Will a new Q be the Hawks' biggest change?
May, 22, 2012
By Jesse Rogers | ESPNChicago.com
Jeff Vinnick/NHLI/Getty ImagesLook for Joel Quenneville to use ice time as a reward and punishment next season.Chicago Blackhawks fans must be wondering: What's the biggest offseason change coming for a team that underachieved in the 2011-12 campaign?
Surprisingly, the answer may not come in the form of roster changes. There'll be some new players, of course, but in order for a blockbuster trade to happen the Hawks would most likely have to move from their core group, something general manager Stan Bowman said he's not fixated on doing.
There will be some free-agent signings, as there always are, but with Patrick Sharp's new contract kicking in and all the other core players signed to big deals there isn't a lot of money to go around. The Hawks can make one decent splash -- if they choose to -- but that's about it. Everything else is filling in some blanks at the bottom end of the roster both on offense and defense. At least that's what it looks like here in late May. If, say, Nashville defenseman Ryan Suter wants to come to Chicago at a decent rate then things might change, but all in all, the Hawks have their core group and a few ancillary younger players to maneuver with as they head into 2012-13.
So what will be the biggest change?
He's not going anywhere, but as has been well documented he's probably entering the hot seat year of his employment. The coaching staff will be his and the on-ice personnel decisions will be on him. Indications already are next year's version of coach Quenneville won't resemble the laid-back father figure to the players we've seen since the team won the Stanley Cup in 2010. He's already said as much, indicating players will have to "earn" their power play time, for example.
That may or may not be true, but the biggest on-ice changes are probably going to happen on the penalty kill as much as anywhere. The Hawks' penalty killing was a microcosm of the lazy attitude the team displayed playing overall defense.
To understand how bad the Hawks' penalty killing was -- and some of this is on Corey Crawford -- you have to look inside the numbers. The Hawks ranked 27th in the league killing penalties in the regular season, doing it at a rate of 78.1 percent.
Any coach will tell you if his penalty killing is "taxed" within a game or a season, that's a recipe for disaster. The more times a team is shorthanded, ultimately, the more goals it's going to give up. It takes a team and goalie out of rhythm and tires out the best players.
But here is the problem with the Hawks: they were shorthanded the second least amount of times in the league and took the least amount of minor penalties. It really emphasizes just how bad those penalty killers were.
Next season, it will be a surprise or even a shock to see any star player not named Jonathan Toews kill penalties. No more shorthanded goals for Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp or possibly even defensive guru Dave Bolland. The third and fourth lines of the Hawks will be filled with players who can kill penalties, starting with those who will lay out to block shots. Expect Andrew Shaw and Marcus Kruger, for example, to emerge as major players in this regard.
Nuccio DiNuzzo/Chicago Tribune/Getty ImagesAndrew Shaw is the type of player who could end up on the penalty-kill unit.
That will be just the start of Quenneville's on-ice and off-ice transformation. If Shaw showed his coach anything it's that draft status and star power doesn't always win hockey games -- playing the game the right way does.
If a good or even great coach can have a bad year, Quenneville just experienced one. And again, much of this assessment comes from his own words. He admitted to letting the defensive side of hockey slide with his team when things were going well on offense. It caught up with him when the offense went into a dry a spell, hence the notion of allowing fewer than two goals only 17 times out of 88 games played with no shutouts to show for it.
It remains to be seen how public Quenneville will be with his new attitude. Will he call players out in press? Will it all happen behind closed doors? Or will the message simply come in playing time? It's the ultimate punishment from a coach. When players look at the box score after a game, if minutes played isn't the first thing they look at it's in the top 3. No player will be immune. In other words, winning Quenneville a Stanley Cup may have bought some leeway for some guys, but two years later he's paid them back by laying off the old school coaching ways Quenneville undoubtedly played under years ago. Those days are coming to an end.
More than likely trades won't happen until after the playoffs conclude and free agency is over a month away, but one change is coming for sure. Joel Quenneville isn't going to be looking to make friends come this fall -- nor should he.