Hockey

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.

Everything Else

Yes.

Oh, I probably should go into it a little more, huh? Fair. This isn’t an MVP or Not-MVP discussion. I’m frankly tired of them and they don’t usually add up to any sort of logic. As I’ve said repeatedly, to me it should just be a “Player Of The Year” award, and on that status it’s really hard to not give it to Nikita Kucherov because he’s going to have a 130+ points and that’s stupid. He’s a big reason he plays on the best team in hockey, the best team in years, and he shouldn’t be punished for it. So let’s turn the talk.

What you might be watching is the best season a Hawk has ever had. The team record for points in a season is 131 by Denis Savard in ’87-’88. You might not have known that, and honestly I had to look it up. It’s not a celebrated number around here, which is weird, and might have to do something with it not being held by Eddie Olczyk and thus can’t be proclaimed through his own megaphone what an accomplishment it is because he did it. So yeah, 131.

And Kane is on a pace to get almost there without any adjustment for era or atmosphere, which we’ll get to. Right now he’s no his way to 125 points, by far a career-high, and the most any Hawks has managed since Savard. No Hawk has cleared 110 points since Savard’s record-breaker, and the most since is Roenick’s 107 in ’93-’94. Clearly, no one’s seen this in a very long time around these parts.

So let’s try and adjust for the different environments Savard was in and Kane is in. When Savard put up his 131, teams averaged 3.7 goals per game. This year, even with the bump in scoring, teams are averaging 3.06 goals per game. This is pretty crude, but we’ll try it: Savard averaged 1.59 points per game, hence he was a part, either scoring or assisting, of 42% of the goals per game. Kane is averaging 1.53 points per game, which means he’s a part of exactly half the goals taking place for the Hawks each game. So if Kane were zapped back to 1987, he would be averaging 1.85 points per game, which over a full 82 would equal out to 151 points. So yeah, there you go.

If Kane were to somehow get even more nuclear somewhere around here, he would have an outside shot at the club record of 58 goals (and Garbage Dick taking a record from the Drunk, Wife-Punchy Nazi would be a pretty wonderful symbol for the Hawks organization). Right now he’s on course for 51, and he’ll be the first Hawk to get to 50 since Roenick did it in 1993. But again, different scoring environment. And it’s actually a better scoring atmosphere now than it was in ’68-’69 when Hull put up 58, which is really shocking because goalies then were just newspaper guys they pulled in off the street and threw pads on. Obviously, Kane would score 439 goals if he were transported back to 1968. Let’s leave it at that.

Kane’s also likely to set a career-high in power play points. It’s 37 in his MVP year, and he’s already at 28 now. He’s at least on pace to match it. Where Kane is really making a difference is that he’s on pace to shatter his personal record for shots in a year, as he’s averaging over four per game for the first time in his career. In all situations Kane is averaging 10.8 shots/per 60, and the 15.7 per 60 on the power play are the highest since he won the Hart. His 8.91 per 60 at evens is actually lower than it was last year, so that’s where he’s making up the ground.

However you break it down, this is the best season Kane has had, and it’s at 30. Which is just ridiculous. Only he and Sidney Crosby are above 30 among the top-10 scorers in the league (Stamkos is 29). While he may still represent a special kind of scumbag, what he’s doing on the ice hasn’t been seen in this city in a very long time, and very well might not again. But the way he’s going, he might just do it all again next year.

Everything Else

It’s not that it matters much, because it’s so far in the past. Doing revisionist stuff isn’t really healthy or prudent, but sometimes I can’t help it. And however it went down, the Blackhawks hiring of Joel Quenneville will go down as a seminal moment in Hawks history. It clearly could not have worked out better, no matter what our complaints and grievances have been along the way.

But I gotta tell ya, this “Oral History Of Quenneville’s Hiring” by Scott Powers is hilarious in parts. And that’s no fault of Scott’s, who is a friend and supporter of ours. He’s just recording what people said. What those people said though is just…oh my god, I can’t even.

Let’s go through some of it, shall we?

John McDonough, Blackhawks president: I can’t recall exactly, but I didn’t think we had a great camp. I don’t think I was alone in that thinking.

Right here, second quote of the article. I nearly fell off the couch reading this. Remember that when John McDonough was hired, which was less than a year before Savard’s firing and Q’s hiring, he made it clear he was not part of hockey operations. That wasn’t his duty or bag. He wanted you to know that. He would leave that to the hockey people.

So now all of the sudden he thinks the Hawks are having a bad camp? I mean, yeah, sure, he’s in the building and he’s watching practice and games I guess but…HOW THE FUCK WOULD HE KNOW?! What’s he comparing it to? He’d been in the job less than a year! What, did he do what he did for the Hawks game presentation and go around to every other team’s training camp and rip off what they were doing?

Again, this worked out incredibly well. But either McDonough is again trying to throw himself all over the credit for this hire, and/or he’s lying to you now or he was lying to you then. Or both! I just couldn’t let this one go.

Whenever something has gone right on the ice, McDonough does a reasonable impression of Usain Bolt to get in the way of any praise. This reminds me of the video of their second Cup win, when everyone is being interviewed about the 17 seconds. And McD is there to tell you the Bruins should have taken a timeout after Bickell’s goal. Oh, you think so, Toe McDonough? Your advanced hockey mind told you that?

Dale Tallon, Blackhawks general manager: It was kind of the end of the year and moving into the summer and into training camp, you hear things, and you develop and gather information and you go from there. It’s a day-to-day situation in our business. You’re only as good as your last game it seems.

You can see where Tallon knew he was fucked. Read between the lines here and what he’s saying is that McDonough and Rocky Wirtz hired Scotty Bowman as a consultant, because neither of them knew hockey from their ass, and essentially what Bowman told them was I can’t tell you what you’ve got on your roster until you’ve got a real coach running a real system, something Savard wasn’t and wasn’t doing. Oh and my son happens to be in the front office…

Remember that Tallon was also kind of forced to have Savard replace Trent Yawney. Savard was foisted upon SEVEN DIFFERENT COACHES as an assistant by Bill Wirtz. He was the pet project. When Tallon wanted to fire Yawney, Wirtz wasn’t about to pay two separate head coaches, so it was finally time to anoint Savvy. I’m not sure it was Tallon’s first choice, but it was his only choice. But it was yet another thing they could cuff to him when it came time to torpedo him a year later.

Brent Seabrook, Blackhawks defenseman: I remember playing like, I think Dunc (Duncan Keith), Soupy (Brian Campbell) and myself we all played 30 minutes a night the first three games and one of those was back to back. I remember being exhausted. So I don’t know if that was anything or what it was. It was probably nothing, probably just trying to win games.

You can see the problem. Also, under Savvy a lot of other teams thought the Hawks were horribly conditioned. You might recall a lot of blown leads the season before.

Stan Bowman, Blackhawks assistant general manager: The vibe that I remember was this didn’t have a feel like it was going to work in terms of Savy’s strengths as a coach, and I had known him for a long time because he had been with us for a while as an assistant coach. I just think sometimes your strength as an assistant doesn’t always translate over into being a strength of a head coach.

“I thought he was an idiot, so did everyone else, and I certainly wasn’t going to work with him when they gave me this job, which was going to be pretty soon.”

Bergevin: I said to him in the meantime, I said, “Joel, would you like to do some scouting?” He said, “I don’t want to travel, but I could watch games.” He loves hockey obviously, he loves watching games. I said, “That’s perfect. We have a kid in college, playing for CC (Colorado College), I believe, fast guy, I can’t remember his name, winger, left winger (Billy Sweatt).” He said, “I’ll watch some games in Colorado. If Dale wants that, I’ll just be like a part-time scout.”

I love this. They hired Joel Quenneville. To scout Bill Sweatt. Bill Sweatt. This is the story they’re giving you. They want you to believe this. Sidenote: Bill Sweatt just replaced the oil on your car.

Hmmm… I wonder what else might have happened in the fall of 2008 to keep the Hawks from making this move before the season started? What could it be? Just can’t put my finger on it…

To be fair, this arrest was already after camp had begun for the Hawks. So maybe this was the plan all along. But…come on. Look, the Hawks had a buzz, even after missing the playoffs the year before., Everyone around town knew big things were happening. And they were terrified of any bad buzz encroaching upon it. So maybe firing your coach who was the team’s most popular player for a decade and a half wasn’t something they had the total stomach for. Replacing him with someone who just had a DUI would have made it worse. They didn’t want anything to ruin the momentum.

But I’ll let you decide what you believe more.

Brent Sopel, Blackhawks defenseman: Having Joel on the staff, you knew something was going to happen at some point and time. You don’t bring Joel Quenneville, a guy who had been around the league and was known for what he had done all those years, you don’t put him on a staff. I felt at some point and time he was going to be the coach. When that was? Was that going to be in two weeks, two months, two years? But that was the feeling that I got.

Torchetti: I think we kind of got our ears up. I think everybody knew that.

Now here are two people giving you the straight dope.

McDonough: I think it was a combination of both. I think the decision that we were going to do this, this was imminent, but it helped that we felt we had somebody that would be a good fit. We did not plan on going the interim route, bringing somebody in as a temporary. We thought we had the right guy. I think history now says we do have the right guy and it’s worked out.

Don’t pull a muscle patting yourself on the back there, McD.

I mean, this tells you everything you need to know, doesn’t it? We’re not going the interim route? You wouldn’t hire a guy you’re going to keep around for years on the fly. You would have done your research. This was the plan.

Rick Dudley: There’s a couple things I believe. I believed we all believed Savy could be successful in the National Hockey League. I believe Dale did. I believe all of us believed that.

How’s that working out?

None of this really matters. It worked out. It was the right move. And maybe one day, 10 years from now, we’ll get the real story and a bunch of other real stories about what really went down with this team. It’s just kind of amazing they’re still pushing the super polished version of events.

But hey, when you do what they’ve done, you get tell your story how you want it.