Should Blackhawks' next assistant coach be Joel Quenneville's choice?

Should Blackhawks' next assistant coach be Joel Quenneville's choice?

On April 22, Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman vented his frustrations on the team’s all-too-abrupt exit from the postseason, adding that he and coach Joel Quenneville, “are going to work together to make sure that this never happens again.”

There will be plenty of decisions for the two to mull between now and September, when the Blackhawks convene for training camp. When it comes to the assistant head coach vacancy, however, that might need to be decided with a more one-sided approach. That choice ultimately should be made by Quenneville.

In a recent podcast, Pat Boyle and I discussed the Blackhawks’ need to work together on some upcoming decisions. But with the assistant coach, the head coach has to have the loudest voice. The head coach probably should even have the final vote. The relationship between coaches has to be there because they’re around each other constantly. They’ve got to be on the same page. There has to be trust from Day 1.

As for when the Blackhawks name that assistant, there appears to be nothing imminent. A source said Monday that the Blackhawks and Ulf Samuelsson have been in communication about the job — Chris Kuc of the Tribune first reported on Samuelsson on Sunday. On paper it looks like it would be a great fit. Samuelsson and Quenneville played several seasons together with the Hartford Whalers, along with current Blackhawks assistant coach Kevin Dineen. The relationship with Samuelsson has been there for a long time and it would make for a smoother transition. It might also provide somewhat of a panacea for Quenneville after former assistant Mike Kitchen, whose friendship with Quenneville also went back to their playing days, was fired last month.

Earlier this month Bowman told the Sun-Times that Quenneville will have a big role in the Blackhawks’ finding their next assistant coach, with the final choice being a “joint collaboration.” We get that there’s an order to these things and everyone has to be in agreement with the final decision. But in the end the head coach has to be 100-percent happy with his immediate staff. So whoever the next assistant coach is, the decision has to be 100 percent Quenneville’s.

Blackhawks hire Jeremy Colliton as new Rockford IceHogs coach

Blackhawks hire Jeremy Colliton as new Rockford IceHogs coach

Jeremy Colliton would still love to be playing hockey. As he put it, “it’s the best game in the world to play.” But post-concussion symptoms cut his pro playing career short and led to a coaching opportunity in Sweden.

It was a successful transition. Now, Colliton will bring his coaching ability back to this side of the pond.

Colliton was hired as the Rockford IceHogs’ new head coach, the Blackhawks announced on Thursday morning. The 32-year-old Colliton has spent the past four seasons in Sweden, where he was head coach of the Mora IK. He played pro hockey for eight seasons; his final season came with Mora IK, with whom he retired in 2014 after dealing with post-concussion symptoms. This past season Colliton led Mora IK to a 35-4-13 record (105 points). But in April Colliton announced that he wouldn’t return with Mora IK, the Alberta native saying in a statement at the time that, “I feel it’s time to be closer to home.”

Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman said in a statement that, “Jeremy’s experience as a player and a coach will allow him to be a great leader and mentor for our young prospects in Rockford. He is coming off a great start to his coaching career with four successful seasons in Sweden and fits very well into our plan of continuing to develop our younger players.”

Colliton will inherit a Rockford team that finished eighth in the AHL Central with a 25-39-9-3 record. The IceHogs missed the playoffs for the first time in the past three seasons. Colliton said getting players ready for the NHL is the biggest task but finding team success also looms large.

“The first priority in Rockford is to help the young players develop so they can contribute and help the Blackhawks win on the NHL level. But that doesn’t prohibit you from having a winning team. That’s also important, teaching these guys how to win and what it takes to be a guy who’s trusted to be on the ice in important situations,” Colliton said. “That’s how they’ll become everyday NHLers and become players the Blackhawks can trust. The focus is on development. Winning is important but that’s the result if we’re doing the right things as far as getting better every day.”

Being in his early 30s, Colliton isn’t too much older than the players he’ll be coaching in Rockford. But he said it’s probably more about his experience in the minors more than the age gap.

“I think what is a positive for me is I’ve been in these guys’ shoes. I know what it’s like to play in the AHL and to try to break through and become an everyday NHLer. Hopefully I can use that experience as a way to help communicate the message for these guys to reach their dreams,” he said. “I’m sure there are some generational things that are easier. But as a coach, the way things are now, it’s important you can connect with these guys, build trust and it’s possible that helps because I’m closer in age.”

Colliton’s playing career was cut short due to concussions but he wanted to remain in hockey in some capacity. He found success as a coach overseas. He hopes to repeat it now in the Blackhawks’ organization.

“I’m a little bit surprised that I’ve been able to move along quickly and get into this opportunity,” Colliton said. “But I have confidence in myself and when I got [the coaching job] in Sweden, I felt like I had experience and knowledge to offer, similar to this, where I was trying to help young players become pros and pros become difference makers.”

Blackhawks lock up Richard Panik with two-year extension

Blackhawks lock up Richard Panik with two-year extension

When Richard Panik had his final season media session on April 22, he didn’t know what the future held for him. Coming off what he considered his most consistent season in the NHL, he hoped to return to the Blackhawks.

Now he will.

The Blackhawks and Panik agreed on a two-year extension, the team announced on Thursday. In a statement, general manager Stan Bowman said, “Richard made tremendous strides this past year and we were pleased with the consistency he showed throughout the season. We are looking forward to having him in Chicago for the next two seasons.”

Pierre LeBrun of TSN reported that Panik’s deal has a cap hit of $2.8 million per season. Panik is coming off a one-year deal with a $875,000 cap hit. Speaking on a conference call on Thursday morning, Panik said the deal the Blackhawks offered was a good one and there was, “not much thinking about it.”

Panik gets a raise but he earned it with his 2016-17 regular season, when he set career highs in goals (22), assists (22) and points (44). Panik was happy with his season, right up until the first round of the playoffs.

“I think when I look back at the season, this was my most consistent season in the NHL. That’s good. But when you get swept in the playoffs it’s not looking good, your individual season,” Panik said on April 22. “So you’re disappointed.”

Still, Panik provided a net-front presence that the Blackhawks needed this past season and will need going forward. He helped the top line find some stability, as he, Jonathan Toews and Nick Schmaltz were together for most of the season’s second half.

The Blackhawks will face another offseason of number crunching, and Panik’s new deal will add to that. According to CapFriendly.com, the Blackhawks are more than $3.6 million above the current cap ceiling ($73 million). That includes bonuses of more than $3.5 million that players earned in the 2016-17 season. In March, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said the 2017-18 cap could be between $75.5-$76 million, depending on inflator negotiations with the NHLPA. Even with the increase, the Blackhawks will have some math to do.

Also, will the Blackhawks protect Panik in the upcoming expansion draft? It would seem they would, considering how happy they’ve been with Panik’s progression. The Blackhawks have to leave two forwards unprotected: Panik, Marcus Kruger, Ryan Hartman and Jordin Tootoo are all eligible to be exposed in the expansion draft.

“There is still a chance but hopefully Chicago will protect me,” Panik said. “My main reason [in re-signing] was I wanted to stay in Chicago. So hopefully they will protect me and I’ll stay here.”

Since coming to the Blackhawks in a minor-league trade in January of 2015, Panik has done some great things here. If the Blackhawks protect him, he’ll look to build off last season.

“I know how good I am, what I’m capable of and how I can play,” he said on Thursday. “Chicago gave me the opportunity and that’s what it’s all about. I wanted to show them, wanted to earn a spot on the team that was my main focus in training camp, to earn a spot and go from there.”