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Thursday, October 16, 2008
Blackhawks fire Savard after 4 games, hire Quenneville

By Pierre LeBrun
ESPN.com

The Chicago Blackhawks fired head coach Denis Savard just four games into the season on Thursday, replacing him with NHL coaching veteran Joel Quenneville.

Savard
Savard

"I'm disappointed but I guess it's the nature of the business," Savard said from his Chicago home Thursday.

"I know I was doing a good job, I'm dedicated to my work. Obviously they felt they had to make a change, so what can you do."

Savard, who was in the last year of his contract, was told he'd been fired Thursday morning by general manager Dale Tallon.

"I knew I had to do well this year. We talked this summer and I was aware of that," Savard said.

Tallon said letting Savard go was the most difficult decision he'd ever made. Telling him was just as tough.

More on Savard firing

The Hawks' front office believed Denis Savard was still too green as a head coach to lead Chicago to the promised land. Well, we'll never know if that's true, since Savard only got four games the new season. LeBrun

With Denis Savard's firing, the feeling that the Hawks had turned a corner and was ready to return to elite status is on hold. Make no mistake, this means the stakes are suddenly very high. Burnside

New Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville, never accused of being a goalie whisperer in his days at St. Louis and Chicago, is inheriting an in-the-crease soap opera. So, what should Chicago do with Mr. Khabibulin? Frei

"There was some silence and a lot of emotion. He handled it with tremendous class and dignity as he always does," Tallon said at a news conference. "He accepted it and we're going to move on."

The dismissal came hours after the team won its first game by beating Phoenix 4-1. The Blackhawks are now run by owner Rocky Wirtz, and the combination of a slow start and a big public relations push may have led to Savard's abrupt ouster.

Wirtz took over the team following the death of his father, Bill Wirtz, a little more than a year ago. Since then, he has hired former Chicago Cubs president and marketing guru John McDonough as president. The team has mended fences with former stars such as Bobby Hull, made sure that home games are televised -- something Bill Wirtz was opposed to -- and allowed Tallon to spend in the free-agent market.

Tallon said the evaluation process had been ongoing since training camp. He said the Blackhawks seemed to come out in the preseason without the same energy they displayed at the end of last season.

"It was a flat camp and we got out of the gate flat," Tallon said. "It just didn't seem that we carried over the energy that we had to finish the year last year. We felt we needed to send a message and invigorate this team.

"It's about moving forward, about achieving and winning and developing a consistent approach. And we felt we needed a more experienced person in that position and that's why we made the decision."

Elias Says

The firing of Denis Savard after just four games did not rank as a record for an NHL coaching change.

• Bill Gadsby left the Detroit Red Wings after just two games of the 1969-70 season.

• Fred Glover departed the California Golden Seals after three games at the start of the 1971-72 season and went on to coach 68 games as head coach of the Los Angeles Kings.

• In 2001-02 the Pittsburgh Penguins fired Ivan Hlinka, the first European-born and trained NHL coach (along with Alpo Suhonen who coached in Chicago at the same time) after the Penguins lost the first four games of the season.

• Jacques Demers saw his tenure as head coach of the Montreal Canadiens end after four games at the outset of the 1995-96 season (Hockeydb.com indicates Demers coached five games that season).

• Read more Elias Says

Quenneville, who had been working as a scout for the Blackhawks, coached the Colorado Avalanche from 2005 through 2008 and led the St. Louis Blues for seven seasons (1996-2004). He has a 438-283-118 career record, including a 44-31-7 mark in Colorado last season.

"Joel brings us a wealth of experience and a winning track record that will have an immediate and lasting impact," Tallon said.

Quenneville said he'd watched the Blackhawks play in his role as a scout but had planned to spend the season away from the bench, even though he explored a coaching vacancy during the offseason.

"It was a little different watching from afar. The appetite and the passion that creeps in when you coach hopefully comes out tomorrow. I expect it to," Quenneville said.

Led by sophomore stars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, the Blackhawks have high hopes to make it into the playoffs this season. They lost their first three games before finally winning Wednesday night.

"They promised to bring a Stanley Cup here, and they felt maybe I wasn't their guy. It's very well understood," Savard said.

"The only thing I can say is that last year I thought I did a heck of a job with our young kids," added Savard. "Eight to 10 rookies in our lineup. We had a bit of a slow start this year but I thought the team was on the right track. I guess it goes with the territory. As a coach you're judged on wins and losses."

Savard posted a 65-66-16 record in parts of three seasons as coach of the Blackhawks. Last season, Savard led Chicago to its first 40-win season since 2001-02. The Blackhawks went 40-34-8 but still missed the playoffs.

A member of the Hockey Hall of Fame as a player, he had 473 goals and 865 assists in 1,196 career games with the Blackhawks, Montreal Canadiens and Tampa Bay Lightning.

ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL. ESPN The Magazine's E.J. Hradek and The Associated Press contributed to this report.