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Blackhawks drop assistant coach Mike Haviland

by Brian Hedger

CHICAGO -- Joel Quenneville put to rest on Tuesday evening any speculation that he's interested in the Montreal Canadiens coaching position.

He did, however, talk about a departure from the Chicago Blackhawks' bench that happened on Tuesday when the team announced that assistant coach Mike Haviland was fired after the Hawks bowed out of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the second year in a row in the Western Conference Quarterfinal round.

Quenneville said the decision was his to make after meeting with Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman several days following the conclusion of Chicago's first-round loss to the Phoenix Coyotes. He opted to terminate Haviland, who helped coach Chicago to a Stanley Cup title in 2010, after his fourth season on the Hawks' bench and seventh with the organization.

"I felt like a change was necessary and ... it was not an easy decision," Quenneville said during a teleconference on Tuesday evening. "It was tough on Mike and I'm respectful of the job that he did. It's not the blame game here. That's where we're at."

Did he have to choose between Haviland and Hawks assistant Mike Kitchen -- a long-time Quenneville associate who filled the void left by former assistant John Torchetti prior to the 2010-11 season?

"No, it was my decision and it could've been status quo as well," Quenneville said. "As far as who comes in, I still have the option to bring in one guy or even more than one. That was even offered. That's where it's at. It was my decision and I'm moving forward."

Haviland, who couldn't be reached for comment, was first named to the Blackhawks coaching staff on July 23, 2008. He spent four seasons with the Blackhawks and the previous three as head coach of Chicago's American Hockey League affiliates in Norfolk and Rockford.

Haviland's name has come up as a possible candidate for several vacant NHL head coaching opportunities in the past couple of seasons -- he was a finalist for the Winnipeg job last summer -- and also filled in for Quenneville when the Hawks' top coach became ill last year.

Haviland's primary duty for most of this past season was working with Chicago's penalty-killing units, which finished ranked 27th in the League (78.1 percent) after allowing 51 goals against in 233 times shorthanded. The Hawks also were 12th of 16 teams in this season's playoff field (79.0 percent) after allowing four goals in 19 times short-handed. Haviland also headed-up the penalty kill in 2010-11 and the Hawks ranked 25th with a 79.2 percentage, allowing 53 goals in 255 times shorthanded.

Still, Quenneville said he's not laying the blame for this season solely at Haviland's feet. After agreeing with Bowman's assessment that his coaching staff was "dysfunctional," Quenneville decided a change was needed and said it was a decision based on facts alone.

The Blackhawks power play that Kitchen worked with all of last season and most of this season also ranked near the bottom of the League this year -- after finishing fourth in the NHL a year ago. Quenneville said he "flip-flopped" the special-teams roles between Haviland and Kitchen

to start this season and through 15 games the Hawks were 30th in the League with Haviland running the power play.

They switched back to their previous roles, but after an initial resurgence under Kitchen the Hawks' man-advantage sunk to 26th overall (15.2 percent) in the regular season and 16th out of 16 teams in the playoffs (1-for-19, 5.3 percent).

"The numbers weren't good and that's where it's at," said Quenneville, who adamantly defended Kitchen. "All of sudden, it's almost like the whole team ... our problem was [Kitchen]. And it's not about [Kitchen]. It's about us as a team, making our power play all better collectively and that's why I'm not ... this is not blaming [Haviland] either."

Quenneville also didn't absolve himself of blame.

"I know there [are] areas I can be a better coach," he said. "We left this season disappointed. We felt we underachieved. We felt that we left something on the table. There's a lot of disappointment and resentment at the end of the season and there's probably a lot of blame to go around. I felt or feel like I should be absorbing as much as anybody. I take some ownership on what happened this year."

As for recent rumors about him possibly becoming a candidate for Montreal's open coaching position -- which started earlier this week after former Blackhawks assistant GM Marc Bergevin was hired as the Habs' GM -- Quenneville snuffed that possibility out quickly.

"First and foremost, I'm excited about being here in Chicago," he said. "I love the opportunity. I love the organization. I love where we're heading in the future and that's something I want to put to bed right from the outset. "I've got two years left on the contract. I'm very happy here and [the Montreal job] was the last thing I was thinking about."

What's on his mind now is filling the open role beside him on the Chicago bench.

"Going forward, I'm comfortable with where we're at and there's no timeline of when exactly we're going to look at a guy," Quenneville said. "I'd like to get on a fast track. There's a lot of teams out there still playing, [so] I don't want to say exactly this is my guy ... but I have some ideas on who would be the proper guy and who's the right guy to move forward with. But to say I have that guy in my back pocket is not the case."

Quenneville was asked if the decision would also be his sole decision and if one of the candidates might include Barry Smith -- the long-time friend and associate of Hawks senior advisor Scotty Bowman. Stan Bowman made the decision during this past season to bring Smith down from the front office, where he's the director of player personnel, to work on the power play.

Smith has an impressive resume as an NHL assistant coach and won Stanley Cups with the elder Bowman in Pittsburgh and Detroit. Quenneville, however, said Smith is not currently a candidate to replace Haviland.

"Everybody's welcome and at the end of the day I feel like it's going to be my decision," Quenneville said. "I haven't put [Smith] on my list. I don't have a list drawn up here at all right now. I don't even want to speculate any on any list or that process. I want to keep it confidential and work through it."

There have been reports that Smith's presence on the ice at practices during the regular season irritated Quenneville and caused a rift between he and Stan Bowman, but both sides have publicly shot that notion down. It leaves a picture of both moving forward to fix whatever's ailed the Blackhawks the past two seasons.

Quenneville said he re-assessed his own coaching efforts the past two years and has come up with a theory that he's doled out ice time too easily. He derived that thinking by watching other teams play in the postseason.

"I probably could've been better on delegating ice time, as far as what was merited or warranted when I see the effectiveness of it," Quenneville said. "You watch the [New York Rangers] playing or Washington playing and that's where I think our team can be better and more competitive come playoff time ... where you earn it and deserve it. And going forward, that's for sure a mistake I made and I'm going to learn from that."

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