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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Is Joel Quenneville's Job on The Line in Chicago?

Posted By on Wed, Feb 15, 2012 at 11:18 AM

click to enlarge Coach Q, pre-mustache.
  • Coach Q, pre-mustache.
Just two years ago, the Chicago Blackhawks were on top of the hockey world. A Stanley Cup winner, the 'Hawks looked to be a team primed for constant contention over the next five years, or the next seven, or even more, with a young nucleus of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Marian Hossa that was the envy of the NHL. 

Actually, it's been less than two years; the 2009-2010 season isn't even two full calendar turns in the rearview mirror yet. And yet those halcyon days for the hockey club of Chicago seem far and wee, far and wee, and according to a report in Sports Illustrated by Adrian Dater, Joel Quenneville's job just might be on the line

Things change fast in the NHL, and the success of two season ago can quickly become this year's fairytale firing. Coach Q had better find a way to turn things around, and quick. 

What's interesting, to me at least, is how familiar the Blackhawks' troubles look right now. The team, quite simply, is soft. Soft as a baby's bottom covered in 1200 thread count Egyptian cotton diapers, covered in peanut butter and velvet. So, like really soft. 

Skill-wise, the Blackhawks are probably the most talented team in the NHL even now. Toews, Kane and Hossa are all legitimate stars, offensive wizards in each of their own ways, and Duncan Keith has, at times, looked like the best player on the ice for the Hawks. So to see them struggling night after night to keep their heads above water is puzzling, to say the least. 

Or at least it would be to someone who doesn't recall Quenneville's tenure in St. Louis. He consistently won, year after year, and the Blues had one of the most talented teams in the league every season he was at the helm. And yet, season in and season out, they couldn't win the big games and get through much of the playoffs. 

The most lasting memory of Coach Q's reign here in St. Louis for me is of the 1999-2000 playoffs, when the Blues, winners of the President's Trophy, were roundly battered and beaten by the San Jose Sharks. No, battered and beaten isn't strong enough, despite the alliterative allure; the Blues were flat-out manhandled  by the Sharks that year. What I remember more than anything else was watching in horror as the best team in the league got their asses handed to them by Bryan Marchment of all people. Bryan F. Marchment! I don't know if my hockey fandom ever quite recovered from that series. 

All coaches have their strong suits and their weak points; Quenneville seems to always helm talented, finesse teams capable of putting the scoring hurt on teams night after night, yet equally capable of being knocked around by a bigger, more physical team. And that's exactly what's happening to the Blackhawks right now. The goaltending has been brutal, but the overall defense has been an even bigger problem. 

In many ways, Quenneville has actually found the success in Chicago that eluded him in St. Louis. He's won a Cup, something his Blues teams famously -- or infamously -- failed to do. Even so, he now finds himself coaching an extraordinarily talented team failing to live up to its talent, playing soft and allowing points like they were going out of style. Sometimes the more things change, the more they stay the same. 

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