Rozner: Where exactly are the Chicago Blackhawks going?

 
 
Updated 11/8/2018 7:58 AM
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  • Chicago Blackhawks Senior Vice President and General Manager Stan Bowman, left, listens as new head coach Jeremy Colliton speaks during an NHL hockey press conference Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, in Chicago. Colliton replaces Joel Quenneville who was fired on Tuesday.

    Chicago Blackhawks Senior Vice President and General Manager Stan Bowman, left, listens as new head coach Jeremy Colliton speaks during an NHL hockey press conference Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, in Chicago. Colliton replaces Joel Quenneville who was fired on Tuesday.

So now what?

Well, the big picture for the Chicago Blackhawks is that everyone ought to be looking over their shoulders after a Hall of Fame coach was fired Tuesday.

As for whether it was fair, rarely is it ever when a coach is fired, and certainly not when the roster isn't good enough.

As Clint Eastwood said to Gene Hackman in the aptly-named "Unforgiven," "Deserve's got nothin' to do with it."

So why do it now?

The Hawks can't completely rebuild, not with so many big contracts exacting so much of the cap.

But they can try to grow the bottom half of the roster into pieces that will help in the years to come.

They can develop some young defensemen, but that only comes with significant playing time, and it's fair to criticize Joel Quenneville for his reluctance to do so.

Take 26-year-old defenseman Erik Gustafsson, who appeared to be coming on after playing 41 games with the Hawks in 2015-16.

He has good offensive instincts, but a lot of work to do in his own end where he takes too many chances and is frequently out of position.

It was Gustafsson's mistake in the third period of Game 7 against St. Louis in a tie game that cost the Hawks the opening series in 2016.

The result was he played only 35 games with the Hawks last season, not one until Jan. 20, which was the last time we saw Gustav Forsling -- only 21 at the time -- the coach giving up on the youngster after he had a strong start to the season.

But young defensemen can be quite erratic and you have to live with their mistakes if you want them to get better. And considering where they are in the process, the Hawks should have as many young players on the ice as possible.

With Quenneville -- a veteran coach trying to win every shift -- once you got on his bad side, good luck getting into the lineup.

He wanted nothing to do with defensemen Trevor Daley and Michal Kempny, so both were dealt and both went on to play huge roles on championship teams the same year they were traded.

He had little use for Nick Leddy, but a strange affection for Trevor van Riemsdyk.

He would stick with aging forwards at the expense of younger, more talented players, though in his defense those veterans often rewarded Quenneville in the postseason.

Regardless, these are relatively small criticisms given Quenneville's extraordinary record, three titles and the entire body of work. We refer you to Tuesday's column for an appropriate tribute, in case you missed it and think the blame here is placed on Quenneville.

However, with two first-round exits and missing the playoffs last year, and with the prospect of more of the same this year, Hawks management probably figured there was no reason not to try something else.

It's more of a look toward the future than a Hail Mary.

The third and fourth lines currently make no sense, especially as most teams are trying to get younger and faster 1 through 12. If your bottom two lines aren't hitting much, or offering a strong defensive presence, you might as well get some guys out there who can skate.

Like it or not, every sport is getting younger, cheaper and less experienced in their lineups as they try to take advantage of a player's best -- and least expensive -- athletic years.

Teams are matching that on the bench as they go with younger, cheaper and less experienced coaches who can communicate with millennials, someone GMs can easily manipulate and someone more open to modern styles and analytics.

Yes, there's plenty of criticism to go around, and GM Stan Bowman has earned his share, with some good and bad trades, some signings that have been productive and others useless.

But Bowman also knew the coach he was working with, and for the last 10 years he tried to give Quenneville players he would employ, which is why Bowman traded Leddy, who was due for big money.

Why pay him top four dollars if you're not going to play him like a top four defenseman?

The big example everyone points to now is Artemi Panarin, but there's no way the Hawks were signing him long term, so they didn't have much choice. Columbus is now in the very same spot as Panarin points to unrestricted free agency after this season.

Moving Teuvo Teravainen just to get rid of Bryan Bickell's contract is actually worse considering Brandon Saad could conceivably become a productive NHL player again.

Still, Bowman deserves some credit for the second and third Cups, for finding inexpensive pieces in a hard-cap world to fill in around the core, but he'll never receive that from a percentage of the fan base hanging on to old delusions, much as Jerry Krause never found praise for all that he did while he was alive.

What no one ever wants to hear is that all dynasties end the same way, with players overpaid and used up, and a franchise trying to squeeze one more run out of group that won't get it done without a sudden influx of young, cheap talent.

It doesn't always have to be about blame. As my grandmother used to say about the pursuit of an explanation, "Sometimes, it just is."

But fans insist upon assigning blame and owners much search to find it.

It has always been that way.

It has now officially started on the West Side of Chicago and it is likely to continue.

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