Game #51 – Panthers vs. Hawks Spotlight: Q

There’s little point in talking about anyone else.

It’s a sad commentary on Chicago sports as a whole that Joel Quenneville’s only peer in success around here is Phil Jackson. That’s it. That’s all you get. The only other coach to win multiple championships is George Halas, and seeing as how none of them were Super Bowls no one really gives a flying fuck. Or anyone who did is dead. Even if you were to expand this list to coaches that have brought just one championship downtown, it’s three names: Guillen, Maddon, Ditka. How pathetic is that? Hell, if you wanted to add the names of coaches who even just got their teams to a championship round, it’s just two more: Smith and Keenan. Lord, what a place.

Anyway, there won’t be a solitary angle that isn’t covered tonight by Q’s return to Chicago. And that’s probably as it should be. For all the shit we give the Hawks hierarchy, and most of it is deserved, you have to still hand it to them for the swift and ruthless decision to not waste a second of time with the most promising roster in franchise history on a coach who didn’t know what he was doing and bringing in an expert. Had they waited even a half-season, maybe the Hawks don’t rocket up the standings in ’09 and make a conference final run that showed them what it would take. Maybe ’09-’10 is more of a developmental year than an all-systems-go one. Considering the cap problems (of their own making), if they don’t win in ’10, the whole thing could be so, so different.

Quenneville came in and immediately recognized that his team needed to play at a pace no one else, or at least only a handful of teams, could. Savard probably knew this but didn’t have any idea on how to implement that. The stories of practice being hellishly paced but short immediately started leaking out, with players being made to do laps for being last to huddles or drills. Speed, speed, speed. This is how everything will be done. Can’t argue with the results.

The funny thing is it was the same way at the end, and it still couldn’t save Q’s job. After he got done pouting about the trade of Niklas Hjalmarsson, Q seemed to be the only one in the whole organization who realized his team wasn’t nearly fast enough. He still might be. That’s why he immediately installed Henri Jokiharju on the top pairing. That’s why he was actually toying with keeping Adam Boqvist around last year. He knew the problems that were ahead and these were the only solutions available. Hawks could use more eyes like his now, still.

That begs the question of whether it was right to fire him. Separate it from the hiring of Colliton, and you’d still conclude it probably was. No matter how good things go, if you show up to work and hear the same voice as your boss for 11 years, you get sick of it. The Hawks core seemed to accept that, even if they didn’t particularly like it. Certainly the younger players weren’t all that upset, but going back that far how many of them actually mattered? DeBrincat and…yeah, that’s it. Schmaltz is gone. Hinostroza is gone. Jokiharju is gone. Hartman is gone. Give you some idea of the directionless nature of the whole operation when they fired a coach partly because they didn’t think he was treating their young players well, and then they get rid of almost all of those young players.

But tonight isn’t really about that, nor is it about the litany of complaints we came up with during Q’s reign here. It’s about all the things he did that worked, not the crazy experiments or juggling or Trevor van Riemsdyk. It’s about letting a young team letting it all hang out with just the boundaries of a defensive structure in ’09 and ’10. It’s about dragging a hungover and barely focused team in ’11 to the cusp of a huge upset.  It’s about surviving the first clash of coach and GM in 2012 and Toews missing half the season and Crawford’s dip in form and revitalizing both the following season into an unholy beast of a team. It’s about turning Johnny Oduya and Hjalmarsson into the best rhythm guitarists in the league for three years. Even though it took a Daniel Carcillo injury to even get Brandon Saad into the lineup, it was then about a Saad-Toews-Hossa line that no one could do much about.

Yeah, we’re still angry about sending out Handzus and Bollig for the last faceoff of ’14. Van Riemsdyk, again. Insisting on veteran help for the ’16 team that cost the Hawks Phillip Danault. And then not playing that veteran help. The policy of bringing back players he already trusted. It’s all of it, really.

At the end of the day though, it’s three parades (almost four). Three celebrations. Three impossible journeys negotiated, each with varying challenges. Perhaps Q’s greatest strength as a coach was the confidence and relaxed nature he instilled in the Hawks at the most tense times. The ’09 team blew its first road playoff games against a veteran team. They simply mauled the Flames from there. They trailed the Canucks in ’09 after Game 1, Game 3, and were four minutes away from being down 3-1. No problem. Strut into Vancouver for the biggest game of their lives and gleefully walk out with a win. Wasn’t even that hard.

The ’10 team was down 1-0 and two goals against Vancouver. Never looked bothered and essentially blew the Canucks out of the water from there on out. Lost a 2-0 lead in the Final. Win Game 5 by five goals. Three minutes from the Cup and lose the lead in Game 6. No matter, get it in overtime.

The list of this keeps going. Down 3-0 and quite frankly overmatched? Push to the absolute limit. Watching the most dominant season in team history nearly washed away by your oldest enemy? Win the next three, including coming back in the 3rd in Game 6 facing elimination and then overcoming an egregiously bad call in Game 7. Crow has one bad game in the Final? Who gives a shit, we’ll get it anyway.

Down to four d-men in ’15? They’ll find a way through. Everyone’s dying of exhaustion? We’ll hold the Lighting to two goals over three games.

There wasn’t ever a challenge that not only the Hawks didn’t think they could overcome, but they thought was even a big deal. Everything was an opportunity. A chance to do something great. That was Q’s biggest credit. Making this team that had accomplished nothing believe it could do anything instantly, and then would do anything because it had to be done. That was probably the most enjoyable part. No obstacle too high or ditch to deep. Q’s team would find the way, because it’s what they did.

Beyond all the line shuffling or arguments with Stan Bowman or hunches he had to play, that was his ultimate feature. And we were all rewarded. We’ll owe him forever for that.

TVR still sucks though, Q.

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