Quenneville's Extension Highlights Highs, Lows of NHL Coaching

On the firing line a year ago, Quenneville guided his team to the 2013 Cup

The NHL is known for its inability to keep secrets (Winter Classic locations are a prime example), but the button-lipped Chicago Blackhawks usually avoid that pitfall.  

Until yesterday.

Thursday afternoon saw the Blackhawks send out a message that they would be holding a press conference on Friday before the start of Blackhawks Convention to make a “major team announcement.” With GM Stan Bowman being the featured speaker, there were several potential stories thrown out, but the one seen the most often was that head coach Joel Quenneville had agreed to a contract extension with the team.

Sure enough, after only a few minutes, beat reporters from Tim Sassone to Chris Kuc had confirmed that it was the Quenneville extension that the team would be announcing. The move wasn’t a surprise, as both Quenneville and Bowman had discussed it earlier this month at the team’s annual Prospect Camp. Here’s what Quenneville told Kuc at that availability:

“This past season there were so many good things that transpired and the beginning and the endings were special,” Quenneville said. “Sharing it with the group here and the organization and the city of Chicago has been a lot of fun.”

The move caps off a stunning reversal in Quenneville’s standing among Hawks fans. There were some calling for his head after consecutive first round exits from the playoffs, but when the team got off to their blazing hot start in 2013, earning points in 24 straight games, much of the skepticism died away. Once Quenneville had hoisted the team’s second Stanley Cup in four years, whatever doubt was left over was replaced by talk of where his legacy stacks up among the legends of Chicago coaching.

At any rate, being an NHL coach is an exercise in navigating the prevailing winds. Coaches who win championships often have to contend with fan resentment when they aren’t able to replicate the feat in short order. Dan Bylsma of the Pittsburgh Penguins is a shining example, as he was the subject of a slew of rumors before inking an extension with the team after losing in the Eastern Conference Finals this season.

Randy Carlyle is another coach, who lost his job as Anaheim’s headmaster less than five years after guiding that team to their only championship in team history.

Perhaps the best comparison to Quenneville is former Vancouver Canucks head coach (and current New York Rangers coach) Alain Vigneault. He led his team to within one game of the 2011 Cup, and after consecutive first round exits at the hands of the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks, respectively, he was canned by the Canucks as they began a rebuilding effort.

Obviously, Quenneville won a championship in 2010, but it illustrates how razor-thin the margin can be between a contract extension and a pink slip for NHL head coaches. With this new deal that will be announced Friday, Quenneville has solidified his standing behind the Hawks bench, and with two championships to his credit, it’s doubtful that he will face fan scrutiny any time soon.

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