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Blackhawks fire Denis Savard @NHLdotcom

CHICAGO (AP) -Nevermind that Denis Savard was a Hall of Fame player and one of the Chicago franchise's most popular figures. When the team looked sluggish in the preseason, the front office took note.

After four games and just hours after the Blackhawks' first win of the season, Savard was out as the coach, replaced Thursday by Joel Quenneville.

The Blackhawks, who have missed the playoffs nine of the past 10 seasons, improved to 1-2-1 following a 4-1 home victory over Phoenix on Wednesday night.

"I'm proud of what we accomplished last year with the young kids in the lineup. I hope for them to do well," Savard told The Associated Press by phone. "It's a tough day, no question. I'm hurt. I worked hard to do the best I could to get the team on its way to the Stanley Cup."

General manager Dale Tallon said the evaluation process had been ongoing since training camp and the decision was an organizational one. He said the Blackhawks lacked the kind of energy in preseason that they displayed at the end of last season, when they won 40 games.

"It was a flat camp and we got out of the gate flat," Tallon said at a news conference. "It just didn't seem that we carried over the energy that we had to finish the year last year. We felt we needed to send a message and invigorate this team.

"It's about moving forward, about achieving and winning and developing a consistent approach. And we felt we needed a more experienced person in that position and that's why we made the decision."

Savard became coach in November 2006 and finished that season with a record of 24-30-7 in 61 games. Last season, Savard led Chicago to its first 40-win season since 2001-02. The Blackhawks finished 40-34-8 but still missed the playoffs.

Asked why he was fired so early in the season, Savard said: "You have to ask them that question."

"John (McDonough, the team president) and Rocky (Wirtz, team chairman) made a commitment to the fans we were going to be in the playoffs and (eventually) win the Stanley Cup," he added. "They probably thought somebody else would be better to get them there. I don't know that."

The 47-year-old Savard retired after a 17-year career in 1997. He was Chicago's first-round pick in 1980 and played with the Blackhawks, Montreal and Tampa Bay, finishing with 473 goals and 865 assists.

He started the 1997-98 season as Chicago's developmental coach before joining the Blackhawks coaching staff as an assistant under Craig Hartsburg on Dec. 3, 1997.

Quenneville was 131-92-23 in three seasons with Colorado, but they agreed to end their relationship at the end of last season after the Avalanche were swept out of the playoffs by the Detroit Red Wings. He also spent eight seasons with the Blues, becoming the team's winningest coach with 307 victories.

Quenneville, whose first game as coach of the Blackhawks is Saturday at St. Louis, has a 438-283-118 record in parts of 11 seasons.

"Joel brings us a wealth of experience and a winning track record that will have an immediate and lasting impact," Tallon said.

Quenneville said he'd watched the Blackhawks play in his role as a scout but had planned to spend the season away from the bench, even though he explored a coaching vacancy during the offseason.

"It was a little different watching from afar. The appetite and the passion that creeps in when you coach hopefully comes out tomorrow. I expect it to," Quenneville said.

Tallon has made three coaching changes during his tenure that began June 21, 2005. He replaced Brian Sutter with Trent Yawney and then appointed Savard after Yawney was fired.

Wirtz took over the team following the death of his father, Bill Wirtz, a little more than a year ago. Since then, Rocky Wirtz has hired McDonough, the former Chicago Cubs president and marketing guru, as president. The team has mended fences with former stars like Bobby Hull, made sure that home games are televised - something Bill Wirtz was opposed to - and allowed Tallon to spend in the free-agent market.

In the offseason the Blackhawks signed free agent defenseman Brian Campbell to an eight-year contract worth $56.8 million. The Blackhawks also have two young stars in last season's rookie of the year Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.

Tallon said letting Savard go was the most difficult decision he'd ever made. Telling him was just as tough.

"There was some silence and a lot of emotion. He handled it with tremendous class and dignity as he always does," Tallon said. "He accepted it and we're going to move on."

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