The Chicago Blackhawks have plenty of decisions to make over the course of the next few months. First, they need to find someone for the permanent role as General Manager and a leader of the Hockey Operations department. While Kyle Davidson is operating in the interim as if he is going to be that permanent person as GM, the organization is already looking outside of the box when it comes to their front office structure and potential personnel.
They’ll likely get the front office squared-away before anything else, since the team would likely want that permanent person/people in those positions to make the long-term decisions for the club, for example, like what will happen with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews’ next contracts.
Another long-term decision that will likely be made after the front office moves will be what happens behind the bench in Chicago. Davidson was the one to make the call to fire Jeremy Colliton on November 6 and replace him in the interim with Derek King. It is a move that has paid-off so far. Coming into the position, King took over a 1-9-2 Blackhawks team and has gone (as of this writing) 10-6-2 since November 7 to put Chicago at 11-15-4 on the year. It’s still not great, but much better than where Chicago was heading.
King, along with his assistants Marc Crawford and Rob Cookson, have done a pretty decent job turning the Blackhawks from a directionless club lacking an identity into a team that can respond to adversity and knows how they want to try to win games. It doesn’t hurt that Marc-André Fleury has started to play like his old self again, as has Jonathan Toews in recent games.
When he took over the position, Derek King was never thought to be the long-term solution as head coach in Chicago. Even he would admit that. But after helping turn the team around, even just a little bit, and get them out of the cellar of the league, King is starting to make a stronger case to be the head coach of the Blackhawks beyond just this season. Chicago has said they will not be making a decision on King or the future of the head coaching role while in-season, unlike other teams in the league who have fired and hired new coaches already this year. But there are some decent candidates available now, and some that could likely be available once the season is over, if Chicago doesn’t retain King in the role.
In going along with the organization’s direction of thinking “outside of the box” when it comes to their front office decisions, whomever is in the position to hire the permanent head coach might also consider going “outside of the box.” Granted, the last time the Blackhawks went that route, it was hiring Jeremy Colliton to be the head coach in Rockford and then pushing him into the NHL head coaching role after ousting Joel Quenneville when Colliton was not ready to assume that role. But that was Stan Bowman’s move, so maybe this will be different.
The outside of the box thinking could lead to one of the most prominent hockey coaches in Europe, Rikard Grönborg.
Yes, another coach from Europe, like Colliton. But this is much, much different. For starters, Grönborg is a well-established winner in Europe. He has led Sweden’s national team to two World Championship Gold medals as an assistant coach and one as a head coach, along with another Gold at the World Junior Championship in 2012, and an Olympic Gold as an assistant at the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Along with his stellar record as an assistant and head coach with Team Sweden across numerous international competitions, Grönborg has been the head coach of ZSC Lions in the Swiss National League for the past three seasons. Prior to COVID shutting down the 2019-20 season, Grönborg had his team atop the NLA standings with a 31-13-6 record, improving them from a .550 winning-percentage in 2018-19, to a .680 in the shortened season. Last season, ZSC Lions finished fifth in the NLA with a 30-16-6 record and lost in the Semifinals of the NLA Playoffs. So far for the 2021-22 season, Grönborg’s Lions are 15-11-4 and in sixth-place in the NLA standings.
Grönborg’s name has popped up a number of times over the past few seasons as someone NHL teams could look at to shake-up the usual merry-go-round of NHL coaches interchanging jobs constantly, but no team has been brave enough to be the one to break that mold. He’s had the support from Swedish NHL legends like Daniel and Henrik Sedin, Niklas Lidstrom, and Mats Sundin in the past, so it theoretically wouldn’t take much convincing for players to take him seriously in a fresh role in the NHL.
Maybe the Blackhawks, looking to change so much about the culture around the organization after the past couple of months both on and off the ice, would look to a long-successful coach like Grönborg to bring a new perspective to the NHL game.