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Blackhawks' Quenneville passes Arbour on wins list

by Arpon Basu

MONTREAL -- Joel Quenneville never planned for this to happen, even though it appears he was born to do it.

As Quenneville was nearing the end of his 803-game NHL playing career with the Hartford Whalers, he began working as a retail broker.

"Getting ready for the real job," Quenneville said.

Little did he know at the time, but Quenneville actually had been preparing for his real job for years. And now he is the second greatest person to do that job in the history of the NHL.

Quenneville got his 783rd victory as an NHL coach Thursday when the Chicago Blackhawks defeated the Montreal Canadiens 2-1 at Bell Centre, about 140 miles southwest of where Quenneville first worked as an NHL assistant coach with the Quebec Nordiques in 1994-95.

The win moved Quenneville past Al Arbour into second place on the NHL's all-time list, leaving only Scotty Bowman ahead of him. Bowman's total of 1,244 victories is practically untouchable, and Quenneville knows the likelihood of him getting another 461 wins to catch him is minimal.

"Scotty's safe," he said with a big laugh.

But because Bowman's number is so high, so unattainable, it makes what Quenneville achieved Thursday that much more important.

First of all, he passed a legendary figure in Arbour, a Hall of Famer who coached a dynastic New York Islanders team that won the Stanley Cup four straight times.

"Trying to play against his teams over the years, he was one of those guys that was distinguished behind the bench," Quenneville said. "He had a Scotty-type of an aura back there. His teams were always winning teams and they always played hard and were tough to play against. I think as a player you heard a lot of good things about Al as well. His teams were successful, and catching him, I'm very honored."

Most important, by passing Arbour, Quenneville essentially has established the new bar for coaches to reach for. No one's passing Bowman, at least not according to Quenneville, so he is now the target.

But at age 57, it might not be crazy to think Quenneville could actually catch Bowman.

Quenneville is his 19th season as an NHL coach after getting his start with the St. Louis Blues, then spending three seasons with the Colorado Avalanche before coming to the Blackhawks. He has never coached a team with a losing record.

Not once. The closest he came was with the Blues in 1998-99, when they went 37-32 with 13 ties, a point percentage of .530.

"One thing is, I've always been fortunate because I've always had good teams," Quenneville said. "That certainly helps."

That might very well be true, but Quenneville is doing a disservice to his own role in making those teams great.

His current run with the Blackhawks is a prime example of that.

Yes, Quenneville arrived just as Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook were hitting their stride. But it's not easy to win the Stanley Cup three times in six seasons as the Blackhawks have done, becoming the closest thing this era has had to a dynasty.

"I think when you have a core group of guys that have been with him all those years, there's a trust factor that grows," Toews said. "There's an understanding of what the player expects of a coach and vice versa. We know the little things we've got to do when we're winning and when we're not winning. There's just that experience and understanding that when things aren't going so well, no one overreacts, no one panics. We keep working.

"We've figured out that formula where we know how to win games, and we go out there and do the right things because it's obviously a lot more fun to win than it is to lose."

The Blackhawks have had a lot of fun under Quenneville. If they continue to do so for the life of Quenneville's new contract extension, which runs through the 2019-20 season, Bowman's wins mark should at least come into view, even if it would remain far on the horizon.

But even approaching Bowman was considered impossible. Quenneville is now in a position to do at least that, to have a coaching legacy that is second to one.

It's hard to imagine Quenneville would have had the same impact on the world of retail brokering.

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