Former Blackhawk takes the Stanley Cup hunting

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Former Blackhawk takes the Stanley Cup hunting

Bernie Nicholls spent most of his 18-year NHL career in the spotlight spending time with the Los Angeles Kings, New York Rangers and the Chicago Blackhawks (1994-96).

It's a bit of irony for a guy who grew up in West Guilford, Ontario with about 100 other people. And that's where Nicholls took the Stanley Cup last week when he got his day with it.

Nicholls is currently a coaching consultant for the Kings. Former Blackhawks coach Darryl Sutter, who coached Nicholls in Chicago, hired his former player when he took over in December.

Nicholls and his family own a hunting farm in the remote area of Canada, and it's been a family-favorite activity to hunt bears, deer and moose for the last 50 years. So, of course, Lord Stanley's Cup joined in on the fun.

"We do a lot of hunting. I had my bow and it the Cup stood in the tree stand beside me. My dad has been there since 1961. I remember walking through the bush when I was 5 years old following my dad. I've hunted my whole life. I always had a passion for that," Nicholls told NHL.com.

(photo courtesy of NHL.com)

Don Granato thrilled to be working with 'calm' Q again

Don Granato thrilled to be working with 'calm' Q again

For Don Granato, working with coach Joel Quenneville again was a chance he couldn’t refuse. Granato was a young coach with the Worcester IceCats, the St. Louis affiliate when Quenneville was the Blues’ head coach, and Granato learned plenty.

“The presence,” Granato said of Quenneville. “He has a really good presence, a calming influence.”

Wait. Quenneville calm?

“Without a doubt, calming,” Granato said. “It was almost like, ‘Hey, we’re in it together.’ And again, that’s the calm behind the scenes. He helps players and in that case he helped me perform as well as I could at that point. I think he’s good at that, because he’s a people person. That’s what I remember most. It’s more of a feel.”

Granato, who general manager Stan Bowman called “a great communicator,” is happy to be back in the Quenneville coaching fold this season. Granato will be watching the games from upstairs and will bring another voice to a Blackhawks group that is looking to take a fresh approach after a second first-round loss. Assistant coach Kevin Dineen said having another perspective will help.

“I’m looking forward to having Donny here,” Dineen said. “I like to talk. I sit there and talk through things. When you have someone working with you on a specific area of the game you can have those debates. It’s the same thing with players but you’re teaching. With another coach a good, healthy voice like that with Donny’s experience can be great for us.”

Where Granato will help most – and where that calm he learned from Quenneville could be most critical – is with the Blackhawks’ younger players. He’s worked with several already, including John Hayden and Nick Schmaltz, both of whom appreciated Granato’s tutelage.

“It’s so obvious he knows the game so well. I think coaches who know the game well and know how to teach the game well are hard to come by,” Hayden said. “It goes back to what I’ve said about meeting the coaching staff and the rest of the players. You feel comfortable in that regard. With coaching changes that process happens all over again, but I was fortunate to spend two years in the World Juniors with coach Granato, who did an incredible job with coaching and development.”

[MORE: Who goes where? Quenneville already plotting options] 

Granato will have a voice with the Blackhawks and will especially have an impact with their young players. The impact Quenneville made on him is still being felt.

“When he left St. Louis, he and my brother [Tony] coached together in Colorado. So the connection stayed. And I’ve always tried as a head coach to play the system that Joel played. So I’ve always tracked and watched the Hawks and the Avalanche and whoever Joel was playing,” Granato said. “That was fun, that’s the impact he had on me, from not only a presence, but the tactics, as well.

One year later, White Sox have clear direction, no longer 'mired in mediocrity'

One year later, White Sox have clear direction, no longer 'mired in mediocrity'

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It’s been one year since Rick Hahn uttered those three magic words to signal that the White Sox would soon begin a massive rebuild: mired in mediocrity.

Disappointed by another season of middling play despite a roster led with top talent but short on depth, the general manager suggested the White Sox needed a new direction last July 21.

At the time, Hahn only noted that the White Sox were no longer interested in acquiring short-term pieces and they would re-evaluate their future. Ten days later, the front office began a thorough overhaul that has since seen the completion of four franchise-altering deals for young, controllable, top-flight talent by trading reliever Zach Duke to the St. Louis Cardinals for Charlie Tilson. The White Sox sped their rebuild up incrementally in December and have since traded away Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, Adam Eaton, Tommy Kahnle, Todd Frazier and David Robertson. The series of moves has made it easily apparent where the White Sox are headed.

“It just make it official that it’s a rebuild,” infielder Tyler Saladino said. “You know you’re not in between or what are we going to do? It establishes what’s going on here for everybody.”

The White Sox received a boatload of criticism when the nonwaiver trade deadline passed last Aug. 1 and only Duke had been traded.

One report indicated that the White Sox asked for a “king’s ransom” for Sale, who remained with the club even after his second volatile outburst of the season produced boxes full of slashed throwback jerseys and a five-game suspension for insubordination and destruction of team property. A grade-based ESPN article assigned Hahn an ‘F’ for the failure to begin the rebuild before the deadline. Two weeks later, a reported schism in the front office between Hahn and Kenny Williams over the club’s direction prompted chairman Jerry Reinsdorf to call CSN’s David Kaplan to inform him that his decision makers were “in lockstep” and the team’s decision would be easy to detect soon enough.

And just like that it was.

The White Sox switched managers in October, hiring development-oriented Rick Renteria only a day after Robin Ventura walked away. A month later, Hahn spelled it out again at the GM meetings that the White Sox intended to get younger.

And then the exodus began. First went Sale. Then Eaton. There was a brief interlude as the club signed Cuban free agent Luis Robert for $52 million in May. But the exits have since continued with the trades of Quintana, Frazier, Kahnle and Robertson.

“The fact that they've been able to do as much as they have in this short period of time is kind of impressive,” Renteria said. “We're sad to see a lot of the guys (go) that were here with us because they were good White Sox. But everybody knows the direction we're going in and we still go out there and play to try to get a ballgame every single day, so that's part of the process.”

First baseman Jose Abreu said he understands the process and has bought into what Hahn and Co. are selling. Abreu looks at the organization as a whole and believes the White Sox, who now possess 10 of the top 68 prospects in baseball, according to MLBPipeline.com, are in better shape than they were a year ago. So even if the team is headed for an ugly final two months, Abreu believes it’ll be worth it.

“We all know that in this process you are going to rough moments and you’re going to feel sometimes like things aren’t going the way they are supposed to go, especially with the trades,” Abreu said through an interpreter. “But if you see now we are a much better organization, especially with all of the young talent we are getting. That’s part of the process too. You are pointing up to the future. All of those positions are for the future, and we are looking for good things to come.”