Blackhawks' Quenneville focused on bettering team's future

Updated 7/27/2018 8:46 PM
  • Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane an the other players greets the fans at the 11th annual Blackhawks Convention in Chicago on Friday.

      Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane an the other players greets the fans at the 11th annual Blackhawks Convention in Chicago on Friday. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

As a throng of media descended upon Joel Quenneville before the 11th annual Blackhawks Convention kicked off at the Hilton Chicago on Friday, the normally stoic, even-keeled coach sported a smile that stretched from ear to ear.

He greeted a reporter with a handshake, then joked he was "taking attendance" to see who was present for his first press gathering in Chicago since April.

Ahhh -- hope always springs eternal in July.

Even for a team that hasn't advanced past the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs since raising the Cup itself in 2015.

For now, Quenneville can afford to be laid back and loose. But even with 884 victories under his belt, Quenneville understands that another unsuccessful season -- or one in which the Hawks get off to a slow start -- may mean the end of his tenure in Chicago.

"As a coach, it can happen at any moment," said Quenneville, who is signed through the 2019-20 season. "That's the way it goes. We're in the winning business and as a coach that's the only way we think. We're fighting to get 2 points and getting the guys ready to play. That's our job."

And for the most part, he's done it exceptionally well.

Last year, though, even Quenneville couldn't overcome the obstacles thrown his way:

There was Corey Crawford's vexing injury.

Marian Hossa's unfortunate skin condition.

The trades of superstar Artemi Panarin and defensive stalwart Niklas Hjalmarsson.

And a young, inexperienced 'D' corps that gave up prime scoring chances seemingly every period.

"(When) I look back, last year was the first year we didn't do or accomplish what our goals were," said Quenneville, whose Hawks were 17-13-5 on Dec. 23 but went 16-26-5 after Crawford went on injured reserve. "It looked like we were on our way to be OK … and then things went against us.

"But we can learn from that. That can provide incentive."

Could Quenneville have been better too? Absolutely -- and he admitted as much in April.

One thing is certain, though: Quenneville's passion still burns as bright as ever, and he plans to do whatever it takes to get the Hawks back on track.

"He's a hockey guy through and through," said good friend and assistant coach Kevin Dineen. "In my off time, I like golf or (to go) fishing.

"Joel's all about hockey. He really is. That's a neat thing to have. That's probably a reason why he's been so successful."

Said Jonathan Toews: "Joel's a guy you could say over and over he gives everything he's got. He cares about his players. He cares about winning. He has the right priorities."

Still, every coach has a shelf life.

Quenneville's came to an end with the Blues on Feb. 25, 2004 near the end of his eighth season in St. Louis. Dineen, who led Florida to a first-place finish in 2011-12, saw how fast things can end too as he was axed just 16 games into the 2013-14 season after a 3-9-4 start.

"At the end of it, you walk out and you try to make yourself better," Dineen said. "You try to learn from it. That's what I did.

"Sure, you have some sting because you're emotionally involved in the franchise, but you also feel like it makes you better at what you do."

Quenneville and Dineen obviously hope it doesn't get to that point this season and they've gone to great lengths to make sure it doesn't.

From watching plenty of videos from last season to checking out what was working for teams in the playoffs, the two decided to tweak a few things in the Hawks' system in hopes of sparking a resurgence.

"You're always evolving," Dineen said. "You always want to get better. You don't want to get stale."

Asked if the championship window is still open, Quenneville said "absolutely."

Toews obviously agrees, and he wants to make sure it stays that way with Coach Q on board.

"In situations like (last) season, you feel like you're letting him down and you're letting your coaches down," Toews said. "It's up to everyone to take ownership -- us as players, even the coaching staff -- as to how we can improve that relationship and improve our communication and come up with better solutions when things aren't going right.

"We're all eager to redeem ourselves."

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