If your favorite team had the chance to get one of the best players or coaches of all-time, what would be your response?
Probably something along the lines of: ‘What’s it going to cost? And how quickly can we make it happen?’ — right?
Those are questions that 30 National Hockey League front offices may be forced to consider with the announcement that possibly the best coach of this era is now a free agent.
The Chicago Blackhawks fired head coach Joel Quenneville Tuesday morning, ending a run of more than a decade in the Windy City.
The 60-year-old was the longest-tenured head man in the NHL before his firing. The last time he was not a head coach was October 15th, 2008 — the day before Chicago made him the bench boss. For some perspective: The Dark Knight (the first one) had debuted in theaters a couple of months beforehand.
Why is it a big deal that the Ontario-native is not employed?
Quenneville’s 890 wins are the second-most by a coach in NHL history, behind only the legendary Scotty Bowman. The closest active coach to Q? Barry Trotz with 770 (and counting). There was a brief, and ultimately untrue, stream of speculation about Trotz working in Seattle over the summer.
Even more significant: Among all the people who’ve coached at least five full seasons since the start of the NHL expansion era (1967), Quenneville is one of four coaches to win the Stanley Cup more times (3) than they’ve missed the playoffs (2). The others? Bowman (9 Cups & 2 misses), Glen Sather (4 Cups, 3 misses), and Bob Johnson (1 Cup, 0 misses). All three are in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
FWIW: Bowman’s two misses came when he coached a combined 49 games for Buffalo in 1985-86 & ’86-87. Johnson coached for six seasons at the NHL level. Pittsburgh’s Mike Sullivan will join this statistical club if the Penguins make the playoffs in 2018-19.
The big question is: what happens to Coach Q now?
There are quite a few places that would make logical sense as potential homes for the future Hall of Famer. But before we get too caught up in the idea of Quenneville possibly coming to lead the to-be-named-and-confirmed Seattle NHL franchise, we need to run through five serious questions that need to be answered when discussing his future.
1. Does He Want to Coach Again?
This is where any truth, rumors or speculation will start and end. Simply put: Quenneville will be the one who decides whether he wants to take another head coaching gig.
Barring any unknown issues, I believe Quenneville will not want to go out like this. He got fired after missing the playoffs for the first time in his 10-plus seasons in Chicago. He brought the city three titles, and was part of the leadership group that held rebuild the Blackhawks into one of the model organizations in the NHL.
Despite Quenneville’s noted success in Chi-town, he has not had that same level of postseason success in his years running the show in St. Louis or Colorado. He may want to prove that he can do it again somewhere else.
Quenneville could also take this time to look at his past 22 seasons, three rings, second-best all-time win total and be happy with what he’s done — and call it a coaching career.
The only people who will know are Q, his family, close friends, and maybe his agent.
The unknown here is his family. Maybe he wants to spend more time with them. What if he is tired of missing things due to his responsibilities behind the bench? He could want to see his kids more often. They’re all totally normal, respectable, reasons for someone to turn down or leave a job. Again: we’re not privy to those family conversations, but Quenneville is a human being. Family will be a factor in his decision making.
2. If He Wants to Coach Again, When?
This, to me, is the wildcard.
Quenneville has been a head coach for every NHL season dating back to 1996-97. His only “break” in that time was the lockout-cancelled 2004-05 campaign.
Because the Blackhawks fired him, he is owed $6 million each for this season and 2019-20 (per Pierre LeBrun).
With his former employer on the hook for that type of money for essentially two seasons, Quenneville could take his time on deciding if or when he wants to get back into coaching.
He could even follow Dave Tippett’s lead and take several months (or a year) off to decompress. Coaching at the top level of professional sports is not exactly a stress-free gig. Tippett spoke about the type of grind that job is in a recent appearance on Sports Radio 950 KJR.
“I was a head coach in the [NHL] for 15 years, ran a minor league organization for 5 years, assistant coach in Los Angeles for 3 years. So you know it [coaching] becomes part of you. But there’s the other side of it where, you know, talking to my wife, the everyday grind of ‘You get home at 1 in the morning after a loss, and you watch video til 2, and you get up at 7 to try to go fix it again.’ After a long time your body needs a break, your mind needs a break.” — Tippett to KJR, October 16th
There’s quite a bit of logic to that approach. After all, Quenneville deservedly earned his deal with the Blackhawks that will pay him out through 2019-20. He’s been grinding as a head coach for more than 20 years. Taking the next six-to-eight months off and unwinding before considering his future is the path he takes. Maybe he waits to see what happens to arguably the best GM in the NHL before deciding his own next move. It certainly makes a lot of sense.
The other possibility is Coach Q doesn’t want to wait. Maybe he gets an offer he can’t pass up from a front office or GM he wants to work for, or one he’s dreamed of joining
That brings us to question three.
3. Where Would He Want to Go?
Quenneville can pick his next job, if he wants to get back to coaching. We highlighted his resume above. If he calls your GM and says he’s interested in working there, you’re probably not getting a more qualified guy.
You could make several logical arguments over teams that could potentially interest Quenneville. Generally speaking they boil down to two options: teams in need of help here & now, and those that could potentially wait to play the long game.
Of the teams that fall into the former, Anaheim, Florida, and St. Louis make a lot of sense, with Edmonton in that same orbit.
— Anaheim is struggling to stay afloat amid the insane barrage of shots they’re giving up every night. They’re battling several key injuries, and the only reason things are not worse is because John Gibson is doing his best to mimic a literal brick wall in net for them. Could their front office be running out of patience with head man Randy Carlyle in his second stint with the Ducks?
— Florida is off to a surprisingly slow start, given that on paper their team looks improved over the squad that barely missed making the postseason in 2017-18. They were last in the Eastern Conference on the day Quenneville was fired. The other intriguing aspect of moving to the Sunshine State (besides the weather) is a reunion with the man who hired Quenneville in Chicago: Dale Tallon, the Panthers current GM.
— The Blues‘ current coach, Mike Yeo, has already cast doubt about the future of his own job by saying he should be fired. They’re in win-now mode after an offseason that saw them add veterans Ryan O’Reilly and Patrick Maroon to a team that nearly made the playoffs last season. Quenneville previously coached in St. Louis, and there’s also the added potential revenge bonus of sharing a division with Chicago. That would be fun.
— Edmonton‘s pitch is simple. Want to coach the best player in hockey? The Oilers suffered an injury-plagued down year in 2017-18, in which almost nothing seemed to go right besides Connor McDavid leading the league in scoring. GM Peter Chiarelli did not make significant changes coming into this year. If things do not improve, Todd McClellan could (fairly or not) become the fall guy for Edmonton’s lack of success with a generational talent.
As for the not-so-immediate potential destinations, here is where we find one logical landing-place, one that’s admittedly me thinking out loud, and Seattle.
— The seat in Philadelphia is not looking quite as hot now as it was just a week ago, after the Flyers just emerged from a four-game West Coast trip with seven out of eight possible points. But the fan base is frustrated with current coach Dave Hakstol, and the club as a whole is under pressure from GM Ron Hextall and ownership to take the proverbial next step in contention this year. Quenneville could be the guy to take a roster trending in the right direction over the top, but barring disaster during the season — this feels like a move that would only happen in the summer.
— I openly wonder about Minnesota. Bruce Boudreau has done very well in the regular season with the Wild, and they’re off to a pleasantly surprising start of 2nd place in the death trap that is the Central Division. But they have a new GM in Paul Fenton this season, and coming in their roster was viewed as one that’s caught in the middle between the elite contenders and the rebuilding tier. After two straight ‘five games and out’ playoff exits, would Fenton look to shake up the bench to try to get more out of this squad? I don’t know think that happens, yet that’s the type of “Could we do better?” conversation even competitive teams will be having with Quenneville on the market. If it did happen, this would be another offseason-type change.
— Seattle. This is the ultimate ‘long-term move.’ Considering the money Chicago owes him through 2019-20, he could wait until next summer (or the one after that) to make his decision. Quenneville and Dave Tippett were teammates on the Hartford Whalers for 7 seasons in the 1980’s. Nick Kypreos of Sportsnet & Hockey Night in Canada called the two of them “best friends” on a Tuesday episode of Hockey Central at Noon. Tip and Q are also part of the NHL coaching fraternity, faced off for years as coaches in the West, & both won Jack Adams Awards. There’s a connection there, and one that can’t just be brushed off. But if we follow this ‘Quenneville to Seattle’ rabbit hole a step further, it comes back to questions four and five that need answering.
4. Who Is The GM?
If Quenneville wants to keep coaching at the NHL level, then this will be a factor with any place he considers. It’s a big reason why Florida is a serious possibility (their current GM hired Coach Q in Chicago). It’s also reportedly a big factor in why Q is no longer there.
Much like when you interview for a job: your relationship on a day-to-day level with your supervisor and/or the person who directly reports to/works with you is a huge factor. A GM needs to be able to tell in the interview process what those interactions, conversations, and even debates will look like with their head coach — and a candidate will want to know the same of potential GMs.
Every team in the NHL knows who its GM is. A guy like Quenneville, who’s been a coach for a long time, probably knows quite a few of them as well.
Seattle still has a vacancy there. It’s nothing to panic over, since they’re still awaiting final expansion approval from the league as early as December.
But since Seattle still needs to hire their architect, I have a hard time believing they’d hire a coach before hiring a GM. In most cases: GMs want to bring in ‘their guy’ to run the bench. It’s the same thing in the NFL or MLB. Front offices want a say in who the coach is.
That’s particularly important considering the high rate of turnover at the coaching position in the NHL. The most recent compilation of data shows an average coach lasts 2.4 years with an NHL team, though the odds of getting fired peak in years three and four.
You combine those typically short coaching lifespans with front office executives who (normally) sell ownership on three or five-year plans, and you realize that GMs outlast coaches. Barring a decision to toss aside the norms, it’s unlikely Seattle goes the route of some rare NFL teams and hires a GM based on who the coach is.
All of this is to say we can’t take any ‘Quenneville to Seattle’ talk seriously until we know who the GM is.
That doesn’t mean there is no series of scenarios in which that still happens. If we wanted to go down that (potential) path, here’s a rough outline of what that would look like — until we get to our final question.
- Quenneville wants to coach again (or move into a front office role)
- He does not want to do so this season
- After at least a 7 or 8 month break (and seeing Seattle get expansion approval), Q joins his buddy Tippett in the Pacific Northwest
- He only does so after they hire a GM around the 2019 NHL Entry Draft
This outline is theoretically plausible. It would give Quenneville a bit of a “break” from the traditional daily grind of coaching, give him a new challenge of sorts, and reunite him with a friend and coaching colleague.
But that line of thought also brings us to our final question. It’s one that was a bit of a mystery, yet will be crucial in filling out key positions in the Seattle organization.
5. What Does Dave Tippett Ultimately Want To Do?
Editor’s note: this section has been updated since original publishing.
Publicly: he had said he’s not ruling anything out, including coaching. But that has changed. In a new interview with Pierre LeBrun and Scott Burnside of The Athletic, Tippett said he’s ruled out coaching a Seattle expansion team and he is focused on a front office executive role with the organization moving forward.
This revelation falls in line with what the long-time coach has said previously about enjoying learning various other jobs on the business and front office side of things with NHL Seattle. His current to-do list is much more similar to that of someone with a front office job than a future coach at this point in time.
It’s worth pointing out that in the tail end of Tippett’s time in Arizona, he did start dabbling in some front office stuff as Executive V.P. of Hockey Operations while also being the head coach. He’s also said that while he’ll always be a coach, not having that day-to-day lifestyle grind has been a bit refreshing. He brought up that same quote we mentioned earlier about not missing the daily grind of coaching during his interview with LeBrun and Burnside. So this is not, exactly, a new idea.
However the long-time coach also has admitted that he always will be a coach at heart, even when just watching games at home or in-person. He views it through the eyes of a coach. Yet with him focused on a front office job now, we can safely assume that he will have a say in who is running the show on the bench — adding one more thing to his ever-growing list of missions.
If we go back to our ‘Quenneville to Seattle’ alternate universe for a second: Tippett’s move upstairs would theoretically clear a path for Quenneville to take the Seattle job, assuming those previous four questions get answered in the specific fashion we outlined above.
Tip told LeBrun & Burnside that he’s not sure what Quenneville has planned for now, but he assumes they’ll “bump into each other at some point” and get a better idea of what Coach Q’s thought process is.
My money is on Quenneville taking some time off, but only he knows what his plan is for sure.
But until we know the answer to that, and the four other questions above it, we should not start adding “Joel Quenneville” to our holiday wish lists anytime soon.
- Another Tippett note: in addition to his previously known “due diligence” of watching what other teams around the NHL are doing, Tippett told The Athletic that he’s also “thinking about personnel that might fit with our group.”
- Last thing from Tippett: he said he’s not sure whether he’ll be in Georgia for the next NHL Board of Governors meetings (and likely final vote on Seattle expansion) Dec. 3-4. The reason? Tippett said it’s because NHL Seattle has “a couple things planned right after that” in Seattle that he may have to be involved in. Reading between the lines: to me that screams groundbreaking at KeyArena. We outlined a Dec. 5 groundbreaking and construction schedule comparison with that window back in September. The entire interview with LeBrun and Burnside is worth a listen.
- In this week’s 31 Thoughts from Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet & Hockey Night in Canada, he mentions there were plenty of rumors about Tippett joining an NHL team behind the bench this season in light of the first few coach firings in LA and Chicago. Tippett told him “I’m happy in Seattle, and I will be staying here.”
- It appears Tippett’s former team, the Arizona Coyotes, are in the process of being sold (per The Fourth Period’s David Pagnotta) yet the plan is for new ownership to keep the team in the greater Phoenix area.
- There’s some quiet optimism around the league that the NHL and the NHLPA *might* avoid a lockout in the fall of 2020, per Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston. Both sides agree that September would be the best time to hold the next World Cup of Hockey, yet that’s also the same month which the current CBA may expire. The lockout would likely trigger Oak View Group’s Plan C of a delay to 2021.
- The Seattle Hockey Partners made two more hires: Victor de Bonis as Chief Operating Officer and Ken Johnsen as Construction Executive.
- De Bonis, a longtime executive with the Vancouver Canucks, appeared on TSN Vancouver shortly after his hiring (interview is around the 19:10 mark)
- One other thing on de Bonis: he and Tod Leiweke worked together during Tod’s time in Vancouver in the 1990’s. This continues a trend we pointed out back in June when they hired Tippett and another long-time Leiweke co-worker from Vancouver and a few other stops.
- The Oak View Group could be racing against itself when it comes to building new hockey homes. New York Islanders GM Lou Lamoriello said there will be shovels in the ground early in 2019 for the Isles’ new home in Belmont Park. OVG is involved in that project, and the rebuild of KeyArena in Seattle. They can’t start demolition work on the Key until the NHL gives its final expansion blessing to Seattle. How quickly the Emerald City project starts afterwards is something to watch as we move forward. Seattle’s goal of completing its arena in time for the 2020-21 season is one of the most aggressive arena construction timelines in recent NHL history. For comparison’s sake: OVG’s other project in Belmont is on track to open in 2021 after a groundbreaking in early 2019.
If you have any questions or feedback: leave a comment, send me an email at the address on the bottom of the page or hit me up on Twitter (@ScottMalone91).