When Bruce Boudreau was fired by the Anaheim Ducks in April 2016, he was out of work for seven days. In February 2017, when the Boston Bruins canned Claude Julien, he landed with the Montreal Canadiens a week later. And when the Washington Capitals and Barry Trotz chose to part ways following the Stanley Cup victory last season, the New York Islanders snapped up the bench boss three days later.
So, while you’ve certainly seen it said in the wake of the Chicago Blackhawks’ announcement that they have fired Joel Quenneville, it really is the truth: when it comes to finding his next place of employ, Quenneville will have no issue. He’ll only be out of work as long as he wants to be.
Quenneville, like the aforementioned bench bosses, has himself quite the resume. The longest-tenured coach in the league prior to his firing, he’s about as well respected a voice behind the bench as there is in the NHL, one who has three Stanley Cups on his resume, has kept Chicago more than competitive for nearing on a decade and boasts the second-highest win total in league history. His trophy case also has four division titles, two Presidents’ Trophies and he won the Jack Adams Award in 1999-00. That’s going to result in quite a list of suitors, and it would be no surprise at all if it were to come to light that a few teams have already had brief internal discussions about reaching out to the now-unemployed coach.
So, if the 60-year-old surefire Hall of Famer wants to keep coaching, where does he land next?
While a case can probably be made for at least 20 of the league’s clubs for a variety of reasons, the reality is that only half of those clubs are somewhat realistic destinations. Top-tier NHL bench bosses, those recently brought aboard or those at the helm of Stanley Cup contenders are likely safe from firing, and the same can likely be said for coaches with some tenure left on their deals.
Thus, destinations crossed off the list can include the likes of Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, Winnipeg, Nashville, Boston, Vegas and Toronto. Both the Islanders and Rangers are probably set behind the bench with their new hires, too, as are Calgary, Carolina, Dallas and Washington. Arizona’s early success also likely gives Rick Tocchet job security, and while the same results haven’t followed Phil Housley and Bob Boughner to Buffalo and Florida, respectively, they probably have some rope left after being hired ahead of last season. That could change by season’s end, however.
Of all the potential destinations, though, there are seven that stand out most given the possibility for the coaching situations to change in the not-too-distant future.
ST. LOUIS BLUES
When Quenneville stepped behind the bench for the first time in Chicago, he was taking over a team that had vastly underperformed despite serious upside. The Blackhawks were considered a playoff team, at bare minimum, and one that was working its way towards potential Stanley Cup contention with a talented and deep roster. Sound familiar? It should, because that’s this season’s Blues, though St. Louis is admittedly an older club than the Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane-led Blackhawks were in those days.
Quenneville-to-St. Louis makes all kinds of sense if the veteran bench boss doesn’t want to take all that much time off, though, given the Blues haven’t at all lived up to off-season expectations. St. Louis is fighting its way out of the Western Conference basement at the moment and a coaching change wouldn’t be an out-of-left-field move by GM Doug Armstrong. Quenneville has familiarity with St. Louis — he coached there for eight seasons beginning in 1996-97 — and he would be a top candidate.
One question, though: would the Blackhawks give the Blues permission to talk to Quenneville? He still has the remainder of this season and all of next remaining on his contract with Chicago. But there is recent precedent for one divisional rival getting the OK from another to speak with a deposed coach. As noted, Julien was given the green light to speak with the Canadiens when he was fired by the Bruins back in February 2017.
We don’t want to say there’s no chance. There’s always at least the possibility that Quenneville heads to Ottawa. But in order for ‘Coach Q’ to end up north of the border, a couple things would have to happen.
First, the Senators would probably need to present Quenneville with a better opportunity (read: a better roster) than what they currently have. He’s not going to want to go anywhere with no promise of playoff contention. And that makes it tough to imagine him biting the bullet to head into a situation in Ottawa that is, quite frankly, a mess. If he wants them, he’s likely to have plenty of options, and it’s hard to fathom the Senators job is going to rank high on his list while they’re in the midst of a full-scale rebuild that is supposed to be led by a roster almost entirely composed of fresh faces by next season, according to owner Eugene Melnyk.
Second, he’s probably going to want to be paid a rate similar to his deal in Chicago, which is to say a pact that would make him among the highest-paid coaches in the NHL. That’s probably where this conversation begins and ends. The Senators are the furthest things from spendthrifts. You can probably count them out.
Hard as it may be to believe, the fourth-longest tenured coach in the entire NHL is Dave Hakstol. Only Jon Cooper, Paul Maurice and Peter Laviolette have been with their respective clubs longer. And while Philadelphia has actually fared well under Hakstol in the regular season — he has a 129-93-39 record — and earned two post-season berths in three seasons, the Flyers have failed to make it out of the first round in either instance and haven’t been much more than a middling club through the early part of the current campaign.
There is some untapped potential in Philadelphia, too, that Quenneville could potentially help unlock. Offensively, the pieces are in place for the team to be successful and the Flyers have some blueliners on the way. Add goaltender Carter Hart to the mix, who Philadelphia desperately hopes can solve their long-standing issues in the crease, and the Flyers job could be an enticing one for Quenneville if it opens up.
The kicker here, however, is that there are few teams that can compete financially with Philadelphia, who could throw serious cash at Quenneville to persuade him to come aboard if Hakstol ends up on the outs. If he wants to match Babcock dollar for dollars, Quenneville could do so in Philly.
LOS ANGELES KINGS
Notable about the Kings’ weekend firing of John Stevens — and made more notable by its absence in the Blackhawks’ hiring of Jeremy Colliton in the aftermath of Quenneville being shown the door — is the interim tag attached to Willie Desjardins’ position as coach in Los Angeles. When asked over the weekend, Kings GM Rob Blake said that the interim tag meant that Desjardins would be around through the rest of the campaign, and while we’ll take Blake at his word, that gives little certainty about the future for Desjardins.
Would Quenneville be a candidate for Los Angeles’ job after this season? He’d certainly be an intriguing choice. In all likelihood, he’d bring a more up-tempo game to Hollywood that would allow the Kings to push the pace more than they have in recent years and add some excitement back to the game in Los Angeles. Quenneville would get the attention of the dressing room in an instant, too, and he might be just what the Kings need to crack open their window and squeeze the last bit of life out of this core before wholesale changes are made to the roster.
On the other hand, though, this seems like a potential watershed moment for the Kings, an opportunity to inject some new life into the roster. And with the way Blake talked about Marco Sturm, calling him a new-school coach, it seems more fathomable that if Desjardins is replaced following this season, it would be by Sturm rather than an outside candidate.
This one comes with a caveat. Waking up Tuesday morning, the Oilers are a couple of points out of top spot in the Pacific Division, have won five of their past seven games and they look like a team that might be able to hang tough in the Western Conference throughout the campaign on their way back to the post-season. Those are all good things. And if the Oilers keep clipping along as they have, end up in the playoffs and show signs of taking a step forward, coach Todd McLellan is going to be safe and sound for at least another season.
That’s to say that the opportunity in Edmonton will only present itself if McLellan can’t get the job done. And if he can’t, Quenneville would be one heck of a candidate to take over an Oilers team that has some serious potential.
There are, indeed, some similarities between the Blackhawks Quenneville took over in 2008 and the Oilers of today, too. Neither Kane nor Toews are comparable to McDavid — few players are — but in Edmonton’s phenom and Leon Draisaitl, there’s a one-two punch that can alter the Oilers’ fate. The defense could use some work and the jury should rightfully still be out on whether Cam Talbot is going to find his game again given he’s sporting an .899 save percentage through 11 appearances, but there are pieces in place that could lead to instant and long-term success in Edmonton. That has to be enticing.
DETROIT RED WINGS
Despite consecutive sub-80-point campaigns and the fifth-worst points percentage of any team in the NHL since the beginning of the 2016-17 season, Jeff Blashill has been given a stay of execution in Detroit. This season is shaping up to be Blashill’s worst behind the Red Wings’ bench, though, which is saying something given Detroit finished with the sixth-worst record in the league last season. So, with one year remaining on Blashill’s deal, a change behind the bench seems likely and it might be the best thing for all involved if Detroit ends up in the NHL basement, as it appears they will once this season concludes.
Who better to replace Blashill with than Quenneville, too? There are no standout coaching prospects in Detroit’s system and Quenneville could help pump some life into a team that has looked lost at times over the past few seasons.
And while we don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves, wouldn’t it be somewhat enticing for Quenneville to head to Detroit if, say, Steve Yzerman also hopped aboard with the Red Wings at some point next summer? It’s been speculated that Yzerman, who stepped down from his post in Tampa Bay, could be a candidate to fill a role in Detroit next season. And Red Wings fans would no doubt be excited about a pairing of ‘Stevie Y’ and ‘Coach Q.’
SEATTLE EXPANSION TEAM
When Gerard Gallant was unceremoniously and unexpectedly ousted from his position with the Florida Panthers, you likely wouldn’t have found a soul in the coaching fraternity who would have thought that they’d be somewhat envious of little more than a year later. But when Gallant landed with the Vegas Golden Knights, he was given an outstanding opportunity. Not only did he help build the off-ice culture, but he was part of putting the on-ice product in place and working with the group from the ground up is a rare opportunity.
Seattle, who have been all but formally awarded the NHL’s 32nd team, will want to hit the ground running in their debut season, too, and there are few ways they’re more likely to do that than by hiring the best coach available. And now that Quenneville knows and has seen that coaching an expansion team in this era, under these draft rules, doesn’t have to be a losing proposition, it might be all the more enticing. Add to it the chance to have input in the selecting of personnel, and Quenneville might jump at the opportunity.
Here’s the catch: Quenneville would have to remain on the shelf, so to speak, for another full season after the completion of the 2018-19 campaign. The good news, though, is that Quenneville’s current contract with the Blackhawks runs through to the beginning of the 2020-21 season. It’s almost a perfect fit.