Chicago, IL — Perhaps there is no one in the Blackhawks organization that will have more eyes on him this year than head coach Joel Quenneville. Justified or not, that is what happens when expectations are risen with a Stanley Cup champion that has two consecutive years bowed out of the playoffs with first round exits. This offseason was also filled with controversy in the coaching staff and rumors that will put even more focus on the men behind the bench.
When teams fall short of expectations change is inevitable. The Blackhawks elected to make their changes at the coaching staff rather than with the roster. The dismissal of Mike Haviland signaled that all was not well last year behind the Hawks bench. This came as somewhat of a surprise to the faithful as there was no indication during the season of any dysfunction.
The Blackhawks front office has given Coach Quenneville pretty much carte blanche as far as the coaching decisions go. With that however, also comes the responsibility that if things do not turn around and go better this year he will be the sole person to blame from things happening or failing to happen on the ice. Enter new Quenneville assistant coach Jaime Kompon from the newly crowned champion LA Kings.
Kompon will join Quenneville and other assistant coach Mike Kitchen behind the bench for the Blackhawks for the 2012-2013 season. Kompon’s services were not continued by the LA Kings and was available that coupled with a prior history with Quenneville in St. Louis brought him to the Windy City. While the LA Kings also had a dreadful power play last year, to place all blame on Kompon would be irrational.
Power plays and special teams are different on every team due to team makeup and dynamics. To predispose any judgments on Kompon would be silly because the Blackhawks are a much different team than the LA Kings. Their strengths and weaknesses are completely different. Blackhawks fans need to give Kompon and the entire coaching staff a chance before you pounce all over them. There will be plenty of time in a long hockey season for that.
Every coaching staff and team has things that they perform well and things maybe not so well. We all have areas that we can improve on. In this segment the positives, and negatives will be looked at. If the Hawks are to get back to spending a long summer with Lord Stanley’s Cup there are things that should and need to be addressed.
Last year there was too many times that the Hawks goaltenders were yanked in and out of the starting line-up which does not lend itself to instilling confidence in your netminders. In what has to be the roughest position in sports, to shake a goaltenders confidence is not the optimum for getting stability at that position. If anything this position needs more re-assurance and patience from the coaches and last year that did not happen and resulted in this position being an issue for this team all year-long.
There was a nine game losing streak that almost derailed the entire season for the Hawks. This has to be put on the coaching staff as well as the players. They let the players lose sight of the fundamentals of this game – namely defence. The forwards were so tuned into the offence and goal scoring they neglected the defensive parts of the game and it showed. The nine game losing streak was just the climax of this year-long neglect. This also came back to haunt the team in the playoffs where they had one of the worst GAA which reflect goaltending but also it speaks to the overall team’s defensive play as well. This year the coaches need to emphasize the defensive side all year-long and keep everyone on the same page with responsibilities on the ice in all three zones or they will suffer the same fate as in 2011.
While the Hawks overall ended the season middle of the pack in the face-off circle, there is no question outside of Jonathan Toews this team struggled there. Part of the problem was having Patrick Kane at center as this is not his normal position and a learning curve has to be considered. Marcus Kruger and Dave Bolland however are natural centers and their numbers in the dot were not good. For a team that is a puck possession team this will need to change in 2012 for the Hawks to be successful.
The dreaded special teams have to be a point against last years coaching staff. This was such a catastrophe I will address this later in a different blog. What did also come of the problems in this area was a rift between the front office and the head coach when Mr. Smith was sent in to try to improve the special teams. What came out of this was a power struggle and egos, which is fine if you get the desired results. The Hawks did not. This year they enter the season with numerous questions about the special teams. This needs to be resolved and quick or the same frustrations will manifest themselves again.
Probably everyone would agree that one of Q’s greatest strengths is his ability to know when to switch his lines up when they are not being effective. While this can disrupt team chemistry somehow he balances this very well. Equally and perhaps more importantly the Hawks coaching staff is great at getting on ice matchups against other teams lines so that it works to the Hawks advantage. There probably no one better than Coach Quenneville at this very important element of hockey coaching.
Letting go of a beloved coach cannot be an easy thing to do, yet that is what happened this off-season. What this shows is that Quenneville is capable of making tough decisions and implementing them. We will never know what went on last season behind the scenes but credit Q with the metal to face the music and implement change. Also he has no qualms about benching players even members of the vaunted core if he feels a message needs to be sent.
The Blackhawks for the most part are a well-disciplined team. They rarely take stupid or inappropriate penalties and for that you have to credit the coaching. It appears Coach Q commands respect from his players which is an important element of successful coaching. It also seems this year with so much on the line the coaches may be tightening the reigns on the players which maybe what has been lacking. Let us not forget this is a young team that still needs guidance.
This coaching staff is smart enough to know you must learn from past mistakes to correct them and move forward. In 2010 the Hawks had the Stanley Cup hangover and go off to a terribly slow start which was not repeated in 2011. If anything should give Hawks fans hope is that this coaching staff will not repeat the same mistakes of 2011.
Credit also this coaching staff and the entire organization with trying to develop team chemistry and balancing on ice with off ice activities. The team has had numerous bonding trips to Alcatraz, Vegas ect. While this may seem small in a long strenuous season it pays its dividends. Coach Quenneville is an experienced coach and knows when his guys need a break and how to relieve stresses.
Coaching is such a critical component of team dynamics and maybe unfairly vilified when teams lose or exulted when teams win. No one is beyond reproach and examination even in championship years coaches and coaching staffs have flaws and areas of improvement. The aim of this blog has been to improve this team and examine all aspects of the team of which coaching is part of.
In the next part of this, a look at the Blackhawks coaching improvements and yes even suggestions to fix the dreaded power play will be examined. Til then happy puck drops.