Maybe you heard. Maybe you didn’t.
Joel Quenneville is on the market.
And maybe you heard that the Flyers made a few changes, and are expected to make a few more in the coming weeks.
Let’s be frank here. Dave Hakstol is on borrowed time as head coach of the Flyers. Whether it’s in a few weeks or at the end of the season, the new general manager is more than likely to relieve Hakstol of his duties and bring in his own guy. That guy could very well be Quenneville.
Quenneville is arguably the biggest coaching free agent since Mike Babcock. His accolades speak for themselves. Three Stanley Cup championships. Second all-time winningest coach in NHL history. One Jack Adams Award. You’d be hard-pressed to find a player or coach in the NHL who doesn’t respect him.
The Flyers are in a position to make a franchise-altering move. Every potential general manager is being analyzed for his connections to Quenneville. This is a no-brainer move, right?
Sure. At a quick glance, who wouldn’t jump at the opportunity to sign one of the most successful coaches in the history of the game? You’re probably waiting for the “but,” aren’t you? Don’t worry it isn’t coming. A coach doesn’t win 890 games by accident, but before we start crowning Quenneville the savior of the Flyers, I think we should take a look at the full scope of the mustachioed bench boss.
The Players’ Coach
Quenneville is a players coach. He’s upfront and honest with his team, and he will always make the effort to have their backs. Here’s a great story from his days in St. Louis from Craig Custance’s book “Behind the Bench.”
The Blues were playing in their last game of the season against the Los Angeles Kings. Pavol Demetria needed one point to get a $500,000 bonus and Scott Young needed one more goal to get a $300,000 bonus. The Kings, down a goal, pulled their goalie. Demetria scoops up a loose puck with a wide open net staring him in the face. Instead of shooting, he waits for Young and passes him the puck. Young fires the puck, but a Kings defenseman dives and deflects the shot away with his stick. After the game, Quenneville takes the video to the Blues management and tells them those are the type of players he wants. Guys who are willing to risk their own money in order to help another teammate get his. The Blues gave Demetria and Young their bonuses.
Dan Carcillo shared a story of how Quenneville was there for him during one of his darkest hours. With the state the Flyers are in at the moment, a strong argument could be made that Quenneville could be the guy to rally the roster.
Quenneville himself described his coaching style in an article that was featured in The Athletic:
I think one thing I don’t think I ever changed (is) how I’ve approached any team or any situation. We were always upfront. We try to be direct. We try to communicate. We try to let them know we’re approachable. We go over the roles, job descriptions, expectations type of thing, so that we all know where we are. You talk a little bit more about the individual what we can to maximize his efficiency or effectiveness, but that’s not new.
Former player Colin Fraser lauded Quenneville for the way he doesn’t single players out. Fraser said Quenneville is “firey in a group setting,” but he doesn’t take it out on individuals. Quenneville, Fraser added, is also very good at balancing personalities. As long as the team is doing well, he allows the players room to do what they want.
John Torchetti, a former Quenneville assistant, furthered this notion of Quenneville as a players’ coach. “He just wanted them to play the game fast, didn’t want them out there thinking, didn’t want them out there worrying about systems…if [the opposition scores], hats off to them…Really good at matching lines, very good, best in the league” Torchetti told The Athletic.
Quenneville arrived in Chicago at a tipping point for the Blackhawks. They had a strong nucleus of players – Duncan Keith, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Brent Seabrook – but they needed to take the the next step. Seabrook was one of the players who saw Quenneville’s vision.
“We needed a guy to come and push us to the next level, and Joel’s always been a guy who has given us days off and expects us to take care of ourselves, take care of our body, puts the ownership on us. If we’re not here to play, we’re not going to play.”
Taking a step back.
There’s not a doubt that Quenneville knows how to coach and get the best out of his players, but what about the other elements of his resume that create a pause? If we are to consider Quenneville as the next bench boss of the Flyers, it’s only fair that we understand Quenneville for what may frustrate us from time to time.
One of the biggest gripes fans have against Hakstol is his pension to trust veteran players over younger players. Let’s get one thing out of the way. Every coach in the NHL is like that with younger players. Every. One. Some are more lenient, but other coaches with impressive resumes – e.g. Babcock – have a history of limiting the playing time of their younger players. I’m not saying whether it’s right or it’s wrong, but it is how coaches operate.
One player who felt that tough love was Patrick Kane. “I think the first couple years he was pretty tough on us whether it was myself or guys like [Patrick Sharp] or [Seabrook] or someone else. If you took a bad penalty or you kind of missed a defensive assignment, he wasn’t afraid to sit you down for a half a period and let you sit away and think about what you did,” Patrick said to The Athletic.
Quenneville appears to have continued that approach with his use of Alex DeBrincat, who saw less than 13 minutes of ice time more than a handful of times during his rookie season. Nick Leddy also had a tough time getting out of Quenneville’s dog house. Now, in fairness, DeBrincat earned Quenneville’s trust, and it’s possible that Leddy needed a change of scenery to find his game.
Another gripe some fans could have with Quenneville is his constant line switching. A quick Google search provides multiple articles that point out or allude to Quenneville’s pension to switch up linemates. Chris Hine, a former Blackhawks beat writer wrote this in December 2015:
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville, never one to shy away from a line change, made perhaps his most radical shakeup before a loss to the Canucks...Meanwhile, Teuvo Teravainen keeps bouncing around the lineup and was skating on the fourth line with Brandon Mashinter and Tanner Kero on Tuesday.
Speaking of Teravainen, from the outside looking in, he also seemed like a younger player who had a tough time finding his groove under Quenneville’s watch. After a Game 2 win against the Anaheim Ducks back in 2015 Conference Finals, Quenneville healthy scratched Teravainen for Game 3. It perplexed NBC analyst Keith Jones and Eddie Olczyk who both said Teravainen played well during Game 2. Antoine Vermette, who had also supposedly played well, was healthy scratched, too.
“I never thought those two guys would come out after a win … I thought that line of Sharp, Vermette and Teravainen were the best line from the end of the second period, third period, all the way through the triple overtime,” Olczyk said to CBS Chicago.
One concern that follows Quenneville is his less than stellar special teams. His power play units fluctuated from year to year, but his penalty killing units might stop you in your tracks.
As you can see, for the most part, whenever the ‘Hawks iced a decent power play and penalty killing unit, they won a championship
Just for comparison’s sake, let’s see how Quenneville’s special teams match up with Dave Hakstol’s units.
Hakstol gets the edge on the power play rankings, but grades out evenly when it comes to penalty killing. The major difference between the two, in my opinion, is the roster and tactics. Quenneville has simply had a more talented roster and his tactics, especially at even-strength make up for his overall, middle-of-the-road power play.
For the first seven years of Quenneville’s tenure as Blackhawks coach, Mike Kitchen ran the penalty killing and defense. Whenever the Hawks made a deep run in the playoffs both units, for the most part, held up, improved or leveled out in their percentage from the regular season. When Kitchen was fired, Ulf Samuelsson was brought in and things didn’t get better.
If Quenneville signs on to coach the Flyers, you can probably bet his assistants are coming with him.
The Kitchen firing also runs deeper than you think. If you are not familiar, there was a power struggle between Quenneville and general manager Stan Bowman for years. Reports stated that Quenneville did not take Kitchen’s firing well. Kitchen was one of Quenneville’s most trusted assistants, and rumors circulated that Bowman made the move to reassert his power in the organization.
Kitchen’s firing was probably the beginning of the end of Quenneville’s time in Chicago. While the 2013 and 2015 Stanley Cups helped ease the tension, it appears that it didn’t fix whatever was going on between Bowman and Quenneville.
In fairness to the Blackhawks, however, the penalty killing never stabilized on a year-to-year basis, and the defensive unit looked “show and outmatched” when they were swept by the Predators in the first round of the 2017 postseason. Quenneville himself has often pointed to his defenseman as the spark of the offense.
On the other side of that argument, it is Bowman’s job to give Quenneville the personnel he needs to succeed. I won’t dive into speculation, but I want to at least acknowledge both sides. The hiring of Chuck Fletcher or Bill Zito – who are frontrunners for the vacant GM job and are said to be close with Quenneville – could completely diminish the possibility of a power struggle.
The Wrap Up
There are multiple schools of thought when it comes to this situation. Do the Flyers pounce on this rare opportunity to hire a future hall-of-fame coach with little to no competition? Does the new GM believe so much in another coach (e.g. Todd Nelson, Sheldon Keefe) that he’s willing to wait for him? Does Quenneville take the rest of the year off to enjoy himself and his family? The former will be answered with a simple phone call, but the other two are questions the organization has to ponder before making a move.
When you look at the whole picture, it’s hard to make an argument against bringing in Quenneville as the new head coach. Will he accept?
Maybe he will. Maybe he won’t