Chicago Blackhawks fire coach Joel Quenneville

As last season came to a unceremonious thud, Chicago Blackhawks president and CEO John McDonough told a small group of reporters that Joel Quenneville and Stan Bowman would be returning for the 2018-19 season.

"I believe in Stan. I believe in Joel," McDonough said on April 5. "I believe in them together and I believe in their future."

As it turns out, that belief lasted all of 15 games because McDonough and Bowman - with the full support of chairman Rocky Wirtz - fired Quenneville and assistants Kevin Dineen and Ulf Samuelsson after the Hawks limped home from a three-game road trip at 6-6-3 and in sixth place in the Central Division.

Jeremy Colliton, who was hired to coach the Rockford IceHogs last year, takes over and becomes the youngest coach in the NHL at 33.

"We've got to get this going in the right direction," McDonough said. "We want to make sure that we're able to salvage this season and do everything we can to get this right."

And in their opinion, that meant letting go the second-winningest coach in NHL history. One who brought the Hawks their first Stanley Cup in 49 years in 2010. One who brought two more in 2013 and 2015. And one who will go down with Phil Jackson, Mike Ditka and George Halas on the Mount Rushmore of Chicago coaches.

"This is all based on feel and experience and a lot of dialogue and conversation with some really smart people - as well as our owner - before we could get to this point," McDonough said. "I think this is a very patient group. We are built on continuity.

"Joel was here as our coach for 10 years. I've been here going on 11. Rocky took over the team 11 years ago. Stan has been here for 10 years. Loyalty plays a big role in this, but it has to be loyalty tethered to results."

It was a somber and quiet Hawks dressing room after the team held its first practice with Colliton and new assistant Barry Smith.

"There's no doubt there's going to be some shock, especially for guys like myself and the other guys that have played for him for a long time," Jonathan Toews said. "Joel was our leader for three championships and a lot of success in between. So it's definitely a tough day to come to the rink and (realize) he's not here today."

Last season, the Hawks were without goalie Corey Crawford for more than half the season and missed the playoffs after going 33-39-10.

Before that campaign began, I asked McDonough if Quenneville had reached a level akin to Bill Belichick in the NFL or perhaps Red Auerbach in the NBA where he could basically call his own shots and decide when to walk away.

Here was McDonough's answer: "I think all of us are accountable. All of us. Certainly me. I'm accountable and I'm responsible. And I would never put myself in a position that I would say, 'Well I'm going to be able to call my own shots.'"

But is this all Quenneville's fault?

Bowman certainly has made many debatable moves that some would say have decimated the Hawks' roster.

Brent Seabrook's contract carries a $6.875 million cap hit and is an unmovable albatross; Teuvo Teravainen and Vinnie Hinostroza are gone, largely because of cap problems; Phillip Danault was traded for two underwhelming veterans; and, perhaps most significantly, reverberations still are being felt from the losses of Niklas Hjalmarsson and Artemi Panarin.

Was there any consideration to letting Bowman go too?

"No, I did not consider both," McDonough said. "I believe in this roster, I believe in Stan. Stan is meticulous. He's very thorough and when you breakdown free agents (or) trades, some work, some don't. You'd like most to go your way and over time, they may. But his body of work is excellent.

"I want him to succeed. I want our roster to succeed."

There are, of course, examples of Quenneville not fully utilizing players Bowman brought in like defensemen Trevor Daley and Michal Kempny. Both won championships during the season in which they were traded.

Before this year began, McDonough emphatically stated that he believes this roster has what it takes to make the playoffs.

"Put yourself in a position to make a run," he said just days before training camp opened.

The Hawks' brass obviously didn't think that's what was happening. The power play is a mess. Opponents continue to pepper Crawford and Cam Ward with prime scoring chances. There's little to no production among players not named Toews, Patrick Kane, Alex DeBrincat and Brandon Saad.

And finally, Quenneville and his staff made a tremendous gaffe in Calgary on Saturday when they forgot to put a player in the penalty box after Duncan Keith drew a five-minute major that included a game misconduct. Because the fifth player must come from the box after a penalty expires, the Hawks skated 5-on-4 for nearly extra two minutes.

As for Colliton, he came to the IceHogs last year after spending four seasons coaching Mora IK in Sweden. Rockford went 40-28-4-4 and advanced to the Western Conference final.

It will be interesting to see how Seabrook, Toews, Kane, Duncan Keith, Corey Crawford and Chris Kunitz react to being led by someone 27 years younger than Quenneville.

"Ultimately, it's about winning," Colliton said. "And I have to earn their trust by them believing that I can help them win, that I can help them be better individually, that we as a staff can put together a plan so they can have success.

"So if I can do that, there's no problem. It doesn't matter how old I am. That's my challenge. But my age, I don't think affects that. After today, it won't be an issue."

What remains an issue is whether or not the Hawks are rebuilding or if they really can win now.

McDonough steadfastly believes it's the latter.

"I (said) today it's more of a remodeling," he said. "We still have Hall of Fame players. My expectations are that this is a playoff team, and if you get in anything can happen. …

"We want to win. We want to rewin. We want that building filled, we want our fans to see an exciting brand of hockey.

"And sometimes, as painful as it is, you need a fresh start."

The Jeremy Colliton file

With Colliton in control, Rockford IceHogs charge into playoffs

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