Rozner: Blackhawks make right call on keeping GM, coach

Ten years ago, Joel Quenneville finished off one of the most amazing jobs of his coaching career.

With a Colorado team fighting for a playoff spot, the Avalanche lost Joe Sakic, Paul Stastny and Ryan Smyth at the same time.

Yup, they lost their three best players at once.

So Quenneville challenged his team. He asked them to look inward and change their game, clean up their own end first and win in a different fashion.

They did - and somehow they made the playoffs. They even won a playoff series before getting swept in the quarters by the eventual Stanley Cup champion Red Wings.

For his efforts, Quenneville was fired. It was cold. And it was wrong.

Had the Blackhawks fired him this week, it would have been equally cold and wrong.

The future Hall of Famer is one of the best of all time. Yes, he has faults, as did the great Scotty Bowman. But Quenneville remains a great coach and even Bowman would not have made the playoffs without a goaltender in a parity-driven league where commissioner Gary Bettman wants the worst to reach first.

The loss of Corey Crawford just after Christmas has been understated for the past three months. He was among the best in the game at the time and the Hawks were 2 points out of a playoff spot with half a season to play.

What has happened since would be comical if it weren't so painful. The Hawks have had games when their goaltender couldn't stop a beach ball, and that affects much more than the final score.

As players, you change everything you do. The Hawks' aggressive defense is a huge part of their offense, and you can't be aggressive when you can't rely on your goaltender to make a big save.

Or an ordinary save.

A single bad goal a game - the wrong goal at the wrong time - completely changes the way that game is played.

It has been unpleasant to watch, at the least, and on many nights a disaster at best. That's life in the NHL when you lose your best player, and your best player just happens to be the goaltender.

When announcing his decision to keep Quenneville and GM Stan Bowman on board, team president John McDonough didn't use Crawford as the reason why, nor did he diminish the impact of Crawford's absence.

"When you lose your starting goaltender, it's like you're losing your starting quarterback," McDonough said. "You're probably losing two or three starting pitchers, if you were to use it relative to baseball.

"That was not the basis (for the decision). I believe in Stan. I believe in Joel. I believe in them together and I believe in their future."

Three Stanley Cups, five conference finals and nine straight years of playoffs would lead one to believe they didn't get stupid overnight.

And just as Quenneville has flaws, Bowman has made mistakes. They have been aggressive mistakes necessary in a hard-cap world where a GM has to take chances, filling in the gaps on a top-heavy roster.

Still, this is a team that was best in the West a year ago before getting swept by Nashville, which is now the darling of the league after going to the Cup Final last year and is a Cup favorite today.

There's no shame in that.

In that series, the Hawks looked small, old and slow. Artemi Panarin was invisible then and probably not signable moving forward.

They expected much more from Brandon Saad, who has been a huge disappointment.

They desperately miss Niklas Hjalmarsson, but they would have been unable to sign him as well. Hjalmarsson was also getting old fast, a result of his admirable desire to give up every part of his body for his team.

Bowman, always willing to sacrifice the future for a chance today, is criticized for that now only in hindsight.

If you want to point at one inexplicable move, it was the huge contract for Brent Seabrook when he was clearly in decline. But now the Hawks have gotten younger around their core and perhaps there is hope for next season, witness Erik Gustafsson - the goat of 2016 in Game 7 against St. Louis - and how far he has come the past two seasons.

None of it matters, of course, if Jonathan Toews doesn't bounce back, Saad doesn't remember who he was before, Crawford isn't back at an all-star level, and they don't develop a boatload of young defensemen.

Still, Bowman and Quenneville have earned another chance.

Three rings is the evidence of that.

• Listen to Barry Rozner from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on the Score's "Hit and Run" show at WSCR 670-AM and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.

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