CHICAGO — Searching for a fresh start for the reeling Chicago Blackhawks, interim general manager Kyle Davidson looked to the team’s top minor league club for a new voice.
Enter Derek King, who took over as the team’s interim coach after Jeremy Colliton was fired on Saturday.
King is charged with hitting the reset button after the team’s 1-9-2 start. The 54-year-old King has been the head coach at Rockford in the American Hockey League since 2018 following a productive 14-year NHL playing career that included 261 goals and 612 points with four teams.
He makes his NHL coaching debut Sunday night against Nashville.
“I thought the person at the top of the pyramid should be from the outside,” Davidson said. “Derek’s not far away in Rockford, but still an outside perspective, and outside voice at the top of that pyramid.”
The low-key King was taken by surprise when Davidson called.
“I was in shock,” said King, who ran a morning skate and then met with Blackhawks players on Sunday. “I was talking with Kyle and just like, ‘Wow. Sure. I’ll do it. Why not, right.’
“But yeah, I’m nervous. I’m a little scared. I’m anxious. I’m excited. There’s a lot of emotions going on right now.”
The coaching change is the latest chapter in a rough stretch for what was once regarded as one of the NHL’s marquee franchises.
The Blackhawks published a report on Oct. 26 that showed senior leaders with the organization largely ignored allegations that assistant coach Brad Aldrich sexually assaulted former first-round pick Kyle Beach during the team’s run to the Stanley Cup title in 2010. Aldrich told investigators the encounter was consensual.
Stan Bowman, Chicago’s general manager and president of hockey operations, resigned in the wake of the independent review, and Al MacIsaac, another top hockey executive, also departed. The NHL fined the Blackhawks $2 million, and Joel Quenneville, the Blackhawks’ coach at the time of the alleged assault, stepped down as coach of the Florida Panthers.
The coaching change was the first major move for Davidson, who was elevated to interim GM when Bowman stepped aside. The immediate need is just to make the team competitive again after the franchise began the season with playoff aspirations.
“You find out if you’re a playoff team in April and let’s be fully honest, the math is not in our favor right now to get to that point,” Davidson said.
Davidson, as did King, stopped short of calling 2021-22 a lost season for Chicago. But both will insist on more accountability from the team.
“It’s going to be demanding, getting back to where we want to be, but we’re also going to make it fun,” King said.
King was successful with that approach as a player, topping 20 goals seven times and scoring 40 in 1991-92 with the New York Islanders. He said he doesn’t have a coaching style, but he wants the Blackhawks to both relax and bear down.
“They’re tight,” King said. “My personality is going to come in and just let them take a deep breath and get your shoulders dropped and go and have some fun and get back to the game we love to play.
“Our guys are going to learn a lot, from each other. We’ll just keep moving forward. Come April, if by some miracle or whatever we’re there (in the playoffs), we’re there. If not, that’s OK as long as we did our job.”
Davidson said the search for a permanent head coach wouldn’t start until after the season, and didn’t rule out King for the position. Davidson added he was empowered by Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz and CEO Danny Wirtz to make additional changes.
Marc Crawford was among the assistant coaches who were retained after Colliton’s departure. Crawford, 60, has been an NHL head coach over parts of 16 seasons with five teams. Davidson said Crawford wasn’t in the running for the role now with Chicago because he wanted a fresher perspective.
“This wasn’t a Derek versus Marc decision,” Davidson said. “Marc was entrenched in the coaching staff.”
Davidson also said Crawford was not excluded because of past accusations of verbal and physical abuse of players while he coached Los Angeles and Vancouver. Those claims eventually netted Crawford a suspension by the Blackhawks while he was an assistant in Chicago in 2019-20.
Crawford was reinstated after apologizing and going through counseling.