As the news broke earlier Tuesday that Joel Quenneville was out as head coach of the Chicago Blackhawks, reaction was swift.
“I think there’s a lot of different emotions that you kind of go through when something like that happens,” said forward Patrick Kane. “It was a tough day for everyone.”
“He means the world to me,” defenceman Brent Seabrook said. “Ten years, three Stanley Cups, what was I, 23, 24, when I came here? He taught me a lot as a young man, as a young player. Little things he always harped on that I’ll remember for the rest of my life, for sure.”
Quenneville was, of course, fired after 11 seasons with Chicago. He delivered three Cups and went 452-249-96 over his tenure, giving him a total of 890 career wins across seasons with the St. Louis Blues, Colorado Avalanche and Blackhawks. That puts him second in wins to Scotty Bowman.
It took five straight losses and a 6-6-3 record this season to make the Blackhawks decide to fire Quenneville.
“I was pretty surprised this morning,” goalie Corey Crawford said. “We spent a lot of time here with Joel as the coach, and the team has had three championships, obviously. You never want to see a guy leave, including the coaches.”
Quenneville, one of just four coaches in the expansion era to lift the Cup three times, will be replaced by Jeremy Colliton. The 33-year-old is the youngest coach in NHL history and signals a sea change for Chicago and a significant change in organizational flow.
“This is certainly a very difficult decision,” general manager Stan Bowman said. “But I believe it is in the best interests of the Blackhawks organization. We need to maximize each and every opportunity with our playoff goals in mind and create continued growth and development throughout our roster at the same time.”
Chicago also fired Kevin Dineen and Ulf Samuelsson and hired Barry Smith as assistant coach.
Quenneville had a year to go on his contract with the Blackhawks and was the longest-tenured coach in the NHL, but things are changing across the league and it’s probably not that surprising in that context to see him go. It makes sense that the youth movement would eventually take place behind the bench as well as on the ice.
For the record, 19 head coaches have been replaced in the NHL since 2017. That’s a high, high turnover rate and that suggests that the position isn’t exactly regarded with the same patience that it used to. Teams want to win and win now, even if that means reconfiguring the organization on the fly.
And missing the playoffs is inexcusable. Quenneville’s Blackhawks did just that last season and that put the writing on the wall, even if his coaching turned the franchise back around into a success story for the Windy City.
It is the end of an era. It’s also yet another mark of a new one, a time in which coaches are nearly dispensable as teams shift and shift again in an interminable endeavour to find that precise, inexpressible blend to bring hockey’s ultimate prize home.