CHICAGO — Jeremy Colliton has a plan, and he has time. It feels pretty good, too.
Unlike last season, when he took over after the Chicago Blackhawks fired coach Joel Quenneville in November, Colliton gets a full training camp to implement his vision for the team. He also should have more practice time to use before the heart of the schedule increases the need for rest, and he thinks it could make a difference after Chicago missed the playoffs each of the previous two years.
”No question, it’s a big deal,” Colliton said Friday on the first day of the team’s annual fan convention. ”A chance to roll things out in a systematic way with a plan, a teaching progression, and the amount of practice time and video and conversations that are needed to really nail down how we expect the team to play. That’s exciting.”
The 34-year-old Colliton was inserted into a difficult situation for his first head coaching job in the NHL, replacing the popular Quenneville with the team in the middle of an eight-game slide. Chicago struggled to adjust to Colliton’s style, dropping 16 of his first 20 games behind the bench.
But Colliton and the Blackhawks got better the longer they were together, going 26-15-6 in their last 47 games. If they can pick up where they left off, they could put an end to what qualifies as an extended postseason drought in a city that partied with the Stanley Cup in 2010, 2013 and 2015.
”I think it took us a while to grasp on last year, probably longer than it should have,” forward Alex DeBrincat said. ”It kind of hurt us in the long run, but I mean towards that second half of the season I thought we were doing really well and winning a lot of games. With a full training camp, we can be a really good team from the start and put ourselves in a good position.”
While Colliton has strengthened his relationships with the team’s biggest stars over time, he is working with a much different group than the one he had at the end of last season. Defensemen Calvin de Haan and Olli Maatta came over in a pair of June trades, goaltender Robin Lehner and center Ryan Carpenter agreed to deals in free agency and pesky forward Andrew Shaw returned to Chicago via a trade with Montreal.
The biggest outstanding question is the status of restricted free agent Brendan Perlini, who had 12 goals in 46 games after he was acquired in a November trade with Arizona that also moved Dylan Strome to the Blackhawks. Perlini and general manager Stan Bowman had no update on the situation Friday.
The 28-year-old de Haan, who is coming back from right shoulder surgery and might not be ready for the start of the season, played with Colliton in the minors. Looking back, he said he isn’t surprised to see Colliton get into coaching.
”You can see why he would be a good coach,” de Haan said. ”He’s very methodical. Smart guy. He’s climbed the ranks pretty quick, and I think there’s a reason for that.”
He certainly made an impression on the Blackhawks in his first season in charge.
”He’s really a bright guy,” star forward Patrick Kane said, ”and I think the thing he brings to the table is he’s smart, but he brings a simple approach and kind of lets you play off your instincts a little bit. I think he’s going to be a good coach for a long time.”
Colliton was a second-round pick in the 2003 NHL draft and had three goals and three assist in 57 games with the New York Islanders. He also played overseas before retiring due to post-concussion issues.
The Blackhawks’ busy offseason could create some tricky questions for training camp, but Colliton said the increased competition could help the team. After all, he has time to figure it out.
”Like anything, the longer (you are in a position), the more comfortable you get with the people around you and the responsibilities and what you want to do, it just gets easier,” he said. ”So I’m very comfortable. I’m excited.”