The Chicago Blackhawks fired a great coach in Joel Quenneville and the likely did so to hide the fact that team has been poorly run by management.
Quenneville was relieved of his head coaching duties on Tuesday and along with his assistants, were told to hit the road thanks to a season that has started poorly for the organization. Quenneville had spent the past 11 seasons as Chicago's head coach, but the Blackhawks were 6-6-3 to start the 2018-19 NHL campaign and after missing the playoffs last year, a change was required.
Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman didn't want to wait longer than his team's current three-game losing streak and said, "This is certainly a very difficult decision. But I believe it is in the best interests of the Blackhawks organization." He added, "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."
It's an ironic statement considering it's fairly easy to blame Bowman for the Blackhawks troubles. A series of bad trades, terrible contracts and mismanagement have left the Blackhawks in a deep hole and it can be argued Quenneville took the hit here.
It can be difficult to keep a successful team together in the NHL. The rising cost of contracts and having to reward playoff success in future deals made it tricky for the Blackhawks to navigate what to do with players like Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. Bowman got it wrong.
Before contracts were ballooning, he gave both Kane and Toews long-term deals worth an annual average of $10.5 million each. This was at a time the salary cap wasn't as high as it is now and even now, two players earning that kind of money on one team can be tricky to build a team around. The second he gave out those deals, the Blackhawks had to know they'd spend offseason after offseason moving out good players to make room. He also gave huge deals to defenseman Brent Seabrook and goaltender Corey Crawford.
Many of these deals have not worked out but the result was having to trade players like Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd, Brandon Saad, Artemin Panarin and other key contributors in a span of a few seasons. Meanwhile, Kane has been steady but Toews has dropped his production in a major way with three seasons under 60 points. Only this year is he looking like he's rebounded to anything remotely resembling someone worth that kind of money.
If you look back at the history of trades the club has made over the past few seasons, it would be hard to find an organization who has made more poor choices in frequent fashion than the Blackhawks. Yes, it can be argued the salary cap played a role in moving these players out but, if you go back to our discussion on bad contracts, much of this could have been avoided.
In recent years the club has moved out Niklas Hjalmarsson, Artemi Panarin, Teuvo Teravainen, Andrew Shaw, Patrick Sharp, Antti Raanta and others and not gotten much in return. Some of these trades did move out players on the downside of their careers, but others were moved prior to having their best seasons. Chicago gambled wrong and they paid a high price for it.
Far Too One-Dimensional
Part of the issue for Chicago is that they are a one-dimensional team. While the dimension can be a killer if it's hitting on all cylinders, if the offense generated by the likes of Kane and others is struggling, the team is lousy.
This is not the coaches fault but more him having to work with the pieces given. Chicago is not a deep enough team to run more than one power play unit or split up their lines. When they had multiple threats, they often moved them out of the organization to keep that one-dimensional core together.
In general, the team relied far too much on trying to relive the years they were one of the top teams in the NHL and that included bringing back pieces of that team or sticking with the guys that got them there years ago. In today's NHL, that's not a receipe for winning games.