The Chicago Blackhawks, mired in the throes of one of the worst starts in franchise history, made a coaching change on Saturday, firing Jeremy Colliton on the three-year anniversary of the date he was hired to replace Joel Quenneville.
Colliton, who posted an 87-92-26 record in his time with the Blackhawks, had been under fire throughout the season thanks to the Blackhawks 1-9-2 start, and Friday’s loss was the final nail in the coffin on his tenure with the club.
After showing some signs of life in recent games, including in their first win of the season over the Ottawa Senators and in a 4-3 loss to the unbeaten Carolina Hurricanes, the Blackhawks regressed badly on Friday, falling 5-1 to the Winnipeg Jets and managing just nine shots on goal total after going down by two goals early in the game.
Ultimately, what undid Colliton’s tenure with the Blackhawks was a system that players either couldn’t fully buy into or fully execute (depending on whose analysis one seeks out). Interim General Manager Kyle Davidson alluded to that idea in his statement on the firing.
“Our on-ice goal remains the same: to build an elite system of hockey – and we have not delivered on that,” he said. “The fact is our play and competitiveness must improve. Every game, every shift.”
That defensive system, which routinely sees forwards shift out to the blue line to cover for pinching defenders, was one that cost the team plenty of odd-man rushes and shot attempts against, and the results spoke for themselves through the first 12 games of this season, with the Blackhawks sporting a negative-21 goal differential.
The team has allowed nearly four goals per game, the second-worst rate in the NHL this season, and has regularly left Marc-Andre Fleury and Kevin Lankinen out to try with alarming regularity.
That occurred even after the team brought in reinforcements to shore up their defense, with Seth Jones and Jake McCabe both inking big-money contracts.
In all likelihood, King’s presence as the head coach of the team won’t completely alleviate those defensive issues, and any changes to the system will take time to implement and develop, but the decision to fire Colliton signals two clear objectives, and one of them is to replace a system that has been conclusively proven not to work.
The other big signal sent by the firing is that Davidson isn’t a run-of-the-mill interim general manager. The Wirtz family is empowering Davidson to make big decisions in his early days in the big role, and the decision to move on from a coach that had only recently signed a contract extension is seemingly a big indicator that they are going to trust him to at least begin the process of turning the team’s fortunes around.
Whether Davidson will ultimately be successful in that process remains to be seen, but if the firing of Colliton is any indication, he is going to be given the keys to the kingdom, so to speak, and it will be fascinating to see just how far that edict will go as the Blackhawks look to dig out of the massive hole they already find themselves in.