Joel Quenneville Is the Benchmark in the Cap Era

On Tuesday night, Joel Quenneville took another step towards cementing his extraordinary legacy with the Chicago Blackhawks as he moved into a tie with the great Al Arbour with 782 wins.

His next win will put him in sole possession of the second place spot right behind Scotty Bowman (1244). After Tuesday’s win, Quenneville was asked if he had any plans to challenge Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman’s father for the number one spot and he grinned before giving a quick response, “He’s safe.”

“If Quenneville broke his record, it means that we have a lot of wins in us,” Stan Bowman said of his father’s record.

There are a number of coaches who have been active during the cap era, but none has had the continued success that Quenneville has.

Daryl Sutter (573) is perhaps the closest with a pair of Cup wins in Los Angeles. Ken Hitchcock (732) is knocking on the door though he has been unable to take the St. Louis Blues to the next level in his time there so far. Though he does have one Stanley Cup win from his time in Dallas (1998-99).

The Hallmarks Of A Quenneville Team

For Coach Q and the organization as a whole, there have been several keys to their sustained success. They have consistently driven home the idea that defense is the cornerstone of a good offense. They are also quick to remember that even though their lineup boasts a number of future Hall of Famers, no one player is more valuable to the team than the next.

Quenneville has always been able to build a winning culture within his locker room, and that stems from giving his team and the leadership group ownership of both their successes and their failures. They do not rely on excuses or hide from their shortcomings; Instead, they face them head on. Individual credit is something that is given behind closed doors, in front of the glaring lights of the cameras, it is always about the team as a whole.

Sure, it is hard not to heap praise on Patrick Kane after a 26-game point streak, or Artemi Panarin for almost single-handedly dispatching the Penguins, twice. However, it is also made clear that those efforts don’t happen without their linemates, and that those stats only matter when they result in a win for the team.

There is no doubt Quenneville is a colorful character with his penchant for four-letter words, oddball nicknames and behind the bench antics.

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But, in his years at the helm of the Blackhawks, he has earned the respect of some pretty special players.

“He wins a lot of games,” Toews said. “A number of us in here have been playing for him for a long time, and had a lot of success together. It’s cool. You hear about different milestones – different guys getting to 1,000 games or 1,000 points or winning Stanley Cups. You feel close to your teammates, but I think when your coach reaches a milestone like that, I mean that’s incredible. We’re happy and honored to be a part of that and obviously to have helped him to a certain degree get there.”

Defense First

Coach Q is known for his defense first directive. No one, not even Kane is immune to this one.  Every player from one end of the lineup to the other is expected to play responsibly with the puck, and without. The Blackhawks employ a system that has the forwards stepping up defensively to give their blue line a bit more time and space to get in on the rush and contribute offensively.

The system is more difficult to execute well (hence, the early struggles for players like Antoine Vermette and Brad Richards), but when perfected can absolutely wreck havoc on opponents as every skater on the ice becomes a legitimate scoring threat.

For Quenneville, it is expected that every player develops their two-way game. They don’t all have to be as responsible as Marian Hossa or Jonathan Toews, but sloppy defensive play, especially in the d-zone is one of the fastest ways into Q’s doghouse.

For Coach Q, the defense is what ignites the offense. Protecting the puck, making clean zone exits and entries, and executing crisp neutral zone passes are paramount to succeeding in the offensive zone. He prefers not to play the dump and chase game, but rather control the puck through the neutral zone and carry it across the blue line.

In fact, the only time you typically see the Blackhawks purposely dump the puck into the offensive zone is when they are looking to complete a change, or the puck carrier gets pinched before the blue line forcing the dump in to avoid a turnover in the neutral zone.

Respect The Player, Respect The Game

For Q, there is always the expectation that his team will put in the maximum effort during the offseason, and in between games. However, unlike a lot of coaches, Q doesn’t necessarily believe drills and heavy practices are always the best way to connect with a team. During long stretches and especially in the playoffs, many practices or morning skates are optional regardless of how well or how poorly they played in their previous game.

“The way the game’s being played today, and the volume of games in a short amount of time here, I think with a practice, you’d lose a lot of steam and you don’t get anything out of it,” Quenneville said. “You lose some of your team game [when] you’re hitting the ice constantly. You don’t get that added energy going into games. … We feel that we get a lot more energy by just playing games when the schedule’s this busy.”

Players with a lot of mileage are often given maintenance days to keep them fresh, and it has been exceedingly beneficial when you look at the number of deep playoff runs this team has made. This has been especially helpful to guys like Duncan Keith, who logs a tremendous amount of ice time, and Hossa, who has played a lot of NHL games throughout his already long and storied career.

Quenneville is typically very succinct in his responses, and can often be described as having a bit of a hard exterior, but he genuinely cares about his players, the organization and the game of hockey. He does not ask his players to give up the creative freedom that makes guys like Kane and Panarin spectacularly entertaining to watch, but he does expect them to live within the rules of his game plan.

Play responsibly, and you have all the freedom in the world.

Lead From The Front

Within the Blackhawks locker room, there is a leadership group that has become an extension of the coaching staff. Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Keith, Toews, and Hossa will often be tasked with selling the new players on the Blackhawks system.

Whether it be their offseason preparation, day-to-day routines, or setting the best example, they can each time they set foot on the ice. Each of the core players has their strengths with Toews and Seabrook being the vocal leaders. Keith is the beating heart of the team. Hossa and Hammer are the guys that command respect based on the way they play night in, and night out.

This is a group of players that Quenneville has had a hand in grooming for the roles they each play within his system now. Several of the building blocks were in place when he arrived, but Quenneville was in large part responsible for how they would impact the players that came behind them.

For Quenneville, he leaves a lot of the locker room motivational speeches to his core players. As a former player, he knows and understands the value of the guys in the trenches having the last word. He and his coaching staff have carefully built up their leaders and then allowed them to lead.

A simple plan but one few have been able to implement with the kind of success that Quenneville and the Blackhawks have had. Of course, not every team has a leader like Toews in their locker room.

Quenneville has always managed to get the best from his best players and it has not gone unnoticed.

“I think the sign of a great coach is to be able to get your most talented players to play their best, and that’s not easy to do,” Hawks GM Stan Bowman said. “That’s the sign of a coach who’s successful — they’re able to get their top players to play well and to do it often. Joel’s got a great feel for that, so we want to keep it going.”

Kane and Corey Crawford are also an important part of the Blackhawks leadership group providing a veteran presence and the composure that comes along with the successes they have earned throughout their careers. All of the core players exude a belief that no game is out of reach, something that they learned from Quenneville. That belief extends throughout the organization, and it spreads like a contagion through the locker room to new players, whether they are seasoned vets or starry-eyed rookies. It is Quenneville’s winning culture.

A Players Coach

In spite of his hard line on the Quenneville rules and the high expectations that he has for every player that puts on a Blackhawks sweater, there is no doubt that Coach Q is a players coach. He is always concerned about keeping his players healthy and fresh, especially during their playoff runs.

Quenneville is a direct man; He loves his players, the city, and everyone involved with the organization.  That was never more clear than his press conference last year after the loss of the Blackhawks beloved equipment manager Clint Reif. The heartbreak, compassion and love for this team and the organization were crystal clear as he spoke for his players, many of whom were simply too broken up to talk about the loss.

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For Quenneville, there is no hiding when he is not pleased with a players efforts. He uses words like ordinary and average as motivation, but he never fires barbs at players.

In fact, it is rare that Quenneville will carry on at length about bad plays or calls that happened during a contest, or even discuss a missed call. He is far more likely to give one-word answers and a shake of the head when he is unhappy. With Q, excuses are a rarity. He simply doesn’t find purpose in discussing things that can’t be changed. Coach Q tends to avoid dwelling on wins or losses, as there is always another game to be played. His one exception being a Cup win.

Quenneville is known for his penchant to healthy scratch players. A motivational tool that he has had a good deal of success with over the years. When it works, it is hard for a player to find fault in his tactics.

A prime example came in the Stanley Cup Playoffs last spring. Both Vermette and Teuvo Teravainen had been subjected to the healthy scratch once or twice, and each time one or both of them came up with a key goal, an overtime winner, or play that resulted in a win.

In fact, after being healthy scratched, both players went on to become integral to the team’s success, and it resulted in both of them hoisting the Cup for the first time. For Teravainen, very early in his career and for Vermette, in what might have been his last opportunity as his career is winding down.

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Signed, Sealed, Delivered

There was no question that an extension was going to come for Quenneville.  He has been at the forefront of the Blackhawks success since Kane and Toews were still fresh-faced kids in the NHL, and he figures to remain there for at least three more years.

On Tuesday, Quenneville signed a three-year contract extension that will keep him in Chicago through the 2019-2020 season. The extension did not garner the obscene money that Mike Babcock got from the Toronto Maple Leafs, but it will reportedly net him $2.75 million per year.

For Coach Q and the Blackhawks, it was not as much about the money itself as it was about keeping the core together, and he is undoubtedly a huge part of the core in Chicago.  As the players have been rewarded for the successes they have earned for this city and the organization that they clearly love, coach Q was inevitably due the same. For him, the honor is in working with an outstanding organization with some exceptional players in a city that has become his home.

“Well, in your wildest dreams you wouldn’t have expected what happened here to happen,” Quenneville said. “It’s a tremendous group to work with, knowing your leaders have that type of character you hope to have on your team. They send the right message and you couldn’t ask for a better situation to be in as a coach.”

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Finally, Richard Panik had arrived for Tuesday’s morning skate. Though it had been reported that he would not participate in Tuesday evening’s game against the Nashville Predators. Andrew Shaw’s play of late had all but secured his spot on the top line for the foreseeable future, and that had been the slot that Q had been eyeing for Panik.

However, just before warm-ups, Artem Anisimov was scratched due to illness and Panik was suddenly getting ready for his debut. He played the majority of the time on the third line with Desjardins and Philip Danault. Quenneville was complimentary of the forward as he was thrown into the fire against one of the Blackhawks biggest divisional rivals at the very last minute.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t bode well for Bryan Bickell, who was healthy scratched again.

As for Shaw, he came into the game looking to hang onto his spot on the top line, and he finished the night with a stranglehold on it. He scored the first two goals for the Blackhawks and was seemingly involved in every play that got anywhere near Pekka Rinne when his line was on the ice.  It is clear that Shaw has been enjoying his time on the lottery line, and he isn’t going to relinquish it without a fight.

The good news is, Andrew Shaw with a bit of fight to his game is usually great for the Blackhawks.

Finally, the Blackhawks extended their winning streak to eight games helping them to pull within two points of the division-leading Dallas Stars.  The Stars do not play until Friday, so a win on Thursday in Montreal could even them up in the standings.

Fun Fact: The Blackhawks are the only remaining team without a loss in 2016.