The Chicago Blackhawks made a huge announcement Tuesday morning with the firing of head coach Joel Quenneville. Jeremy Colliton, 33, has been named as his replacement.
Blackhawks assistant coaches Kevin Dineen and Ulf Samuelsson have also been relieved of their duties and Barry Smith, longtime friend of Senior Advisor of Hockey Operations, Scotty Bowman, has been added to Colliton’s staff.
From Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman:
“This is certainly a very difficult decision. 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. After much deliberation the last several days, with great respect to what Joel has meant to the Blackhawks, we knew we had to make a change. Along with our appreciation for everything Joel has accomplished for our franchise, we also thank Kevin and Ulf for their many contributions and wish them success in the future.
“We are extremely fortunate to have Jeremy Colliton in the Blackhawks organization and feel strongly that he is best positioned to continue leading our players here in Chicago. All of those associated with Jeremy strongly believe he possesses many of the tools that will make him a successful head coach in this league. He has been very impressive as a communicator, a leader, and coach. He knows the Blackhawks system, understands our players and our culture and we believe he gives us the best opportunity to have success and grow as a team.”
Quenneville remains under contract at $6 million per year through the end of the 2019-20 season.
After zero in-season firings in 2017-18, the NHL has seen two coaches let go in a matter of three days.
The move, which has been brewing for some time, comes as the Blackhawks sit out of the Western Conference playoff picture with 6-6-3 record. Their glory days of NHL dominance are over, and that’ll happen when you spend to the cap annually and your top players seek higher paying contracts every summer. Salaries needed to be shed and despite a growing cap ceiling, the money tied up in some of the team’s biggest names hampered Bowman from adding quality help to the roster. Instead, cheaper, homegrown options were sought, and while there have been a few finds over the years that paid off, most haven’t been able to make as big of an impact, thus leaving the franchise in its current state.
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The relationship between Quenneville and Bowman reportedly strained over the years after the dismissal of one of his assistants, Mike Kitchen, and the trades that sent away Niklas Hjalmarsson and Artemi Panarin. Today’s moves show that the GM finally won the power struggle.
Colliton was in his second season coaching the Blackhawks’ AHL affiliate after leading the team to the Western Conference Final last year. Before joining Rockford, he was head coach of Mora IK of Sweden’s HockeyAllsvenskan for four seasons.
Quenneville leaves as the second-winningest head coach in franchise history after being hired in 2008. He guided the team to three Stanley Cups in 2010, 2013 and 2015 and helped the Blackhawks reach the playoffs in nine of his 10 seasons behind the bench. He’s currently the second-winningest head coach in NHL history with 890 wins and is second all-time with 1,636 games coached.
If he chooses, he certainly won’t be out of work very long. There are plenty of possible destinations this season when you take a gander at the NHL standings. Would Quenneville’s availability now force his old team, the St. Louis Blues, to quickly make a decision on Mike Yeo’s future? It should be interesting to watch how this shakes out.
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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.