TRAIKOS: Oilers should hire Joel Quenneville - if it’s not too late
If you’re Peter Chiarelli, the question is do you make a coaching change right away or wait a few more days until the Edmonton Oilers fall out of a playoff spot?
After all, Joel Quenneville is not going to be out of work for long.
Fired from the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday, I’d be shocked if the Los Angeles Kings weren’t already negotiating a new deal for the three-time Stanley Cup-winning coach. That is, if the St. Louis Blues, Detroit Red Wings or Florida Panthers aren’t already tying up his phone line trying to do the same.
That’s how big of a name Quenneville is. And that’s also how badly some teams have started out of the gate.
As Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock said of Quenneville: “He’s going to go in the Hockey Hall of Fame. I don’t know what else you say about him. If he wants to work, he works.”
Last year, not a single coach was fired during the regular season. A month into this season, we already have two — with many more on the way.
First went John Stevens in Los Angeles. Now Quenneville is gone following a five-game losing steak in Chicago. Up next could be Florida’s Bob Boughner, who owns the worst record in the NHL, or St. Louis’ Mike Yeo, Detroit’s Jeff Blashill, Philadelphia’s Dave Hakstol … the list could go on and on and on.
After several players with the Ottawa Senators were caught on camera insulting their coaching staff, you have to wonder if Guy Boucher’s job security took a major hit.
Which brings us to Todd McLellan and the Oilers. As of Tuesday morning, Edmonton was sitting in third place in the Pacific Division. But at the same time, the team was also tied with the 10th-place San Jose Sharks — along with three other teams — with 17 points.
In other words, McLellan might not be sitting on the hot seat just yet. But that doesn’t mean his butt isn’t getting warm.
With five of their next seven games against playoff teams, the picture could look a lot worse by U.S. Thanksgiving. By then, maybe the Oilers are in a position to make a change. The only question is whether Quenneville will still be available by then.
It’s not often a coach with his credentials comes up. Boston fired Claude Julien on Feb. 7, 2017. Exactly one week later, the Montreal Canadiens fired Michel Therrien and hired Julien. At the time, the Canadiens’ record was 31-19-8.
That’s the kind of thing that Chiarelli has to consider. If the Oilers are contemplating a coaching change, they better act fast. Edmonton cannot miss the playoffs for a second straight year. Not with Connor McDavid on a 58-goal,129-point pace to start the season.
If that were to happen, McLellan won’t be the only one in Edmonton who will be losing his job.
You have to assume that those types of thoughts had entered Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman’s head in the past two weeks. Chicago missed the playoffs last year for the first time since Quenneville was hired in 2008. After starting this season on a 6-2-2 run, it went on a five-game losing streak that ultimately cost Quenneville his job.
Bowman had to make a change. And considering that nine players have no-trade or no-movement clauses, the easier change was replacing Quenneville with Jeremy Colliton, a 33-year-old with zero NHL coaching experience who was in only his second year behind the bench in North America.
That’s the new trend in the NHL, as more teams continue to hire coaches straight out of the NCAA or junior ranks with little to no NHL experience. Still, a man with Quenneville’s resume is still hotly desired, especially if you want to win now.
Back in 2008, he replaced Denis Savard four games into the season and took a team with a 20-year-old Patrick Kane and a 21-year-old Jonathan Toews to the conference final. The following year, he won his first of three championships as the word “dynasty” once again became part of the hockey lexicon.
As Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz said in a statement on Tuesday: “When Joel was originally hired into our 2008 season, we had great hope for his potential to take the team to new levels. He went beyond what anyone expected.”
Quenneville had been in his 11th season with the Blackhawks when the axe finally came. That sort of tenure doesn’t happen anymore. In fact, he had a five-year lead on Tampa Bay’s Jon Cooper — his 441-game reign, including Tuesday’s clash with Edmonton, is the new gold standard — as the longest-tenured coach in the league.
But that’s the perils of being a coach, where the shelf life seems to get staler than a bag of bread left out in the summer. Or, as Sportsnet’s Jeff Marek said of Kings interim coach Willie Desjardins, all coaches are essentially interim coaches.
With Quenneville now available, almost every coach probably feels that way.
WHOSE SEATS ARE GETTING HOTTER?
One month in, there have already been two coaches fired in the NHL. With Joel Quenneville joining John Stevens on the unemployment line, here are five others whose seat is getting hotter by the day:
Todd McLellan, Edmonton
The good news is that Connor McDavid is scoring at a ridiculous pace and the Oilers are currently in a playoff spot. The bad news is that Jesse Puljujarvi is looking like yet another first-round bust — something that McLellan needs to remedy.
Bob Boughner, Florida
It was a terrible start to the season that ultimately led to the Panthers barely missing the playoffs last year. One year later, nothing has changed. Florida is in last place with a 3-5-3 record, although the team has played the fewest games in the NHL.
Dave Hakstol, Philadelphia
Having gone the past four games without a regulation loss likely has Hakstol breathing a little easier. But the Flyers still remain on the outside looking in on a playoff spot — something that won’t change unless the goaltending improves.
Mike Yeo, St. Louis
It’s never a good sign when someone creates a website (IsMikeYeoStillCoach.com) solely dedicated to tracking whether or not you’re still the coach. With the second-worst record in the Western Conference, it’s a valid question.