The Chicago Blackhawks’ season could not be playing out any worse, and it finally hit its tipping point – head coach Jeremy Colliton has been fired. Blackhawks fans had high hopes leading into the season, and having such high hopes was justified. They went out and acquired star blueliner Seth Jones, Vezina-Trophy winner Marc-Andre Fleury, and even added depth pieces like Jake McCabe and back-to-back Stanley Cup champion Tyler Johnson. Yet here we are, a team with a 2-9-2 record that has only held a lead for four out of the 12 games they’ve played. One thing is clear: the good ole days of deep playoff runs and Stanley Cup parades are only visible in the rear-view mirror, and from what we’ve seen, there won’t be any of those coming anytime soon.
While their disastrous start hasn’t been the worst storyline this season, the thing is, they’re a much better team than they’ve shown. Look at their roster: Patrick Kane (who just got back from COVID protocol) showed he’s still in the prime of his career, netting a hat-trick and an assist in his first game back. Fleury has started to regain his championship form and is looking better with each game. Jones is playing good hockey, logging major minutes and has tallied 10 assists. And Jonathan Toews is starting to look like the player he was, getting seven points in his last eight games. Looking up and down the roster filled with marquee names like that, how have they been this bad? Well, simply put, their coaching wasn’t good enough.
Before his eventual firing, Colliton had compiled a record of 87-92-26, putting his winning percentage at a lowly .488%. Blackhawk fans had finally had enough of him, which ultimately led to his firing last week and the hiring of interim head coach Derek King. In fact, during his last few games at the United Center, you could hear a “fire Colliton” chant echo throughout the building. The wait-and-see period was clearly over for him; fans knew what he was, and that was, unfortunately, all that he would ever be: an incapable coach. The NHL is a results-oriented business, and Colliton had yielded no positive results. Indeed, since his hiring in 2018, the Hawks have been one of the worst defensive teams in the league, and under his stewardship, there was no evidence that was ever going to change.
It could’ve been that his system simply didn’t mix well with the roster, or it could’ve been that he’s a subpar coach. Whatever it was, one thing was clear: a new voice was needed to come in and create a change before it was too late. While trying to pinpoint the sole reason he wasn’t cut out for the head coaching gig is difficult, there are three reasons why the Blackhawks needed to fire him.
Inadequate Lineup Combinations
His lineup combinations were always very questionable. Earlier this season, he had fourth-line player Jujhar Khaira on the top line with Toews – and he even had Ryan Carpenter on the first power-play unit. Toews is a premier centerman who’s counted on to score, set up goals, kill penalties and provide help in the faceoff circle, while players like Khaira are not signed to the team to score goals. That doesn’t mean they can’t score goals, but that it’s not their primary purpose. You can’t sign a goal scorer for the league-minimum salary – and that’s not a knock on Khaira (who plays his role well) – but he isn’t, and has never been, a first-line player. The same goes for Carpenter.
So why was Colliton playing them both as if they were first-liners? Why haven’t Kane and Toews played a single game together? (a combo Joel Quenneville referred to as his “nuclear option”) When you’ve won but a single game thus far, what’s the worst that could happen if you played your best players together more often?
Handling of Dylan Strome
Dylan Strome may not be the player that the Arizona Coyotes’ top brass thought he would be when they drafted him third overall in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, but he is certainly a decent journeyman NHL player. Unfortunately for Strome, he found himself in Colliton’s doghouse, as he has only played five times this season – tallying but one assist. For Strome, one common theme this season is that whenever he does get inserted into the lineup, he’s put in a position to fail. Whether he’s shifted to his unnatural position on the wing or on the fourth line, Colliton had set him up for failure every time he got into the lineup. There was no reason for him to be out of the lineup, especially when Colliton played MacKenzie Entwistle (who also sports one assist this season but in more than double the number of games that Strome’s played in).
I believe that had Strome been in the lineup every night, it would have helped the Blackhawks’ chances of winning (and certainly winning more than one game). He’s a playmaker that needs to play with scorers, not grinders. And let’s not forget, Strome is only two years removed from a 51-point season.
It was clear since day one that Colliton lacked the necessary leadership for such a powerful role. Some critics point to the fact that he was the youngest head coach in the league during the time of his hiring, which is true, but the problem wasn’t his age – it was in his approach to the game.
One recent quote (after a 4-3 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes this past Wednesday), in particular, really made me scratch my head. After the loss, he said:
“We’re still struggling with the balance of understanding that it’s not the most important thing to try and score every time you’re on the ice.”Jeremy Colliton
This quote tells me two things:
1) He clearly lost the room if he’s already three years into being a head coach and is still having this type of issue with his players.
2) He could not be more wrong – last time I checked, goals won games … no? If you’re not trying to score, then what are you doing out there? Yes, defence is important. Yes, you won’t score every shift. I’m positive every player in the league understands this, but to downplay the importance of trying to score every time you’re on the ice? That’s a recipe for disaster – and one need only look at the Blackhawks’ record for proof.
Also, did you see his ‘strategy’ against the Detroit Red Wings when he handed the whiteboard over to the players? That’s a sign that your coach is out of answers, and any head coach pulling that stunt doesn’t deserve his job.
Surprising How Long Colliton Held His Job
Truthfully, it’s stunning that Colliton remained the head coach heading into this season. Core players like Kane, Toews, and Jones can say they back Colliton as much as they want to, but it’s clear that he never really got through to his players. The Blackhawks have been a losing team since he was hired. The inconsistencies, poor lineup decisions, blown leads, and repetitive “we need to start on time” quotes ran their course. And now, a new chapter begins with interim head coach Derek King. Regardless of how this season concludes, strap yourselves in, because who knows what will happen next in the Windy City.
American born, Canadian living. Wilfrid Laurier University graduate, loyal Chicago Blackhawks fan, poor golfer, and life-long hockey player.