My partner Gatekeeper and I theorized, a number of weeks back on the RinkCast, around the possibility of Jeremy Colliton replacing Joel Quenneville as head coach of the Blackhawks during this season. To be fair, and honest, while both of us felt Colliton’s matriculation was likely at some point in the future, neither of us saw it in the cards during this season.
But, there you go.
And there’s a lot to unpack here, obviously.
First, Quenneville and his staff are taking the blame for the Blackhawks’ 6-6-3 start and 3-game losing streak that foreshadows what could be a miserable November stacked with quality opponents.
And it does beg the question: did Q suddenly devolve from being a Hall of Fame coach, or is this roster arguably the worst he’s had to work with in 10 years? The answer is pretty clearly the latter.
That said, did it seem at times that Q’s passion might have been doused this season? Frankly, his post-game comments at times suggested he wasn’t going to tilt against windmills—as though he had quietly accepted the bad hand dealt to him.
Second, was it one thing—like say a miserably bad power play, or recently healthy scratching Nick Schmaltz—a player the organization has been pushing as a “future first line center,” evidence to the contrary be damned. Probably it was many things. And clearly the organization has been high on 33 year old Jeremy Colliton since the day he was hired to coach the Rockford Ice Hogs.
But don’t kid yourself; this is for the most part a highly unpopular move by a GM—well, an entire front office— that is not currently held in high regard by most of the fanbase.
Taking all of that together, this move seems to suggest the Hawks’ rebuild is pretty much fully on—even if the organization won’t say it.
Longtime Scotty Bowman right-hand man Barry Smith—a noted teacher of the game—has been moved from within the organization to assist Colliton—and this may be to add a bit of coaching gravitas to Colliton, who is the same age or younger than Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Corey Crawford, and may get some sideways glances from the likes of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane as well.
So another question has to be asked: if you are looking to simply jumpstart an underperforming veteran roster, don’t you replace Q with a Darryl Sutter or a Ted Nolan? Yes, that’s what you do.
This move, clearly, feels like the “Silent Rebuild” (a term first coined here on The-Rink.com) is evolving into the “Obvious (but unstated) Rebuild.” Colliton is a very progressive hockey thinker, but, at this stage of his career, he simply doesn’t walk into an NHL dressing room full of multiple Cup winners and command full respect. At least not right away (hence, perhaps, the Smith move).
Sure, it’s possible, Colliton can press all the right buttons with this roster, catch lightning in a bottle, and win the Power Ball—and the Hawks will go deep into the playoffs without any extensive roster changes this year.
But more likely, there are going to be changes now throughout the organization. Everybody—except perhaps the front office who engineered today’s moves— are on some kind of notice.
Colliton is the Hawks coach of the future—the guy who is going to lead the next generation of Hawk talent (wherever that generation may actually be). He is not necessarily, make that probably not, the guy who is going to turn iron into gold with a current roster that lacks critical depth at center and defense.
And don’t be a bit surprised if the Hawks are somewhere between the wild card and basement of the conference on February 1—and some big sell-off moves happen over the ensuing thirty days. Maybe even sooner.
Like it or not, the coaching part of the rebuild is on. The question is, when will the roster start to catch up.
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