CHICAGO (AP) — Joel Quenneville knew the deal. After three Stanley Cup titles and nine playoff appearances with the Chicago Blackhawks, the longtime coach figured this was a big season for him.
“I only think we’re in the winning business and we better win,” Quenneville said on the first day of training camp.
Two months later, it was over.
The Blackhawks fired Quenneville on Tuesday, ending a wildly successful run that returned the franchise to the top of the NHL after years of heartache.
“We want to win,” team president John McDonough said. “We want to re-win. We want our building filled and we want our fans to see an exciting brand of hockey. Sometimes, as painful as it is, you need a fresh start.”
The move comes in the wake of a winless three-game trip, extending Chicago’s losing streak to five in a row heading into Thursday’s home game against Carolina. The power play, a persistent problem, ranked 27th in the NHL heading into Tuesday. The Blackhawks (6-6-3) also are allowing an unseemly 3.73 goals per game.
“A decision like this isn’t made on one game, one play, or one specific thing,” general manager Stan Bowman said. “It’s sort of a collection of things. Certainly the road trip was concerning. But I think even heading into that, there were some elements to our game where they weren’t where they needed to be.”
Assistants Kevin Dineen and Ulf Samuelsson also were let go. Jeremy Colliton was hired as the 38th head coach in franchise history, and Barry Smith, 66, moved from Chicago’s front office to the bench as an assistant coach.
Colliton goes from Chicago’s American Hockey League affiliate in Rockford, Illinois, to the NHL’s youngest head coach at 33. Blackhawks forward Chris Kunitz, defenseman Duncan Keith and goaltenders Corey Crawford and Cam Ward are older than Colliton, and defenseman Brent Seabrook also is 33.
“I have a huge amount of respect for Joel,” Colliton said. “Those are huge shoes to fill. I won’t try to fill them. I’ve got to be myself. And we’re different people, so I’ll bring different things to the table, different ideas to the table.”
The 60-year-old Quenneville was the longest-tenured head coach in the NHL. He had another year left on a three-year contract extension he signed in 2016 that pays him $6 million per year, second highest in the NHL behind Mike Babcock in Toronto.
He also was the second coach fired in the past three days after the Los Angeles Kings dismissed John Stevens.
Whenever Quenneville wants to get back to work, he likely will have plenty of suitors.
The former NHL defenseman has 890 wins in 22 years as a head coach with St. Louis, Colorado and Chicago. Scotty Bowman, Stan’s father and a senior adviser with the Blackhawks, is the only man with more regular-season victories.
Quenneville took over Chicago four games into the 2008-09 season, replacing Denis Savard after the Hall of Famer was let go by former general manager Dale Tallon. What followed was an unprecedented run for one of the NHL’s Original Six franchises.
Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Keith and Seabrook blossomed with Quenneville behind the bench, and the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2010, 2013 and 2015. They also made it to the conference finals in 2009 and 2014.
“He’s going to be an icon in Chicago for the longest time, the great things he’s done for this organization, winning three Stanley Cups, so that will never be forgotten,” Kane said.
Toews said the players learned of the move Tuesday morning.
“We’ve had some pretty crazy highs and you remember all the good stuff, so it’s tough to see a coach and a friend like Joel go,” the captain said.
The pressure on Quenneville began to ramp up when Chicago was swept by Nashville in the first round of the 2017 playoffs after the Blackhawks finished with the best record in the Western Conference. Then they missed the playoffs entirely last season for the first time in a decade.
Quenneville finishes with a 452-249-96 record with Chicago. He also went 76-52 in the playoffs with the Blackhawks for the best record in franchise history.
The dismissal turns up the heat on Bowman, who has made a couple of questionable moves that helped hasten the Blackhawks’ decline. He traded Artemi Panarin to Columbus and Teuvo Teravainen to Carolina in part because of salary-cap issues, and each player has put up big numbers with his new club.
“I believe in this roster, I believe in Stan,” McDonough said. “Stan is meticulous, he’s very thorough and when you break down free agents, when you break down trades, some work, some don’t. You’d like most to go your way and over time, they may. But his body of work is excellent. I want him to succeed.”