Rozner: Chicago Blackhawks' maintain goal is playoffs now

  • Chicago Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton talks to his players during a timeout in the third period of the team's NHL hockey game against the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018, in Chicago. The Hurricanes won 4-3.

    Chicago Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton talks to his players during a timeout in the third period of the team's NHL hockey game against the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018, in Chicago. The Hurricanes won 4-3.

 
 
Updated 11/10/2018 6:59 PM

As the days have passed since the stunning firing of Joel Quenneville, some elements of the past, present and future have started to come into focus.

It will take time to find out if Jeremy Colliton can coach, though he doesn't have much to work with on defense and his best Chicago Blackhawks players are getting older by the shift.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

He certainly looks the part and his answers to difficult questions are -- thus far -- on point, but the impression is that he's a puppet for GM Stan Bowman.

If true that's simply the way sports work today, young coaches -- or managers in baseball -- instructed on how to create a lineup and how to manage a game.

Of greater concern among the fan base is the proxy behind the bench standing next to him, Barry Smith, a longtime Scotty Bowman ally, and it would have only been fair to allow Colliton to name his own staff.

Perhaps, that will occur after this season.

In the meantime, Stan Bowman didn't sound like he believed Colliton's presence was merely as conductor of the Bowman orchestra when he joined NHL Network radio Thursday afternoon.

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Asked if he saw any trades on the horizon, Bowman said, "We're not close to a trade at the moment. We want Jeremy to have a chance to work with this group for a little bit and see what we have.

"He knows the team well from watching us play, but he doesn't know it up close, so I want to give him a chance.

"You don't want to change too many things at one time because he's got to see what he observes, maybe something that we could use to enhance our team."

Sounds like Bowman is interested in what the coach thinks of the team he inherited. It shouldn't take him long to see what Hawks fans have witnessed since the last Stanley Cup in 2015.

The defense is a disaster, the forwards don't help enough, the offense is limited -- especially if Artem Anisimov is a No. 2 center -- and with a bottom six that's offers nothing.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The Hawks appeared shockingly slow against a bad Carolina team Thursday night, which you could attribute to the Quenneville hangover, and pretty much the same Saturday afternoon in Philadelphia.

The Hawks look like just another aging team stuck with a bunch of big contracts, needing to rebuild but continuing to hang on to the notion that they can compete.

It doesn't look like it thus far, but Bowman is easily annoyed by the idea that they might have to move on from this group.

"I've never been one to believe in the whole concept of winning windows," Bowman said, continuing with a theme he brought forth over the summer. "We want to win every year. Maybe it's not in the cards every year, but that doesn't mean you're not trying.

"It's not like only certain teams are in a window. That whole narrative, I don't know who started it, but I don't believe it's accurate.

"Look at last year. Las Vegas made it to the Final. Was it their window last year or did they play really well?

"We're trying to play well because we want to get our team headed back in the right direction. We want to win. We know what it feels like to hold that Cup.

"It starts with putting yourself in a position to make the playoffs, so that's what we're doing."

And that was the reason for firing Quenneville now, the hope of making the playoffs this year under a coach Bowman believes has the skills to make that happen.

"We have to improve if we want to have a chance," Bowman said. "We have really left our goalies out to dry too many times, whether it's odd-man chances or end-zone play. We have to be better in that area.

"We're not gonna make dramatic changes in the way we play, but I know in talking to Jeremy there are gonna be a few areas where he wants to make some adjustments to give our team a better chance to be in games."

That's not going to happen over the course of a few practices, and it might not be easy with veterans who are set in their ways after three titles under one coach, and more than a decade of experience in the NHL.

"The special teams, we tried a lot of different things. It wasn't lack of effort, but it hasn't worked," Bowman said. "So Jeremy, we have to give him some time to implement some new strategies. Over the next couple weeks, we hope to see some improvement in those areas.

"We're trying to improve this year because we think there's a lot of hockey left and our goal is the playoffs."

After 17 games, the season is not over, but the Hawks are in last place again after a 4-0 loss Saturday in Philadelphia.

They will know by the time they play the Winter Classic on New Year's Day in South Bend whether they're really in the hunt for a playoff spot.

The trade deadline is Feb. 25 and it could give the Hawks an opportunity to reboot. Teams that are close to winning would love to have players who have been through the wars and won Cups, though getting other teams to take all the money and getting players to give up no-trade clauses won't be easy.

Until then, the new coach deserves an opportunity to work some magic. He'll need several tricks up his sleeve to get it done.

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