Friday, May 9, 2008
Don't think Quenneville will be without a job for long
By Terry Frei Special to ESPN.com
DENVER -- The contrast was jarring.
The Nashville Predators waited about 23 seconds after their playoff loss to the Detroit Red Wings to announce that coach Barry Trotz, whose contract was expiring, had been awarded a new deal and would be back on the Nashville bench next season.
The Colorado Avalanche front office hemmed and hawed after their series defeat at the hands of the Red Wings in the second round, saying in effect, gee, you never know what's going to happen and everyone's going to be evaluated -- including highly regarded coach Joel Quenneville, whose three-year deal also was up.
Chances are good Joel Quenneville will be back behind a different bench next season.
Quenneville didn't even get a vote of confidence, accompanied by public assurances from GM Francois Giguere that the coach was wanted back. In post-mortems, the Avalanche took great care to cite the bizarre injury siege that at least affected their competitiveness against the Red Wings -- Colorado wasn't going to win the series in any event -- but didn't seem to link it to a defense of the job Quenneville had done.
And as the drama dragged into this week, it became more obvious with each passing day that something was amiss. This is one time you can believe the "mutual" phrasing. It indeed was more about philosophy than performance and the record. It was about two sides -- coach and organization -- realizing they had become uneasy with each other.
Absolutely, if Giguere had started his meeting with Quenneville this week by offering a new three-year deal with a 10 percent raise, the coach almost certainly would have taken it.
That was before the Toronto Maple Leafs' job -- a position coveted by Ontario-born Quenneville, who broke into the NHL as a player with the Leafs and as a minor league coach in the Toronto organization -- opened up.
When I spoke with Quenneville on Friday and asked whether he wanted the Toronto job, he responded, "Do I want the Toronto job? You're firing right away." He laughed. "Let's put it this way," he said, "I would like to coach in the league again. Right now, it's very fresh, the situation. I've been fortunate enough to play there and coach in the organization to start there. There's a lot of synergy there in my experience with Toronto, and it's all positive. I don't want to say no and I don't want to say yes, because right now I'm not even thinking that far out. I want to coach in the league. I'll leave it at that."
The reason he's back on the market is that as the discussions continued, it was clear that Giguere and Quenneville not only weren't on the same page on some matters but weren't even in the same library at the end of their second season together.
Giguere didn't hire Quenneville; he was in the Dallas front office when his predecessor as Colorado GM, Pierre Lacroix, did that in 2004, in the offseason before the season that never was.
Yet Giguere, once a Nordiques controller, is a Lacroix protégé and is still a subordinate. Lacroix remains as team president in semi-retirement and is the liaison to owner Stan Kroenke.
What that all means is that decisions made in the Lacroix era still are linked to the current regime, and when Quenneville did such things as show little faith in Jose Theodore for a long time or make Jordan Leopold -- whom the franchise obtained from Calgary for popular Alex Tanguay -- a healthy scratch many times late this season, it drew grimaces.
At those and other times this season, there were hints of mutual discomfort, although the Colorado organization maintained its ability to drop a cone of secrecy over its in-house dealings and carefully monitor even the coach's dealings with the media.
Among other things, Quenneville never has been a renowned nurturer of goaltenders, and as strange as it sounds, Theodore's recovery down the stretch of this season might have caused the front office to wonder whether he might have been capable of that kind of play sooner if the coach had shown more faith in him. (The answer is no.)
Also, even in the area of style of play, Quenneville's preference for, or even insistence on, a system that leads to most offense stemming off getting the puck down low and cycling was an issue. When a team has trouble getting the puck up the ice, as the Avs did, or generates little from the blue line, as often was the case, it raises eyebrows. Also, his preference for grinding fourth-line types -- sometimes even on the second and third lines, which could seem discordant -- was curious at times.
All that said, Quenneville's legacy as Colorado's coach should be -- and will be -- as a man who did a good job as the franchise had to pare and adjust in the first three seasons of the NHL's cap game. Colorado had 95 points all three seasons. The rest is the inevitable sort of nitpicking often coming from fans or others who want 29 of 30 coaches fired every season.
Under Quenneville, the Avalanche made the final eight twice and barely missed making the postseason once. This season's team arguably overachieved -- or at least got the most out of its fluctuating roster in a bizarre season. He got a lot of support from cognoscenti as a legitimate Jack Adams Award candidate, yet many in the balcony wanted him gone.
"Going into the season, having just the year [left], we knew that it was something that had to be worked on, going forward," Quenneville said. "I thought we got along well in all areas and aspects of the relationship, and I thought we had a good business rapport. How it played out at the end, I think everybody has their viewpoints and opinions, and that's where we just decided it would be best to go forward and go separate ways
"You get hardened in this business as you go along. You're not surprised about anything. So I think how it's played out, hey, it's all part of it, and I think the bitterness and uneasiness the second time around is nowhere near what happened the first go-round."
He'll be behind another bench next season.
Terry Frei is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He is the author of the just-released "'77" and "Third Down and a War to Go."