The Jeremy Colliton era has begun in Chicago.
The Blackhawks introduced the youngest coach in the NHL as the heir to Joel Quenneville and signalled the end of an era of another kind.The new guy will make his debut Thursday as the club faces off against the Carolina Hurricanes, but he ran 80 minutes of practice Wednesday and brought a lot to the table.
The Blackhawks are 6-6-3 but lost five straight. They’ve got a goal differential of minus-10, making them the second most porous team in the Western Conference to the terrible Los Angeles Kings.
But attitude can make a difference and the club is thrilled about the possibilities.
“I think we’re as positive and optimistic as we can be on a five-game losing streak,” Jonathan Toews said. “We started the season off well, but we know there’s a lot of potential there that’s not being tapped yet. Again, it’s just getting down to those details. Once you make small changes, you get a huge return on those changes.”
To that end, Colliton’s role is simple: turn the beat around.
The Blackhawks have had eyes for the 33-year-old for a long time now, relatively speaking. He was the coach of their AHL affiliate, where his communication skills were commended. Stan Bowman is high on Colliton and so is president John McDonough.
Whether or not Bowman was high on Quenneville, especially lately, was another matter. There were local rumours of a power struggle behind the scenes and in the end, Bowman had to settle. When a team slips, people start looking for people to blame.
For the Blackhawks, Bowman is in and Quenneville is out. The plain truth is that McDonough and Co. have faith in the GM’s roster and believe some of that aptitude will translate to Colliton’s flair behind the bench.
That flair was on display at practice Wednesday. The pace was fast and the focus seemed to be on the details. Universal changes are not in the cards, at least not right away. Colliton, who quantitatively has limited experience, plans on easing his way into the prevailing structure and working incrementally.
“Yeah, there’ll be some things that we adjust,” Colliton said. “I don’t think we’re going to have a huge amount of change. It’s ‘can we push on a few things, detail-wise, that can give us a little jump start?’ And then once we get our hands dirty here and we know [one another] a little better and play some games, then, yeah, things are going to come up and we’ll feel more comfortable and have a better feel for what we have to do.”
Make no mistake, “what we have to do” is win. The Blackhawks are not tossing the season and they aren’t engaging in some sort of imprudent rebuild on the fly. This is a modification, notwithstanding the theatrical release of Quenneville, and that point has been made clear in all of Chicago’s press since the change.
So how will the Blackhawks look against Carolina Thursday? Probably pretty much the same as they looked against the Flames on Saturday, when they dropped a 5-3 decision. But as Colliton’s methodology starts to shine through, changes could be coming one small detail at a time.