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Central Intelligence: Early-season coaching changes inside the division

Blackhawks, Blues among four teams in the NHL to make changes behind the bench early in the year

by Dan Myers @MNWildScribe /

A quarter of the way through the regular season, things inside the Central Division are, what many prognosticators thought they would be.

At the top of the division is Nashville, last season's President's Trophy winners.

Close behind are Colorado, Minnesota and Winnipeg, all three of which were postseason teams a year ago.

Dallas, under new head coach Jim Montgomery is right in the thick of things. 

But at the bottom, Chicago and St. Louis have already experienced major changes in the form of new head coaches for both clubs.

The Blackhawks were the first Central team to make a change, relieving Joel Quenneville of his duties on Nov. 6. Quenneville, who led Chicago to three Stanley Cups in six seasons, is the second-winningest coach in NHL history, but Chicago was off to a 6-6-2 start this season.

"This is certainly a very difficult decision, but I believe it is in the best interests of the Blackhawks' organization," Blackhawks General Manager Stan Bowman said in the team's release announcing the move. "We need to maximize each and every opportunity with our playoff goals in mind and create continued growth and development throughout our roster at the same time."

To replace Quenneville, Chicago promoted Jeremy Colliton who was the head coach of the organization's American Hockey League affiliate in Rockford. 

At 33 years old, Colliton is the youngest head coach in the NHL and is only three years older than team captain Jonathan Toews, who turns 31 in April. 

Blackhawks forward Chris Kunitz is six years older than Colliton, who has extensive experience working with the club's next wave of young talent during his time in Rockford, a group that includes Alex DeBrincat and Alexandre Fortin, among others.

While the Blackhawks certainly hoped a return to the postseason was imminent, the Blues had their designs on much larger plans.

After spending significant assets to acquire both Ryan O'Reilly and Tyler Bozak to solidify the middle of its forward group, a bad start to the season cost former Wild head coach Mike Yeo his job with the Blues as well.

Yeo's dismissal came on the heels of the Blues' third shutout in four games and a 7-9-3 start to the season, one which began with goals of division titles and perhaps more. Former Flyers coach Craig Berube, a top Yeo lieutenant, took over as the team's interim coach. 

When the Blues moved on from Yeo, he became the third NHL head coach around the League to lose his job in the first two months of the season. One day later, the Edmonton Oilers let go of Todd McLellan bringing in Ken Hitchcock to replace him. 

The four coaching changes has far surpassed last season's total of zero.

Will the coaching changes shake things up in the Central?

The Blues are 1-2-0 entering Wednesday since the coaching change, splitting a pair of games with division rival Nashville and losing 8-4 against Winnipeg last Saturday.

Chicago has posted a 2-5-3 mark since the change.


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