Since Rocky Wirtz was given control of the Chicago Blackhawks, they have been no stranger to the rumor mill. From adding high priced free agents to making bold changes both on and behind the bench, the Blackhawks have been a growing organization.
But now that the rumor mill has focused it’s attention on the man behind the bench in Chicago, the apparent issues in the relationship between Joel Quenneville and the Blackhawks’ front office has become the center of discussion.
Hockey Night in Canada put the spotlight on that relationship earlier this week. But looking back at the evolution of that relationship shows that the breakdown has been a long and winding road.
Let’s start at the end of the honeymoon: the summer of 2010. The exodus of talent off the championship roster hit everyone hard, and the coach was no exception. Here’s video of Quenneville meeting the media before the Blackhawks began their title defense:
Quenneville specifically mentions that the team was able to keep the top three centers on the roster from the Cup team. Who were those centers? Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp and Dave Bolland. And for a coach that lusts for puck possession, there’s no question that center is a position of paramount importance.
Yet for most of last year, Sharp was a wing and the team continued to search for another quality center. A position that was a strength for Quenneville after winning the Cup was compromised by moving Sharp to wing.
Here’s video from Quenneville meeting the media after the Blackhawks first round exit at the end of the 2010-11 campaign:
Here’s more from that same media session. Pay attention to his answer to the second question (from Chris Kuc of the Chicago Tribune):
Fast forward to July, when free agents were introduced to the Chicago media. First, let’s listen specifically to comments from Bowman regarding the addition of Andrew Brunette here:
Now here’s some video from the presser introducing Brunette to the media. Listen to the first question to Brunette here:
Everyone was high on Brunette’s “leadership,” but clearly Quenneville had questions regarding the addition to his group. And, over the regular season that followed, the coach’s concerns proved to be spot on.
Here are Quenneville’s comments about his roster from September:
Certainly the idea of a “work in progress” was a common theme throughout not only the preseason, but all the way into the 2012 playoffs. Injuries contributed to the amount of movement some players had on the Blackhawks during the regular season, but right away there appeared to be some questions the coaching staff had about the players that were being put on the ice.
And those questions continue.
Now here are Quenneville’s comments about the roster after the 2012 postseason ended:
If you look back at the comments Quenneville made from the first video, from immediately following the post-Cup summer, to the end of the 2012 playoffs, the demeanor of Quenneville has obviously changed.
And the center position, which we’ve already established is a key to the system Quenneville employs, continues to be a “work in progress.”
Both Quenneville and Bowman addressed the position specifically in their end-of-season comments. Since he was brought here, Marcus Kruger has been a favorite of the front office and Quenneville has been high on him as well. But listen to the coach’s comments about the second line center here:
Now place those comments into the context of the final words Quenneville offered in the previous video. The room for assessment in Quenneville’s eyes is not only on the roster on paper, but also focuses on how those players are being used.
Is Kruger a second line center? Is Kane going to stick there? Are the days of Sharp at center officially over? Or will the Blackhawks look to an outside source – either from another NHL roster or within the organization – to fill that role?
Certainly we can see from these examples dating back almost two full calendar years that the head coach of the Blackhawks has expectations… and that they haven’t always been met by the players has has been given.
With the cap space created by his moves over the last two years, Bowman is now under pressure to take his rebuild of the team to the next level. There is as much, if not more, pressure on the general manager to get the team back to being championship-caliber than the head coach who has already established a Hall of Fame resume.
Let’s see what the comments from the front office, and Quenneville, are when they meet the media again in July and September of this year.