“I am frustrated, I am angry, this was a tough, tough loss for us all to take. Standing here April 22 (2017) is not the way we expected our season to end. It is a complete failure when you measure it against the expectations that we have for ourselves. We did not come even close to reaching the standard we have set over the years here. And that is unacceptable. Any successes that we did experience this year are completely overshadowed by the abrupt ending to our season. It is not close to good enough for anybody. I think it is times like now to take a look in the mirror and face facts. And when you do that you look at accountability and that starts with me. I need to be better. There is no doubt about it. I am going to take a look at all things and I can promise you I will be better. Top to bottom we need more. This is unacceptable to be where we are today. There will be change moving forward. Change comes in many different ways. So the specifics of how we are going to change things into next year are not really meant for this forum. But I can promise you we need to be better. Joel is our head coach. he will continue to be our head coach. Joel and I are going to work together to make sure this never happens again.”
That was Blackhawks General Manager Stan Bowman, back in 2017, following Chicago’s disappointing first round playoff loss to the Nashville Predators. A lot has changed since then. Despite his endorsement of his coach at the time, Bowman ultimately fired Joel Quenneville just over a year later, after Chicago had started the 2018-19 season with a 6-6-3 record.
A young Jeremy Colliton was hired, tasked with replacing the greatest coach the Chicago Blackhawks had ever had.
Winning was still top of mind, as we were told in the press conference introducing Jeremy Colliton Chicago’s 38th head coach in franchise history. Since then however, the Blackhawks haven’t done much winning.
Under Colliton, the Blackhawks have a pedestrian 62-58-17 record. Their play defensively has been a huge issue and their inability to transition and move the puck effectively has made it challenging for them to produce offense. They failed to make the post-season in Colliton’s first season as coach in 2018-19. This past year, they qualified after the league opened up their playoff format to include 24 teams — as opposed to 16 — in their restart following the shutdown necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Chicago was the last seed in the West (23rd in the league), with little hope of making the playoffs had the pandemic not brought about a halt to the regular season. Despite the playoff berth, the Blackhawks were not a playoff-quality team. They would go on to defeat the Edmonton Oilers (an equally flawed team, however boasting the NHL’s leading scorer Leon Draisaitl and the NHL’s best player, Connor McDavid) in a best-of-five play-in series before losing in 5 games to the Las Vegas Golden Knights.
Something significant happened within the franchise prior to the Blackhawks resuming their season against the Oilers. In a surprising move, John McDonough was let go from his role as president and CEO of the organization. He had played an instrumental role in revitalizing the franchise, instilling the “One Goal” mentality that helped usher in a golden age of Chicago Blackhawks hockey. Yet, despite all he’d done for the franchise, he had long been rumored to be too involved in hockey operations.
There appeared to have been internal pressure to keep “One Goal” alive for as long as possible, ignoring the clear signs on the ice that this franchise was in need of a rebuild following their disappointing consecutive first round playoff losses on the back of their last championship in 2015.
With McDonough gone, that willful “One Goal” blindness appears to be over. Chicago announced on the eve of Free Agency that they will not be re-signing long-time goaltender Corey Crawford and will move forward with young goaltenders Colin Delia, Kevin Lankinen and Malcolm Subban, pending a contract agreement. The move signals a true change of course, a new direction for a franchise that had appeared directionless the past three seasons. It would appear the long overdue rebuild process has begun.
A golden age in Blackhawks hockey is over. A new chapter is beginning.