After being swept out of the playoffs by the Nashville Predators, it was clear that some changes needed to be made by the Chicago Blackhawks. One of the first dominoes to fall was assistant coach Mike Kitchen, who was fired after seven seasons with the team. Despite his role in bringing three Stanley Cups to Chicago, the front office believed that it was time to let Kitchen go and explore other options.
The individual this firing effects most is head coach Joel Quenneville. According to the Chicago Tribune, Coach Q was upset by the move and it may lead to complications between the front office and coaching staff. However, the Hawks needed a shake-up after being dominated by Nashville. Kitchen’s main focus was on defense and the penalty kill, two areas that were trouble for the Blackhawks during the playoffs.
Source: Blackhawks will name Ulf Samuelsson asst. coach to fill Mike Kitchen's spot. Ulf was coaching Charlotte, Carolina's AHL affiliate.
— Craig Morgan (@craigsmorgan) June 7, 2017
In order to make improvements, the front office has pinned Ulf Samuelsson as Kitchen’s replacement, as reported by Craig Morgan of FanRagSports.com. The 53-year-old native of Sweden should provide the Hawks with a fresh set of eyes to help get the defense back on track.
Connection With Quenneville/Dineen
Samuelsson played over 1,000 games as a defenseman during his NHL career, including winning a pair of Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins in the early 1990s. Before making his way to the Steel City, Samuelsson began his playing days with the Hartford Whalers in the 1980s. Two of his teammates on that Hartford team: Joel Quenneville and fellow assistant coach Kevin Dineen.
This established relationship between the three coaches should result in strong chemistry. Just like with Kitchen before, Quenneville is familiar with Samuelsson and will be able to trust in him and his decisions regarding the team.
Samuelsson can also help take some pressure off of Coach Q thanks to his success behind the bench.
Samuelsson’s Successful Track Record
Once his playing days ended, Samuelsson entered the coaching world. He served as an assistant for the Arizona Coyotes from 2006 – 2011 and then the New York Rangers from 2013 – 2016. While with the Rangers, Samuelsson turned the club into one of the League’s finest defenses. In a 2016 interview, Samuelsson stated, “We worked together and everyone had their input, but at the end of the day I was in charge of the D in all aspects. I did a lot of defensive zone plays and structure, plus penalty kill, so I had a pretty full plate.”
Samuelsson also has head coaching experience. He spent two seasons at the helm of Modo Hockey in Sweden. Most recently, he took over as head coach of the AHL’s Charlotte Checkers prior to the 2016-17 season. In his lone season with the team, Samuelsson led them to a 39-29-8 record and their first playoff appearance since 2013.
This experience will be important for the Blackhawks, who had a historically bad penalty kill for most of this season. The Hawks’ defensive line is in flux, with Trevor van Riemsdyk being connected to Vegas and veterans Brian Campbell and Johnny Oduya on the outside looking in when it comes to the team’s future. The addition of Czech import Jan Rutten is a step in the right direction for the rebuilding back line.
More Blackhawk Changes on the Horizon?
While this may not be directly caused by Samuelsson, his hiring could open the door for more additions to the Blackhawks’ coaching staff. Despite back-to-back early exits from the playoffs, Chicago is still one of the model organizations in the NHL and a great destination for anybody.
This was the first change in the coaching staff since 2014, but shaking things up may be a positive thing for the Hawks. With the team’s core getting up in years and a bevy of young players coming up the system, a new face like Samuelsson’s may help to provide the spark this team needs.