Lost in the chaos of the post-Cup fire sale for the Chicago Blackhawks was the departure of assistant coach John Torchetti. With playoff heroes Antii Niemi, Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd leaving town, along with fan favorites Brent Sopel, Ben Eager, Adam Burish and John Madden, fans barely took notice of Torchetti's departure.
The reasoning was solid, you'd just lost your entire third line, a very likeable defenseman, your starting goalie and a converted D-man who was skating on the first line with the most exciting young forward tandem in the league. Besides, the Hawks brought in Mike Kitchen, who had a history with vaunted head coach Joel Quenneville, so surely nothing was really the matter with this.
How wrong this would prove. Torchetti left to become an associate coach with the then-Atlanta Thrashers, joining many of the Hawks' jettisoned players. Right about then, the coaching nightmares began.
In 2010-11, the Blackhawks defense took a major step backwards. Sure, losing Brent Sopel hurt, and the regression of Nick Boynton back to his career norms didn't help, but the PK went from fourth in the league at 89.3 percent to a miserable 79.2 percent.
Who was in charge of the PK? You guessed it, Mike Kitchen.
So, for this season, Kitchen and Mike Haviland switched roles. The PK stayed awful, as the defense is arguably worse for wear this season over last, mainly due to the departure of Brian Campbell, and finding no suitable replacement, in addition to the loss of gritty penalty killers like Tomas Kopecky and Troy Brouwer.
The power play, however, now coached by Kitchen, dropped from fourth in the league at 23.5 percent under Haviland in 2010-11, to a paltry 17.9 percent this season, good for 14th in the league.
Who is to blame for the Hawks struggles this season?
Kitchen's success as a coach has been questionable at best, as is evidenced by his time as the St. Louis Blues head coach. When Quenneville was fired towards the end of the 2003-04 season, Kitchen stepped into his spot, and got the Blues into the playoffs, losing in the first round, but still instilling some hope.
The next season in St. Louis was an utter nightmare. The Blues went from a playoff team to an awful 21-46-15 under Kitchen's reign, and with equal levels of ineptitude to start the next season, Kitchen was replaced by Andy Murray after starting the season at 7-17-4. Murray rallied the Blues to finish the season at 27-18-11, though they still missed the playoffs.
Kitchen went on to be an assistant in Florida for the next three seasons, during which time the Panthers went a total of 111-102-33, just missing a playoff spot in 2008-09. None of their seasons were very successful, and Kitchen's last in Florida saw the Panthers finish 14th in the Eastern Conference.
Still, Quenneville turned to his old friend to take Torchetti's spot. While they never missed the playoffs together, they also never even made it to the Stanley Cup Finals.
With the team's struggles, and Stan Bowman's refusal to make a big move to fix the team, letting Kitchen seek greener pastures may be the only way to save this season.