Joel Quenneville, coach
Season recap: Quenneville has already cemented his place among the game’s greatest coaches. He continued to move up the career coaching wins ladder this past season, ending with 706 wins, and now only trails Scotty Bowman (1,244) and Al Arbour (782). His achievements with the Blackhawks have been numerous. He’s guided them to two Stanley Cups and advanced them to their fourth Western Conference finals this past season. Quenneville has factored into the rise of the franchise along with a number of the players.
Despite all of Quenneville’s accomplishments, he, like any coach, is not perfect. And Quenneville’s coaching job in the 2013-14 season included some imperfections. Quenneville tried to get the Blackhawks to repeat as champions by repeating some of the coaching moves which worked well for him the season before. This time around, though, Michal Handzus wasn’t physically capable of being the same second-line center he was during their 2013 Stanley Cup run. Michal Rozsival wasn’t the same consistent defenseman he had been the season before. The Blackhawks put themselves in too deep of a hole going down 3-1 to the Kings in the Western Conference finals and couldn’t bounce back as they did against the Detroit Red Wings last season.
In the playoffs, Quenneville also broke apart the fourth line of Brandon Bollig, Marcus Kruger and Ben Smith that he used all season long. The change backfired for the Blackhawks. Bollig became a liability without Kruger and Smith, and, over time, the fourth line was nearly eliminated. The Blackhawks were often a three-line team in the playoffs, which weakened their depth and put more pressure on the nine playing forwards.
Quenneville was also reluctant to give ice time to prospects and newcomers he didn’t trust completely defensively. Brandon Pirri didn’t work out as center despite having some offensive success because Quenneville wasn’t crazy about his defensive game. Jeremy Morin proved he could be an offensive difference-maker, especially late in the season, but he struggled to stay up in the NHL and was benched for much of the playoffs. Peter Regin also had some positive stretches after being acquired from the New York Islanders, especially while on a line with Bryan Bickell and Morin late in the regular season, but he was also mostly a healthy scratch in the playoffs.
Quenneville’s season was far from all negative. The Blackhawks were just a goal away from reaching another Stanley Cup finals, and his coaching had a lot to do with that. He wasn’t afraid to sit experienced players like Kris Versteeg and Nick Leddy in the playoffs when he felt necessary. His game plan to keep Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane on different lines continued to provide balance for the Blackhawks. Keeping together Patrick Sharp, Toews and Marian Hossa on the top line for much of the season was quite successful. His fourth line of Bollig, Kruger and Smith proved to be defensively reliable. He utilized Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya against the opponents’ top lines in order to give Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook more offensive opportunities.
Quenneville can also be credited for the way the Blackhawks were able to get off to a strong start and avoid the Stanley Cup hangover. Throughout the season, he showed an ability to push the right buttons with players and also give them the rest they needed. There’s a reason why players enjoy playing for him.
Season highlight: The Blackhawks endured some inconsistencies after the Olympic break, but they pulled it together when they needed to late in the season. They won four of their last six regular-season games and eliminated the St. Louis Blues and Minnesota Wild in six games each during the first two rounds.
Season lowlight: Quenneville was fined $25,000 after he grabbed his groin area while expressing his disapproval for a call made during the first round of the playoffs.
Final grade: B.
Quotes: “I’ve been fortunate,” Quenneville said after moving in third place on the career coaching wins list. “I’m very happy with the way things have gone in places I’ve been. They’re a real nice team and put us in a real good spot here. It took a while to get this last one but, certainly, it’s been fun and we’ll keep pushing forward.”
What’s next: The Blackhawks have full confidence Quenneville can still lead them to more Stanley Cups. He is signed through the 2016-17 season. Some questions for Quenneville for next season will be whether he will give ice time to young players like Morin and Teuvo Teravainen, how he can fix the second-line center issue and whether players like Versteeg and Bollig can hold his trust when the season is on the line.