Chicago's coaching change, fair or not, was a no-risk move

SCOTT MORRISON

, Last Updated: 10:54 AM ET

A year ago, it took a whopping six games and a dozen days before there was the first coaching casualty in the NHL.

But at least Bob Hartley and the Atlanta Thrashers didn't win any of those six games.

A year later, of course, the first axe has fallen in Chicago after just four games and six days, not even a full week.

And it came after Denis Savard had earned his first win of the regular season. Apparently there is no pleasing some bosses.

All of which should indicate that a coaching change had been in the works for a month or so, dating back to the day when the Blackhawks hired Joel Quenneville as a part-time pro scout.

Everyone knew it was a matter of when he would take over, not if he would take over.

Now, although Savard did a good job with a young Blackhawks team last season, helping them to a 17-point improvement and keeping them in the playoff race until the final week of the season, he ultimately became a victim of his own success.

The fact the Blackhawks got good quickly, that sellouts were becoming the norm, that all their games are now on TV, that they were big-time buyers on the free-agent market in the summer, raised expectations sky-high. The future is now, the playoffs are a must.

As a result, when management determined that training camp and the pre-season were both flat, when they took until their fourth game to win and didn't play well in the first two losses, a quick decision shouldn't have come as a great surprise to anyone, not with Quenneville waiting in the wings.

Indeed, Savard got the message in the summer that immediate success, earning a playoff position this year, was the only acceptable result when he wasn't given a contract extension.

Heck, even the players talked earlier in the week about not wanting to lose the expectations to succeed now.

Making a coaching change four games into the season, whether it is fair or not, was a no-risk move for the Blackhawks.

Quenneville is a terrific coach, with a ton of experience and a great record. Making the change to Quenneville has no down side.

But there was a risk in staying with the more inexperienced Savard and possibly remaining flat, of falling too far off the playoff pace. Again, it is not fair, but as a business as much as anything, the Blackhawks can't afford to fall back.

Now, Savard might have been able to rally this team and get them moving forward like he did a season ago and probably deserved more time, but the club couldn't afford to take the chance. The question was when was the appropriate time? And there undoubtedly were other, more subtle issues, that were factored into a decision to fire one of the most popular players in club history.

"A lot of expectations have been put on the line," Savard said. "They've made a commitment to the fans. They're going for the best coach they feel was available. This is no fun. What can I say?"

Beyond the expectations and the urgency, it was pretty clear, too, from what general manager Dale Tallon and senior adviser Scotty Bowman had to say, that the Blackhawks felt they had the opportunity to upgrade in the coaching position and wanted to make use of it.

Now, of course, the pressure to succeed falls on Tallon because those expectations to win remain and one hand already has been played.

WILD THING

The newest soap opera in the NHL may be unfolding in Minnesota, where Wild forward Marian Gaborik will become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. As has been mentioned, Gaborik is the Marian Hossa of the new season. Meaning, he will be expensive to re-sign and ultimately may have to be moved for the club to at least get some assets.

There is unconfirmed speculation that Gaborik, the club's career scoring leader who missed his team's game on Thursday because of an undisclosed lower-body injury, already has been shopped. The Wild, perhaps, do not want the contract impasse to become a distraction or drag on the way the Hossa situation did a year ago with Atlanta, which didn't trade him until a few minutes before the trade deadline.

There also has been unconfirmed talk that Gaborik wants upward of $10 million US a season on a long-term deal and already might have turned down a multi-year deal worth $8 million or more per. Whatever, as their best player, the price is going to be steep.

Wild GM Doug Risebrough has refused to comment on whether he has made trade inquiries, but there apparently has not been any recent contract talk either.

THIS AND THAT

A day after saying he wanted to increase the ice time of rookie Steven Stamkos from an average of 9:41 a night to 12 to 15 minutes, Tampa Bay coach Barry Melrose played him a grand total of 9:22. A big factor in that, however, was the Lightning was shorthanded nine times and so far Stamkos hasn't been killing penalties ... So, what's wrong with the Anaheim Ducks, who entered last night's action winless in four games? For starters, they were the only team in the league that had not scored a power-play goal, had scored just eight goals period, and had given up seven goals in 25 times shorthanded ... In just his second NHL game, defenceman Drew Doughty led the Los Angeles Kings in ice time with 23:56.


Videos

Photos