There was tangible disappointment in Chicago when Denis Savard was fired four games into the 2008-09 season.
Savard was one of the most popular Blackhawks of all time, perhaps just below legends Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita, and he appeared to have some ability as a head coach. The Blackhawks were a losing team (24-30-7) when he took over behind the bench early in the 2006-07 season, but the team showed significant improvement in 2007-08 by finishing 40-34-8.
That was the same year that a pair of rookies named Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane joined the team. It seemed like good times were around the corner for the Blackhawks, and Savvy would help them get there.
But the rug got pulled out from under Savard's legs in 2008-09. The Blackhawks fired him just as the season was getting underway and brought in veteran head coach Joel Quenneville.
It turned out to be a brilliant move by former Blackhawks general manager Dale Tallon—who also drafted Toews and Kane—because Quenneville was simply a much better and more experienced leader than Savard.
This was no insult toward Savard; it was just a smart, dispassionate decision about the best interests of the Chicago Blackhawks franchise.
When the Blackhawks hired Quenneville, he already had coached a combined 840 games with the St. Louis Blues and Colorado Avalanche. He had a 438-283-77-41 record and had led his teams to the playoffs in nine out of his 11 seasons at the helm.
Quenneville had seen and lived through every situation a coach could possibly be put in, whereas the optimistic Savard was still learning on the job.
It was not easy for the Blackhawks to cashier the colorful Savard, but it turned out to be one of the key moves in their history.
Quenneville has given the Blackhawks more than they could have expected when they brought him aboard. The Blackhawks had not won the Stanley Cup since 1961 when Quenneville was hired; they have won two since he started directing the team.
The Blackhawks have not only been a dynamic offensive team under Quenneville; their play has been quite consistent.
They have won 44 games or more in every season that Quenneville has been behind the bench, with the exception of last year's lockout-shortened season.
However, all they did last year was win the Presidents' Trophy with a 36-7-5 record and then win the Stanley Cup in dramatic fashion.
While there were some disappointing moments during the 2013-14 regular season, Quenneville had his team playing in top form in the Stanley Cup playoffs, and a second consecutive title and third in five years was within reach. It might very well have been at hand if Alec Martinez of the Los Angeles Kings had not scored on a deflected shot in overtime of the seventh game of the Western Conference Final.
Quenneville has been coaching since 1997 and has led his teams to 706 victories, which ranks third in league history behind Scotty Bowman and Al Arbour. Bowman is to the NHL what Vince Lombardi was to the NFL. He is the greatest coach in the history of the game, and his career records of 1,244 victories and nine Stanley Cup championships appear to be untouchable.
Arbour, who is second in victories with 782, led the New York Islanders to four consecutive championships from 1980-1983.
Quenneville would appear to have a good shot at passing Arbour in wins, and the Blackhawks have the talent on their roster to potentially win two additional titles (or more) before Quenneville decides to hang up his whistle.
There have been many other great coaches in NHL history, but Quenneville is ahead of notable names like Dick Irvin, Pat Quinn, Mike Keenan, Jacques Lemaire and Billy Reay in victories.
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Quenneville is tied for 10th among coaches with the most Stanley Cup wins at two. Four of the nine coaches who have won more Stanley Cups came from the pre-expansion era (prior to 1967-68), when just six teams were in the league. That's not to minimize their accomplishments, but coaches like Dick Irvin, Tommy Ivan, Hap Day and Jack Adams simply had less competition than coaches like Quenneville who are coaching in a 30-team league.
Quenneville's championships have been well-earned. He guided his team through four rounds of triumphs in 2010 and 2014 and remains capable of putting more skins on the wall.
Quenneville has the numbers to rank as one of the top coaches of all time, and while he will not pass Bowman, it's not unreasonable to think that he will end up with at least two more titles. Only seven coaches have won four or more Stanley Cups, and he would likely be second in all-time regular-season wins by that point.
Quenneville has a chance to rank as the second-best head coach in NHL history.
As it stands now, he ranks as one of the top 10 coaches in league history, and it appears he can only continue to build on his legacy from this point forward.
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