Rozner: New Blackhawks era looks much like the old

Updated 11/8/2018 11:01 PM
  • Chicago Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton gives advice to his players during the 4-3 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes at the United Center in Chicago. With a new coach behind the bench, the Blackhawks' bad habits remained the same Thursday night.

    Chicago Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton gives advice to his players during the 4-3 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes at the United Center in Chicago. With a new coach behind the bench, the Blackhawks' bad habits remained the same Thursday night. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

For as long as the marriage lasts, there will be much talk about how Jeremy Colliton is Stan Bowman's guy.

No kidding. Of course he is.

He's a 33-year-old rookie NHL coach who owes his career to Bowman and there's no doubt about who will be making personnel decisions from this point forward.

Get used to it. That's the way of the world today. Very young and inexpensive coaches who operate at the whim of their bosses.

Look around. The Joel Quennevilles and Joe Maddons of the world are an endangered species.

But it doesn't mean a guy like Colliton -- who made an unpleasant debut in a 4-3 defeat at the UC Thursday night -- can't succeed.

The Blackhawks will succeed or fail going forward if their best players are their best players, and if Bowman can find better players to play with their best players.

Colliton must make sure his stars play like stars, and it's his job to put them in the best position to succeed.

It will take him some time to figure out just how to do that.

That certainly didn't happen Thursday night in an uninspired effort to start the game, the Hawks skating in quicksand the first 30 minutes, and Carolina collecting 3 goals in the first period.

The first came on a defensive turnover after Patrick Kane failed to control the puck along the boards.

The second was on the penalty kill when Brent Seabrook got caught too high and Duncan Keith was slow to rotate.

Four players were out of position on the third goal and it was 3-0 after a period.

There's probably worse ways to start your NHL coaching career, but not one comes to mind at the moment.

Doesn't matter who's coaching when your players are that bad and this isn't a new development. They played the same way under Quenneville the last two weeks.

Or, you argue, the last 10 months.

It's the job of the new staff to fix what ails this team and there will be conspiracy theories galore about new assistant coach Barry Smith. He'll be identified as the spy behind the bench, which is nonsense.

Bowman already has his guy. His name is Colliton.

Smith, who strangely started the game in the middle of the bench before moving to the forward side of the team, is a longtime Scotty Bowman assistant who's been hanging around the periphery of the club the last several years.

There's no doubt the elder Bowman will be in Smith's ear, but Smith won't determine whether Colliton and the Hawks win games.

Quenneville had plenty of bad assistants, including some on Stanley Cup-winning teams, so the real question is about how the 33-year-old Colliton adapts to a new job and how good he is at developing young, or relatively inexperienced, players.

One of them is defenseman Erik Gustafsson, who has the offensive skills to help the Hawks, but still has much work to do on the defensive end.

And Gustafsson is very familiar with the Hawks' new head coach, having played for him at Rockford.

"I was mad when I got sent down last year," Gustafsson said, "but he told me, 'I'm going to help you and do everything I can to help you get back to the NHL.' That helped me relax. He let me make mistakes.

"He knew when he could yell at guys, but he's very calm on the bench. He doesn't scream that much, but he makes guys better.

"He helped me get back here to the NHL."

Now Colliton must keep players like Gustafsson in the league and help them find their game.

"There's still learning to be done at the NHL level. The league is younger than ever, so they need help," Colliton said. "Development isn't over just because you made the NHL.

"With each player, you try to find what they need at the right time to be at their best. It's OK to make mistakes. If you show the intention to do the right thing but still make mistakes, I can live with that.

"Just try not to make the mistake again and learn from it."

Well, there was no shortage of mistakes in Colliton's first NHL game behind the bench.

Obviously, no one's going to judge a coach on one game, or even a month of them, but the Hawks were unprepared to start the game Thursday.

There was zero energy and no attention to detail, which could easily be chalked up to all that's occurred and all the emotion spent over the last few days.

After being down 4-0, the Hawks did come back and make a game of it, but it was too little and way too late.

Fair or not, for Colliton's first day behind the bench replacing a legend, it was a bad look for the Hawks.

He'll be given plenty of time to change that.

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