This Blackhawks team is too talented and too experienced to look this bad, so consistently.
I said it over the weekend on Twitter and in the Sunday edition of the Blackhawks Bullets. This roster is not incompetent. This roster is not made up of only rookies and scrubs, even if they are often caught playing that way. The Blackhawks, as constructed, should have at least one win through their first three games of the season. But games are not played on paper, of course.
After looking like a Varsity vs. JV game to open the season against the Colorado Avalanche, the Blackhawks had two great chances to get their heads straight and get into the win column against a seemingly lesser talented New Jersey Devils team and a Pittsburgh Penguins squad with a roster depleted by both Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby. Yet, here they stand at 0-2-1, just one desperate comeback away from being 0-3-0.
Through the first three first periods of the season, the Blackhawks are being out-scored 8-1. They are being out-chanced 36-15, with an 11-3 difference in high-danger chances, according to NaturalStatTrick. And while they were able to mount a comeback late against the Devils to force overtime, they have essentially lost two of their three games this season after the opening 20 minutes of hockey.
The slow starts, the uninspired play, the confusion on the ice, those things come down to coaching. And when teams are playing poorly and not living up to expectations, the first and most likely change to be made will inevitably be the coach.
Chicago is unlikely to fire Jeremy Colliton today (Monday) prior to the first game of the season at the United Center tomorrow night against the New York Islanders, the organization Colliton used to play for. Luckily for the Blackhawks, the Islanders, coming off of back-to-back trips to the third-round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, are off to a slow start to the year as well. But the optimism of maybe pouncing on a team that is not at full-strength is out the window already for these Blackhawks since they have failed to do so twice already this season.
Jeremy Colliton will be booed, heavily, upon the announcement of the starting lineups tomorrow night. The Blackhawks fan base, which has been skeptical to accept him since he took over for the beloved Joel Quenneville, is looking for Colliton’s head. While it is still early this season, the Blackhawks are not unfamiliar with Colliton behind the bench any longer. You don’t get long leash-length after 196 NHL games behind the bench, especially when you were brought in to be the answer to a Hall of Fame coach who won three Stanley Cups in Chicago.
Yes, this is the first time that Colliton is having a full offseason, full training camp, and full 82-game schedule ahead of him. But, that still doesn’t change the fact that the Blackhawks have been the same iteration of the same team no matter who has been playing for them since he took over. Excluding the Seattle Kraken, who’e played only three games since Jeremy Colliton took over, the Blackhawks rank:
• Last in the NHL in shots allowed per game (34.6)
• Second-to-last in cumulative penalty-killing (77.5%)
• Tied for third-worst goals allowed per game (3.30)
• Tied for 26th in 5v5 Corsi-For% (47.9)
• Second-to-last in unblocked shot attempt% (47.1)
• 25th in regulation wins (59)
• 24th in standings points percentage (.503)
Joel Quenneville took over for Denis Savard back in 2008 after Savard had a 65-66-16 record as a head coach. Jeremy Colliton took over for Joel Quenneville in 2018 after the Blackhawks got off to a 6-6-3 start after missing the playoffs the season prior. Colliton has an 86-85-25 record as the head coach of the Blackhawks, having missed the postseason twice, three times if you don’t count the NHL expanding the postseason in 2020 to accommodate Chicago and Montreal.
Savard and Colliton’s records are on the same trajectory and Savard had considerably less to work with in his time as head coach of the Blackhawks.
To Colliton’s defense, Patrick Kane was one of the first of the major veterans to speak out in support of him when he took over the Blackhawks. Kane has had some incredible seasons under Colliton and has been then player behind the wheel of the Blackhawks’ successes in that time. I do not believe that he is the only one, I also don’t believe Colliton has full support from the Blackhawks locker room. Even if Jonathan Toews, an early skeptic of Colliton’s, says he has come around and believes in the in “buy-in” from the team.
The other night, I offered the outside perspective on the Blackhawks' disastrous start and how the pressure on Colliton is mounting.
Today, here's the internal perspective, notably from Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.
In short? They believe.
Read it: https://t.co/DRFAbR3wHY
— Mark Lazerus (@MarkLazerus) October 18, 2021
There needs to be a change of culture in the organization in many different ways. The higher-ups for the Blackhawks need to go for their management of the team and their troubles off the ice with the lawsuits against the team that are currently being investigated. That comes with a change in your Hockey Operations department and with Stan Bowman. It comes with a change behind the bench, not just Jeremy Colliton, but the whole lot. Top to bottom, change.
I’ll offer up a few considerations for replacements, should the Blackhawks organization implement real change.
As for a new head coach, I would start with considering Claude Julien or Bruce Boudreau. Two former NHL coaches that have had considerable success at the NHL level. Having an established NHL coach in the locker room, especially one with a Stanley Cup to his name like Julien, as a replacement could provide a shift in respect. Two others I would consider, that might not have the same NHL pedigree as Boudreau or Julien, but could still provide that mindset shift would be David Quinn and Patrick Roy. For kicks and giggles, how about Marian Hossa? (He wouldn’t.)
In the front office, running the hockey operations, I would want someone with real hockey experience. One person who I have been fan of his work since leaving the game is former NHL goalie Kevin Weekes. His name has popped up a number of times when teams have been looking for new general managers or for senior positions in their front offices. I like his approach to the game, the respect that he has from his peers, and the shift in mentality he could provide to the Blackhawks management group, which is still riding-high off the three Stanley Cups the organization won over a six-year span from 2010-2015. Those Cups are all at least six years old, and starting to collect dust in the metaphorical trophy case. I believe the Blackhawks, if/when they make a change at the top, need someone to be brought in who was not part of that group. An external hire. And I think Weekes, if he wants the job (he’s certainly great at his TV gig, too), would be great at it. The point here is not even the specific names, but the broader idea that there ARE alternatives theoretically available.
In any case, if the Blackhawks come out tomorrow night, get their first lead of the season and maybe even their first win of the season, we can call that progress. We can call that “growth.”
But if it is more of the same that we have seen in the first three games, the sloppy play, the inability to start a game on time, the miscommunication and mishaps in the defensive zone, then a change needs to be made to avoid losing an entire season. Another season lost during the last remaining years of the Kane and Toews era cannot and should not be tolerated any longer. Otherwise their exits from the organization will be premature and become a sour note in Chicago sports history.