By Steve Silverman-
(CBS) — The Chicago Blackhawks have an advantage that few other teams can compete with on a regular basis.
No, we are not talking about the edge they have with skilled players like Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa. We are talking about the lift they get from having Joel Quenneville behind the bench.
Quenneville has been coaching in the NHL since the 1996-97 season when he was handed the reins of the St. Louis Blues. He remained with the Blues through 2003-04. A year later, he was behind the bench of the Colorado Avalanche and he stayed with them for three seasons.
Quenneville was an accomplished leader when he replaced Blackhawks legend Denis Savard early in the 2008-09 season, and he has reached the zenith of his profession, leading the Blackhawks to two Stanley Cups in the last four seasons.
By the way the Blackhawks have played this year, he has a legitimate shot at making it three championships in five years.
Most good coaches in the NHL have one area that they have mastered. Some coaches are excellent motivators, others are top strategists while some others are great teachers of the game.
Quenneville has an advantage because he knows how to work all three of those areas. He excels at getting his point across without embarrassing or humiliating his players. He may get angry from time to time, but he is not going to follow Vancouver head coach John Tortorella’s lead and hang his players out to dry.
Patrick Sharp explained that everything that Quenneville does is based on getting the most out of his team and making sure they perform well on the ice. “It sounds simple, but it’s difficult to do,” Sharp said. “Coaches have a role to play in every game. Ultimately, it’s going to come down to the way players execute. But coaches who can provide the right advice have a lot to say about the way a game is played out.”
Ken Hitchcock of the St. Louis Blues is in that group of elite head coaches. He was thoroughly impressed with the job Quenneville did in last year’s Stanley Cup Final against the Boston Bruins when he did not hesitate to move players from line to line. That included playing Toews and Kane together, something he doesn’t often do. Boston head coach Claude Julien followed Quenneville’s lead and did the same thing.
“What has been fun to watch is, neither guy is hoping for chemistry to develop.” Hitchcock said. “They’re not sitting on a combination. They’re moving guys around to try to find something and their proactive approaches have been one of the great things about the series.”
That’s what good coaching is all about.
Former Jack Adams Award winner Marc Crawford coached with and against Quenneville for many years, and the current NHL analyst (for Canadian television network TSN) knows the Blackhawks’ boss well. He said that Quenneville has a near photographic memory for remembering details in a game that may have happened years ago, and that knowledge allows him to make excellent personnel decisions.
“Nobody can make the right move all the time, but he will put his players in a position to succeed more than most,” Crawford said. “He knows who has had success against a particular opponent and who hasn’t. He uses that knowledge along with finely honed instincts to help his team’s chances. There’s really not much more you want from a coach.”
Quenneville recently moved up to third in all-time coaching victories. He has 695 of them, as he trails only Scotty Bowman (1,244) and Al Arbour (782). Bowman’s record is safe, but he has an excellent chance to pass the former New York Islanders coaching legend.
He has clearly mastered every nuance of coaching, and if the Blackhawks are going to party in June once again, Quenneville’s maneuvers behind the bench will likely have a lot to do with their success.