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By Jim Coffman

Perhaps Joel Quenneville breathed at least a small sigh of relief late Saturday. When Andrew Ladd finally ended a seemingly endless shootout in the ninth round and gave the Blackhawks a home-opener victory over the Avalanche, Ladd ensured his team would not fall to 1-2-1 on the season. That, you may recall, was the Blackhawks' record when they up and fired coach Denis Savard last year and turned to Quenneville to try and end a playoff drought that had reached "only one post-season series in a decade" proportions.

  • Orton's Oracles

  • Of course, Quenneville probably would have survived even if the Hawks had suffered a setback on Saturday. Advancing to the conference finals will do that for a coach in the NHL. But it won't do it for long. Hockey teams have notoriously short fuses with their coaches. And while a fan can make a strong case for coaching consistency giving an organization its best chance to excel over the long haul, it is harder to do so in hockey than in any other prominent team sport in the U.S.

    Ever since the end of the dynasty era, a long stretch when it was never enough for the best hockey teams to win one or even a couple championships, there has been all sorts of coaching turnover on even the best NHL teams. Scotty Bowman led the Canadiens to the Cup every year from 1976-79, Al Arbor did the same for the Islanders the next four years and then the Oilers won four in five years ending in 1988. Since then teams that have won more than one championship (and no one has won more than two in a row) have almost always done so despite (or should we say in part because of) coaching change. The Penguins, led by Mario Lemieux, won two in a row starting in 1991. The first team was coached by Bob Johnson and the second by that Bowman character again. Johnson was actually stricken by brain cancer and tragically forced to step down after his championship season, but still, it started a trend.

    For years, Lou Lamoriello, the general manager of the New Jersey Devils, has changed coaches at the drop of a hat. And yet his teams won three titles (with three different head coaches) from 1995 to 2003. The Red Wings won a couple with Bowman, but then they triumphed last year with Mike Babcock at the helm. And finally the Penguins, who made the 2008 Stanley Cub finals with Michel Therrien at the helm, fired him in the middle of last season and then won it all under the guidance of Dan Bylsma.

    So maybe Quenneville should have been worrying about a 1-2-1 start after all.

    As for the early returns on this year's Hawks, well, it is obviously still way too early to draw any conclusions despite what pre-season prognosticators have said (including Sports Illustrated opining that the Hawks would make the Stanley Cup finals and other league sources alleging the squad has the best talent in the league). I am far from convinced. The defensive corps still seems dangerously thin (Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are great but after that . . . question marks). And the goalie, hmmm. Is anyone really confident that Cristobal Huet is the guy to lead this team to the next level, i.e. the Stanley Cup finals? Highly questionable.

    And oh by the way, the Hawks better win it this season or at the latest next. They have numerous young, talented forwards who will be due for big paydays in the next few years and they will have a tough time signing even most of them (and staying under the salary cap) after giving free agent Marian Hossa a $50-plus million, six-plus year deal. Hossa is a fine player but the Hawks haven't taken nearly enough heat about the fact that they signed him despite his having a torn rotator cuff. I mean, he's not a pitcher so I realize this isn't quite as serious as it could be (particularly in a different sport) but still, it's a torn rotator cuff! Who knows if he'll be the player he once was when he supposedly recovers from this injury later this season.

    And at the helm is 36-year-old Stan Bowman, possessor of no over-arching general managing experience at any level. Yes, I know he's Scotty Bowman's kid and he's been an assistant general manager for a while, but he is brutally under-qualified to run an Original Six franchise, plain and simple. It is hard not to conclude the Hawks will rue the day they declined to do any sort of search for better candidates when they dumped Dale Tallon in the off-season and instead rushed Bowman into the breach.

    An NFL Note
    I've been rooting against the Broncos so far this NFL season mostly because the narrative of the unbelievably clever Bears making history by absolutely stealing a franchise quarterback is that much more satisfying if the other team involved suffers for its sins.

    That isn't working out so well, especially after Denver knocked off the Pats on Sunday to run its record to 5-0. It turns out rookie Bronco coach/personnel man Josh McDaniel (Denver has a general manager, but it seems as though the arrogant - and perhaps with good reason - McDaniel has final say on which players stay and which go) may know what he's doing even if he did make what we still believe will go down in history as one of the worst trades ever in the NFL.

    And I am disappointed with myself for cutting Kyle Orton loose so quickly. What did the guy ever do to us Bears fans anyway other than give maximum effort at all times and win a bunch of contests at quarterback?

    I'll always remember the game against Green Bay at viciously cold Soldier Field late in the 2007-08 season when Orton subbed for an injured Rex Grossman and led the Bears to a big win over the Brett Favre-led Packers. Favre was completely knocked off his game by the brutally windy and cold conditions but Orton threw tight spiral after tight spiral to spark the victorious effort and give fans a thrill at the end of a disappointing season. So I'm a little happy today for the Bears' most recent former quarterback even though I'm still not happy that Denver keeps winning.


    Jim Coffman rounds up the sports weekend in this space every Monday, except when he does it on Tuesday. He welcomes your comments.

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    Posted on Nov 26, 2021