There’s no arguing with Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville’s success
BY MARK POTASH firstname.lastname@example.org June 30, 2013 9:58PM
Coach Joel Quenneville hoists the Stanley Cup after the Hawks’ Game 6 victory against the Bruins. | Getty Images
Updated: August 2, 2013 7:27AM
If it’s a Zen thing with Joel Quenneville, we’ll never know it. When it comes to figuring out what makes the Blackhawks’ two-time Stanley Cup-winning coach tick, the best guess is that it’s an upper-body thing. He seems to learn well.
We really don’t know because the Hawks and Quenneville never will give you the chance to find out. Casual media access to Quenneville is prohibited under the lordship of president John McDonough. Quenneville is whisked into news conferences by Hawks media-relations personnel and whisked out when they’re over.
There is no time for idle chit-chat that might yield a little more insight into why Michal Rozsival got the extra ice time when Duncan Keith was suspended, why Nick Leddy isn’t playing much, why he decided to pair Brent Seabrook with Keith, whether he thinks he’s getting outcoached by Mike Babcock or whether there’s a Monarchos in the Kentucky Derby this year.
Well, there is time for that, actually, but the Hawks forbid it.
(The Bears, Bulls and other Chicago teams are warm and fuzzy by comparison. Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau won’t give you anything more than his name, rank and serial number, but the team at least gives you a chance to try to break him down. The Bears have been holding one-on-one sessions between new coach Marc Trestman and the beat reporters who cover the team. Apparently, Trestman not only wants to meet the people reporting on his team but actually is interested in what makes them tick.)
Likewise, Hawks players — a good group of guys like in most, if not all, NHL locker rooms — are cordial and accommodating but unlikely or unwilling to provide any kind of detailed insight into Quenneville’s coaching style. Maybe they just don’t know, either.
It’s kind of cold and aloof. But that’s the way it is with the Hawks under McDonough. They’re as nice as they have to be, but they have no interest in letting sentiment or personality figure into any equation.
And it might be the key to their success. It put Quenneville where he is today, in case you’ve forgotten. McDonough fired the popular Denis Savard four games into the 2008-09 season. That sudden and unexpected coaching change was compared to the Bulls’ ouster of the popular — and successful — Doug Collins in favor of untested Phil Jackson in 1989.
And, like that unpopular move by then-Bulls general manager Jerry Krause, it’s hard to argue with McDonough’s results. Like Jackson, Quenneville has shown an uncanny ability to make the right moves — often subtle but sometimes not — to bring home a winner.
With two Cups to his credit in his five seasons as the Hawks’ coach, there isn’t much of a debate regarding Quenneville’s status in the pantheon of Chicago coaches. In the last century, only Jackson (six), the Bears’ George Halas (six) and the Sting’s Willy Roy (two) have brought multiple championships to the city. With all due respect to soccer, that puts Quenneville a solid No. 3 on the all-time list — behind the guy who founded the NFL and the coach with more titles than anybody in the history of the NBA.
Quenneville’s accomplishment is unquestioned. The Hawks became the first team in the NHL’s salary-cap era (since 2005) to win two Cups — a credit to GM Stan Bowman, too. In fact, nine franchises had won the previous nine Cups before the Hawks won last Monday in Boston.
And, as was the case in 2010, Quenneville’s coaching moves made the difference. In 2010, he split up Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews when Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger was dominating the series. Pronger was on the ice for five goals and in the penalty box for a sixth as the Hawks won 7-4 in the critical Game 5. They went on to win the series in six games.
This time, he put Toews and Kane together with the Hawks trailing the Bruins 2-1 in the Final. Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara, who had been a plus-13 in his first 19 playoff games, was a minus-6 in the next three as the Hawks won 6-5, 3-1 and 3-2 to clinch the Cup.
Other Quenneville moves also made a difference. He had two of the best goalies in hockey through the regular season in Corey Crawford (19-5-5) and Ray Emery (17-1-0) but avoided controversy and picked the right one for the postseason. After benching Viktor Stalberg against the Detroit Red Wings and Bruins, he put him back in when things weren’t working out. And analyst Eddie Olczyk was right on target that the best move of all was reuniting a struggling Seabrook with Keith in Game 5 against the Red Wings. It sparked a Seabrook revival that helped lift the Hawks out of a 3-1 series hole that became the ‘‘defining moment’’ of these playoffs.
But Quenneville’s most valuable asset is his pitch-perfect temperament that kept his head clear to weather the playoff storms and make the right decisions. He never flinched publicly throughout the playoff run, whether he was being second-guessed about Stalberg, Kane and Toews or asked if Babcock was outcoaching him.
That ultimately seems to be the difference. The excitable Ozzie Guillen lost control of the White Sox after winning it all in 2005. The excitable Lou Piniella won division titles but nothing else as manager of the Cubs. The excitable Mike Ditka never won a second Super Bowl as coach of the Bears.
Quenneville, as best as anyone can tell, is the right guy in the right sport at the right time. There’s no telling how far he can take this.