The Chicago Blackhawks have one of the winningest coaches in NHL history in Joel Quenneville. He has helped bring the Stanley Cup back to Chicago and was apart of the coaching staff who won the cup for the Colorado Avalanche shortly after their move from Quebec. His playing career also earned him the respect of many still in the NHL that transitioned from the ice to the front office.
Coach Q is also maddening to try to understand. The Chicago Blackhawks has a bevy of talent ready to get a chance to play in the NHL. Those players are getting a chance to play regularly after a few offseason transactions, but even if they are playing well Quenneville uses them like they are not.
The Blackhawks have faced their share of issues through the quarter mark of the 2013-14 season. Injuries and inconsistent play has caused pundits to say that this year’s team is a step below last season’s record-setting club. Through 27 games, the 2013-14 version has 42 points, five off of last season’s pace through the same amount of games. That projects to 126 points if they play at their current pace.
This great play comes with some baggage. Quenneville likes to give playing time to players he feels have earned it. Those players are also known as veterans. Injuries left a few openings at the forward position, so what does Q do? He puts Sheldon Brookbank, a defenseman, at forward. This is not the first time a blueliner has played as a forward, but benching a worthy forward such as Jeremy Morin for a limited defensive defenseman does not make sense. Brookbank was barely playing eight minutes per contest as a forward as opposed his typical 12 to 13 minutes at his natural position. Brookbank has skated well this season and has been much more valuable on the back end, where he belongs.
Morin has played well enough to stick with the big club despite the team getting healthy. Don’t tell Joel Quenneville that, though. Before his most recent demotion to Rockford, the former second round pick of the Atlanta Thrashers was clicking with third line mainstays Andrew Shaw and Kris Versteeg. Morin executed a big league deke that earned him an assist on a Shaw goal against Edmonton. After the game he was demoted.
What is also inexcusable about his demotion/sporadic play is that players such as Brandon Bollig continue to be trusted in late-game high pressure situations. Bollig had a surprising start to the season that included two goals in the first handful of games. The St. Louis-native skates nightly because he is expected to take liberties with those that take liberties with the team’s best players. The fighting position on NHL teams is slowly going by the wayside, but those that have stuck around using fisticuffs have been able to contribute offensively. Bollig appears to be back to his no-goal scoring ways while Morin is scoring at nearly a point per game with Rockford. Don’t tell Joel Quenneville that, though.
The line tinkering that coach Q does in-game is something that is expected from any coach looking to spark a stagnant offense. The mix-and-matching he does is nauseating. It’s as if he decided to unleash his inner indecisive teenager on his forward lines that he was not allowed to growing up. Brandon Pirri is Chicago’s best option as the second line center. That line includes Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad, to very skilled forwards who can up the tempo quickly. Joel Quenneville knows the line has clicked with Pirri, but he insists on skating the aging Michal Handzus with the youngsters. Handzus has spent time on Chicago’s long-term injured reserve with a lower-body injury. Skating with Kane and Saad could cause Zus’s tendons in his legs to explode.
Why would Quenneville limit two of his best forwards? Pirri is a rookie, and Handzus is a veteran.
I guess this is a gripe best left alone as the team continues to be one of the best in the NHL. There is the cloud looming over the team because of these decisions. At one point does rewarding veterans for being able to skate going to hinder the growth of players on the verge of breaking out?
It may be sooner than later in the ultra-competitive Central Division. Don’t tell Joel Quenneville, though.
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