This morning the Chicago Blackhawks announced the firing of head coach Denis Savard.
The pet of the previous Bill Wirtz-Bob Pulford regime, Savard was terminated no more than four games into the highly touted 2008-09 campaign. The timing could not be stranger, as the Blackhawks are coming off a decisive victory against the Phoenix Coyotes, their first of the season.
One question one must ask—why allow Savard to lead your group of youngsters through the preseason, only to fire him after just four games? The answers seem to be coming in, and they make some sense.
First, since his days as an assistant coach, Savard has never been able to get the Blackhawks’ power-play unit in order. The Hawks have ranked in the bottom third of the NHL in power play completion for Savard’s entire tenure, and had completed just 5.3 percent of their opportunities this year. The lone power-play goal was scored with a two-man advantage. For a coach who was hired to help the offense, this was unacceptable.
Another issue that became a concern was Savard’s use of the Blackhawks two highly-paid goaltenders, Cristobal Huet and Nikolai Khabibulin. It was apparent that the bigwigs in Chicago (GM Dale Tallon, Team President John McDonough, Owner Rocky Wirtz, and Sr. Advisor of Hockey Operations Scotty Bowman) wanted Khabibulin to strictly be the backup while the newly-signed Huet took over. Obviously, Tallon wanted to justify the large contract that Huet received, especially after the nearly-ostracized Khabibulin became an albatross of a contract and was placed on waivers last month.
However, Savard started the season with a platoon in net, with Huet starting the season-opener in New York and the home-opener while Khabibulin played the other two games (and got the only win). This, combined with Savard’s general lack of experience before being hired, could easily have lead to his departure.
Unfortunately for the general media and many new fans, there is no way to look at this transaction other than with negativity. If Savard’s leash was that short, then heading into a season that was expected to bring the Blackhawks back to relevance in Chicago, the franchise should have made this move before the season started.
It was rumored that Joel Quenneville (pictured above), Savard’s newly-named replacement, would take over sooner rather than later when the Blackhawks hired him as a pro scout in September. It looks like "sooner" was even sooner than anyone could have guessed.
Regardless, this is a good move for the Blackhawks. Quenneville has led successful St. Louis Blues and Colorado Avalanche teams in the past. He will bring more consistency to the team, as Savard too-often juggled his lines and as a result had a streaky team. Quenneville will bring stability to a young roster, and hopefully will make a positive contribution quickly.