Blackhawks agree to contract extension with head coach Colliton
As early birthday presents go, it doesn't get much better than the two-year contract extension the Blackhawks handed to Jeremy Colliton on Tuesday.
"I'm excited about it and grateful for the trust they've shown in me," said Colliton, who turns 36 Wednesday and now has a deal that runs through the 2022-23 campaign.
Colliton has been on quite the roller-coaster ride during his short NHL coaching career.
It started by being named Joel Quenneville's successor, a tough task for anyone let alone a 33-year-old with no previous experience in the league. Part of the trial-by-fire process included trying to win over three-time Stanley Cup champions Brent Seabrook, Duncan Keith, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.
Not only that, but he also tried teaching them a completely new defensive system on the fly.
"I imagine that would be hard to deal with," defenseman Connor Murphy said. "He's handled it well and definitely you can see ... (he's) confident in what he has to teach us -- and even teach those older guys on our team."
Success was fleeting, if not nonexistent, at first, but eventually the Hawks started winning and even threatened to become a playoff team in his first season.
Last year Colliton benched Seabrook three times, which could have easily fractured their relationship. And it's possible that happened for a time, but the two had a lengthy on-ice chat at the end of last summer's training camp before Seabrook announced he would not be traveling to Edmonton for the playoffs.
And if all that wasn't enough, let's not forget about the chorus of boos that cascaded down upon Colliton on many nights at the United Center after he was introduced by the public address announcer.
He's persevered through it all and has now been handed the reigns to this Original Six team for at least three more seasons.
"With the direction we're heading, I felt that Jeremy's a big part of that and someone that I'm excited to work with," GM and president of hockey operations Stan Bowman said. "(With) the way that we see the game ... and what we want to focus on in the coming years I think he's a great candidate to move that forward."
Unlike with Quenneville, Bowman seems to have a much more open relationship with Colliton. Their overall philosophies on player development and how to grow a young team into a winner certainly appear to mesh.
Having said that, Colliton also likes that they don't agree on everything.
"That's healthy, that's natural," Colliton said. "He's going to make me better and look at things in a different way, and that hopefully helps me to make better decisions in the moment. ... And vice, versa. It's my job to bring up things (the coaches) see with the team to him. It's always going to be like that.
"We need to have a shared vision of how the Blackhawks are going to be an elite team, and work together every step of the way. Part of that is going to be a push and pull. I don't see the game exactly the same as him, and you wouldn't want that."
Colliton began his coaching career by spending four years in Sweden with Mora IK, then was hired to coach the Rockford IceHogs in 2017. He helped guide the Hawks to the Stanley Cup playoffs last season (although the Hawks were the 24th team to qualify in a once-in-a-lifetime expanded field) and they ended up upsetting Edmonton before falling to Vegas in five games.
Before becoming a coach, Colliton was a promising winger who was drafted 58th overall by the Islanders in 2003. His NHL career amounted to just 57 games, however, and he retired while playing in Sweden after suffering two concussions in less than a year.
So, while this campaign promises to prove difficult at times as the Hawks officially begin a rebuild, watch for Colliton to remain as even-keeled as ever.
"Just like anyone else, I've faced adversity in my career," Colliton said. "(I) got cut from teams. (Had) big disappointments and injuries. Didn't have the career I hoped to have based on the type of player I was when I was younger.
"Certainly the support of my wife and family (helped). ... In the short term, you often can't control the results. But over the long term, if you do the right thing and you make the best of every day, things will work out in the end."
What to watchHere's a quick look at everyone who should have an impact on the Blackhawks and what would constitute a successful season:
Forwards• Patrick Kane: Still a dynamic force at 32 years old, the superstar winger will be relied upon more than ever to pump in goals. Success means: Helping grow younger players' games and staying positive when things inevitably go off the rails.
• Alex DeBrincat: Diminutive winger will be in a top-line role and on the top power play in the first year of a three-year contract that carries a $6.4 million cap hit. Success means: Bouncing back from a disappointing campaign by scoring at least 20 goals in this 56-game season.
Dylan Strome: Will start as the top-line center with Alex DeBrincat and Patrick Kane on the wings. Success means: Showing he can hang with the best players in the league on both ends of the ice on a nightly basis.
Dominik Kubalik: Last season's Calder Trophy finalist will look to build upon an impressive rookie campaign in which he scored 30 goals. Success means: Taking another step to become one of the league's elite wingers.
Andrew Shaw: Gritty veteran should provide the sandpaper this team needs to play down and dirty in the corners. Success means: Getting through the season unscathed and contributing at least 10 goals.
Carl Soderberg: Veteran center signed a one-year deal and may be ready when Hawks return from opening road trip. Success means: Help younger players improve; show he's an offensive force so that he's potentially trade bait at deadline.
Mattias Janmark: Free-agent signee saw his role decrease in Dallas over the last two years and is hoping to contribute more offensively. Success means: Being tough to play against every night and finding a way to score 10 times.
Lucas Wallmark: Another free-agent signee who should be a big part of the second power-play unit. Success means: Developing chemistry quickly with new teammates and finding a way to become more of an offensive force.
Pius Suter: Scored 30 goals for Zurich SC in 2019-20 and could be the next great European find by Hawks scouting staff. Success means: Latching onto Dominik Kubalik and learning what made him so successful as a rookie. Something north of 15 goals would be a nice start.
Brandon Pirri: Figures to get solid playing time early on, but could be phased out as season progresses. Success means: Producing so much that it's impossible to take him out. That could make him trade material for a playoff team.
Ryan Carpenter, Matthew Highmore and David Kampf: Fourth-line players who shined in postseason and have looked awfully impressive in camp. Success means: Shutting down the other team's first or second line when asked. Highmore and Kampf would love to grow their offensive game as well.
Philipp Kurashev: Speedy, dangerous winger has shown really well in camp. Figures to crack lineup in early going. Success means: Not being overwhelmed by the NHL and showing he can be counted on for years to come.
Duncan Keith: Much like Patrick Kane, this is a season in which Keith must impart his wisdom on a host of fellow blue liners. His role may diminish as time goes on, but that should help his younger teammates down the road. Season success: Prove he still has what it takes to play a solid team game while limiting chances for the opponents' best players.
Connor Murphy: Now in his fourth season with the Hawks, watch for Murphy to continue to grow offensively. Season success: Stay healthy and play every game at a high level.
Nikita Zadorov: Menacing Russian brings physical element Hawks lack. Season success: Become a reliable top-four defenseman who takes a significant step both offensively and defensively.
Adam Boqvist: Entering his second year, the undersized Boqvist will be asked to run the top power-play unit early on. Season success: Become an offensive force that other teams fear, while growing his hockey IQ. Understanding where to be and how to defend the rush are two musts if Boqvist hopes to become an elite blue liner.
Calvin de Haan: Steady, stay-at-home defenseman will be a big key to helping Hawks play smart in their own end. Season success: Like Murphy, it's to stay healthy and play all 56 games.
Ian Mitchell: Finally ready to make his pro debut after three collegiate seasons, Mitchell has impressed during camp with his skating and offensive awareness. Season success: Earn some power play time; learn from mistakes and don't let them destroy confidence.
Brent Seabrook: He should be able to start skating soon and might be able to play by early February. Season success: Prove he's still got what it takes to contribute at a high level; also accept his role -- no matter what -- and continue to lead by example.
Nicolas Beaudin, Wyatt Kalynuk and Lucas Carlsson: When the opportunity arises, seize it and play your game. All three youngsters could get significant looks. Season success: Prove they can one day become everyday NHL players.
Malcolm Subban, Collin Delia and Kevin Lankinen: All three should get a chance. If somebody turly stands out, they could emerge as the Hawks' goalie of the future.
Jeremy Colliton: Fine-tune his skills on game-day, and especially when it comes to making adjustments between or during periods. Also, make sure every player knows his spot on the team. That goes for everyone, but especially when it comes to Seabrook or Keith if their roles begin to diminish. Season success: A 20-win campaign would truly be impressive, but this is more about making sure every player takes their game to the next level when it's over.