David Haugh
November 06, 2018 - 1:52 pm
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(670 The Score) The headline writes itself: Blackhawks Thank Q For Nothing.
 
The phrase might be funny if it wasn’t so sad. This was one of the saddest days the Blackhawks have seen in years.
 
On Election Day, the Hawks voted for general manager Stan Bowman over coach Joel Quenneville, one of Chicago’s greatest coaches ever who led the franchise to three Stanley Cup championships. That oversimplifies the situation but, essentially, the team had to check a box and chose "Bowman" over "Quenneville." Unofficial exit polling showed the Hawks losing public confidence at an alarming rate.
 
The big news stunned the city ‪shortly after 8 a.m. Tuesday‬. But some people have been braced for this reality since June 23, 2017.
 
That was the day the NHL Draft came to town and Bowman made two trades that history will record as the beginning of the end of the Quenneville Era. The Hawks dealt defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson, a Quenneville favorite, to the Coyotes for defenseman Connor Murphy and center Laurent Dauphin. They followed that up by sending explosive winger Artemi Panarin to the Blue Jackets for forward Brandon Saad, who has been a disappointment in his second stint with the Hawks.
 
No wonder Quenneville reacted that morning by walking out of a league meeting when he learned about the transactions. Quenneville interpreted those moves as unwelcome front office intervention, the kind of meddling that began that offseason with Bowman firing assistant coach Mike Kitchen. Quenneville remarked that it was only a matter of time before he would be the next to go, a source who spoke to him shortly after the 2017 draft-day deals said. To Quenneville, his ouster became a matter of when more than if.
 
When the Hawks missed the playoffs last year, it felt as if the organization established a sense of inevitability more than urgency. The moves Bowman made over the summer – but more significantly the ones he didn’t make – set the stage for a Hawks season almost designed to fail. Here we are, 15 games into that season with the Hawks sitting at 6-6-3, with Quenneville being replaced by a 33-year-old first-time NHL head coach named Jeremy Colliton. League sources said the Hawks put out feelers about the availability of former Rangers coach Alain Vigneault, who has 648 career victories, but settled on promoting Colliton from the AHL ‪Rockford IceHogs‬.
 
Yet Colliton wasn’t the name that stood out most on Tuesday’s well-prepared press release announcing the seismic decision. Barry Smith was. Smith, 66, was appointed Colliton’s assistant coach with the Hawks. He won five Stanley Cups with the Penguins and Red Wings as Scotty Bowman’s most trusted assistant coach before joining the Hawks organization nine years ago. The presence of Smith several years ago bugged Quenneville at times because he symbolized the kind of oversight a Hall of Fame-bound coach didn’t believe he needed. Appointing Smith as Colliton’s top assistant now, in Quenneville’s absence, draws the most direct line between the Hawks bench and the Bowmans – a connection not unnoticed by Hawks players ‪after Tuesday's practice, according to sources.  
 
The Hawks haven’t won a playoff series since they celebrated the 2015 Stanley Cup championship. They preach "One Goal," and making the difficult decision to fire arguably the NHL’s most-respected head coach reinforced how high their standards remain. But holding Quenneville responsible for the slow start of a defensively deficient roster that Bowman neglected last offseason went too far. It was Bowman who never adequately addressed the flaws on this team, which have been weaknesses year after year. And whose fault was it the Hawks missed the playoffs in 2017-'18 due in large part to the failure to land a competent backup goaltender after starter Corey Crawford went out in late December due to a concussion? Was that Quenneville’s responsibility? No. 
 
Hawks chairman Rocky Wirtz was right last summer when he told Crain’s Chicago that "nothing lasts forever," but it’s fair to wonder whether the Hawks fired the right guy. Bowman deserves credit for drafting and developing some players over the years such as Andrew Shaw and Alex DeBrincat, among others. He has made trades that helped win titles, such as the deals for Antoine Vermette and Nick Leddy. But his hockey credentials simply pale in comparison to those of Quenneville, the most qualified coach in the league. Firing Quenneville in this manner all but shuts the championship window for the Hawks and starts work on a rebuild. If the Hawks miss the playoffs again this season, is Bowman the right general manager to oversee that project? Team president John McDonough can answer that later. The Hawks created enough to worry about now.
 
They ousted a legend for a coach whose name you had to Google. Colliton will carry out orders from the top and impress everyone with his energy, enthusiasm and intelligence. No matter his age, Colliton deserves a chance to prove his NHL coaching mettle. But something about saying Colliton is replacing Quenneville seems strange.
 
You don’t easily replace the irreplaceable – and no word better describes Quenneville’s rightful place in Blackhawks lore.

David Haugh is the co-host of the Mully & Haugh Show on 670 The Score weekdays from 5-9 a.m. Listen to the show here. You can follow him on Twitter @DavidHaugh and email him at [email protected].​​​​​​