The Chicago Blackhawks could have realistically let both general manager Stan Bowman and head coach Jeremy Colliton go. The fact that the Blackhawks won’t, according to chairman Rocky Wirtz, is nevertheless for the best.
Blackhawks in a Bad Way
To be clear, there is no denying the Blackhawks are in bad shape. They may have won their third Stanley Cup out of six tries in 2015, but they haven’t been out of the first round since, missing the playoffs altogether in each of the last two seasons.
Furthermore, the Blackhawks were poised to miss them for a third straight time, until the season got abruptly “suspended.” Six points out of the second wild-card spot with one more game played and 12 to go, the Blackhawks would have needed a minor miracle.
That’s if the rest of the season does end up getting cancelled outright of course, which isn’t set in stone yet, according to deputy commissioner Bill Daly as recently as two days ago. A 24-team posteaseason has also been floated around, meaning the Blackhawks, who currently sit in 12th in the Western Conference, theoretically have a chance.
Yes, even if it’s by the slimmest of margins, the Blackhawks are technically still alive. Granted, they don’t deserve to be due to a slew of factors:
- They give up more shots than a bartender on Mardi Gras, with a league-leading 35.1 against per game.
- They’re in last place in the entire Central Division by a comfortable five points.
- After a mildly impressive five-game winning streak to bring them back into playoff contention in late January, they lost five straight in early February to fall right back out, including to four teams ahead of them in the playoff race.
- They’ve since gone a mediocre 7-6, including one loss to the historically horrendous, last-place Detroit Red Wings, all as they should have been playing their most desperate hockey of the season.
Needless to say, even if play does resume and the Blackhawks make it under some new, alien format to salvage some semblance of the season, they’ll be a playoff team in name only. There’s no disputing that. However, no team can realistically dismiss their GM, head coach, and/ or president (John McDonough) while they’re still in the hunt, however much that hunt is doomed to end in disaster.
Bowman’s Best Days Behind Him
Maybe Wirtz jumped the gun in that respect. Before making a definitive decision, he should have waited until the season is officially over. Nevertheless, what’s done is done, and you have to believe he stands by his decision, which isn’t the worst one in theory. Fewer people likely would have batted an eye had Wirtz gone the other way, but Bowman, regardless of the team’s perilous pay structure and salary-cap situation, was still one of the best GMs of the last decade based on the results he got.
By all appearances, yeah, the house of cards he built is falling in on itself. Not just due to bad contracts like Brent Seabrook’s, either. He’s made a few bad trades in his day too. Re-acquiring Brandon Saad for Hart Memorial Trophy-candidate Artemi Panarin, for example.
However, Bowman’s trades haven’t been all bad, which is admittedly the equivalent of arguing a 15-wheeler can still get you where you’re going. Effectively, in terms of his overall capability as a GM, he’s a few wheels shy of a full set or a box short of a few tools. Still, his draft record shines, providing hope that maybe the Hawks can right the ship under him.
It’s probably small consolation at this juncture, but the likes of ex-Blackhawks Phillip Danault, Teuvo Teravainen, Kevin Hayes and Nick Schmaltz were all late-first-round finds by Bowman and his staff. If you look at the big picture and how Bowman’s also drafted Alex DeBrincat, Adam Boqvist and Kirby Dach, it’s hard to debate what should be abundantly obvious by now. He may have just dealt away Erik Gustafsson, but that he signed the 60-point defenseman in the first place (and Panarin) points to generally a good eye for talent.
Colliton Deserves More of a Look
Maybe that doesn’t necessarily extend behind the bench, as Colliton has come under fire for his lack of experience as a still-green 35-year-old head coach. Joel Quenneville is a pretty tough act to follow due to his reputation and how he had been with the Blackhawks for over a decade.
Some may argue Colliton was brought in for a fresh perspective and that hasn’t worked, so he should go. Consider the opposite argument, that Colliton’s worth keeping around seeing as he’s had more success, albeit just slightly, with this current incarnation of the Blackhawks, a team with which even Quenneville couldn’t make the playoffs by the end. Of course, Colliton’s no Quenneville, but the need for a fresh perspective is universal in this case.
Colliton could very well be the next Gary Green. Green was fired in his third season with the Washington Capitals never to get another coaching gig after initially becoming the youngest bench boss in history at age 26. Colliton could just as easily be the next Paul Maurice instead. Like Colliton (and Green), Maurice initially struggled, missing the playoffs in his first three seasons after getting hired by the Hartford Whalers at age 28. Say what you want about Maurice, but he has had stable employment for the last 25 years for a reason.
Wirtz meanwhile has his for sticking with his current administration. Yes, those in charge deserve to be criticized, but it’s hard to criticize the decision to add a little certainty to the equation when there’s so little of it to go around these days.
The fact that Wirtz even addressed the issue is a good thing. It’s a sign Bowman has some goodwill left over, but that it’s also a finite resource. If Bowman doesn’t turn it around, he’ll be held accountable eventually. It may not provide the immediacy that the rolling heads for which fans had been hoping do, but it does bring closure during circumstances in which there is close to none. Ironically, it’s a decision that affords the Hawks the opportunity to move on from the mediocrity. Bowman and Colliton are most definitely on shaky ground, but at least everyone knows where they stand.
After 10 years of writing hockey, Ryan decided it was as good a time as any to actually join The Hockey Writers for the 2014-15 season. Having appeared as a guest on such programs as CBC Radio One’s Daybreak, Ryan has written for such publications as the Montreal Gazette and Bleacher Report and worked for the NHL itself and his hometown Montreal Canadiens. He currently covers the Habs for THW as a columnist.