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Quenneville replaces Savard in Chicago

Thursday, 10.16.2008 / 7:34 PM / News

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

"Even though we had five wins, it was a flat (training) camp and we got out of the gate flat. It just didn't seem like we carried over the energy we had to finish the year last year. We thought we needed to send a message and invigorate this team." -- Blackhawks GM Dale Tallon

Joel Quenneville was looking forward to a relaxing winter with his family. As a scout for the Chicago Blackhawks he would still get to see a lot of hockey, but the grind of the NHL season and the pressure of coaching weren't going to be parts of his daily life.

His new, laid-back lifestyle lasted less than a month.

Quenneville is a coach, and a coach doesn't like sitting on the sidelines. So when the Blackhawks brass called him this week to gauge his interest in taking over the team, Quenneville regained his appetite to coach and said he was willing to jump on board.

The Blackhawks made the move on Thursday morning, replacing Chicago legend and Hockey Hall of Famer Denis Savard with Quenneville, a former Jack Adams Trophy winner who has coached in 690 more regular-season games than Savard and has taken nine teams to the playoffs.

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"As a family we made a decision to spend the year together in Colorado," said Quenneville, who spent the last three seasons behind the Avalanche's bench. "It was a challenge that came about quickly (Wednesday) and I can say I still have the appetite to pursue coaching. I can express my enthusiasm of how good this opportunity is and how good it is to be back coaching."

Savard lost his job because the Hawks' executive staff — Chairman Rocky Wirtz, President John F. McDonough, GM Dale Tallon and Special Advisor to Hockey Operations Scotty Bowman — felt the team wasn't going in the right direction.

The Blackhawks were 1-2-1 in the first four games, including a win Wednesday night at home against Phoenix, after entering this season with soaring expectations.

The Hawks experienced a resurgence last season, winning 40 games for the first time since 2001-02 thanks to the emergence of young stars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. The offseason brought about even more positive change as high-end free agents Brian Campbell and Cristobal Huet signed long-term contracts and Bowman was brought on board.

But Tallon said the team appeared "flat" all preseason and didn't pick it up when the regular season began last week.

"Even though we had five wins, it was a flat (training) camp and we got out of the gate flat," Tallon said. "It just didn't seem like we carried over the energy we had to finish the year last year. We thought we needed to send a message and invigorate this team."

They chose Quenneville for his track record, including a .592 winning percentage (438-283-118) since first becoming a coach for the St. Louis Blues in 1996. That his coaching experience far supersedes Savard's was another selling point.

Quenneville is one of only three men to have played and coached in 800 NHL games. He spent 13 seasons as a defenseman from 1979-91, parts of eight seasons as coach in St. Louis and the last three in Colorado, leading the Avalanche to a 44-31-7 record and into the Western Conference Semifinals last season.

After serving as an assistant in Chicago for nearly a decade, Savard was named coach on Nov. 27, 2006. He compiled a 65-67-15 record.

"He's closing in on nearly 500 wins as a coach," Bowman said of Quenneville. "The longest-standing tenured coach in the League is Lindy Ruff, and (Wednesday) night he won his 400th game. Joel is ahead of that pace. The fact that a coach like that is available at this time is very fortunate."

Savard told Chicago-area reporters that he was shocked by the decision. The Hawks put together their best performance of the young season Wednesday night in beating the Phoenix Coyotes 4-1.
 
"I felt I had the team going on the right track," Savard told the Chicago Tribune. "(Wednesday) night was a big win. I know that every game we played we got better. We could have won in New York and we could have won against Nashville, but that's the nature of the business, I suppose. It's not about Denis Savard. When you work with a team and played for it…I want them to do well."

Tallon discredited the notion that there was any disagreement between Savard and any of the executives. He also said that Quenneville would have been the top candidate to be Savard's replacement even if he wasn't already a Blackhawk employee.

Asked if this decision was a long time coming — Savard, who was on the final year of his contract, was not offered an extension this summer — Tallon said no.

Tallon's future was also a topic of conversation during Thursday's news conference. If Savard is the first to go, would he be next if the team doesn't begin to live up to its lofty expectations.

"This is the big boys table, the big boys club and we're here to win," Tallon said. "I'm held accountable everyday. I'm accountable for this decision. We're going to move forward and we're going to get the job done."

Not surprisingly, the players were stunned by the decision. Tallon told them in a team meeting after sitting down with Savard for what he called an emotional and dignified conversation.

"They were silent, obviously, and they were attentive — and probably shocked, some of them," Tallon said of the players. "The young kids who have only played for one coach are shocked. Everyone is shocked. There was no imminent plan here. This just happened. I like to dwell on the present and the positive so I talked to them about Joel and I told them how difficult it was today with Savvy. I told them that Joel was an excellent coach, a great guy and we expect greatness from all of our players and Joel will help them get there."

McDonough announced that Savard will be offered a job within the organization.

"I think it's important that in a week or two when the dust settles that we sit down with Denis and see what he wants to do," McDonough said. "Denis will be a Blackhawk."

For now, though, Quenneville is the Blackhawks coach. He'll be on the ice with the team for the first time Friday in preparation for back-to-back games this weekend at St. Louis and at home against Vancouver.

While it may take Quenneville time to get to know the personalities of his players, familiarity with the team shouldn't be a problem. Not only has he coached in the Western Conference since 1996, he said he watched five of the Blackhawks' preseason games and all four of their regular season games.

"The appetite for putting the skates on in practices and standing behind the bench, I would expect it to return immediately," Quenneville said. "I'm looking forward to talking to the players and having a practice before back-to-back games.

"The exciting part is we can grow as a team."

Contact Dan Rosen at drosen@nhl.com.


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