The speculation can officially end — Joel Quenneville and Stan Bowman will both be back with the Blackhawks next season.
Even with a disappointing season in which the Hawks missed the playoffs for the first time in 10 years, Blackhawks president and CEO John McDonough decided to retain his coach and his general manager heading into next season.
“The decision has been made to retain Stan and Joel. I have confidence in them,” McDonough told a small group of reporters inside the United Center atrium Thursday morning. “Their track record is amazing.
“And there were a lot of circumstances that happened this year that were out of our control. That’s not to say that areas of our team could not have performed better. They could have. And I’m not assessing blame.
“But I believe in both of them, I want both of them to succeed, and I think we’re going to be headed in the right direction — after a lot of reflection and assessment.”
McDonough met with Bowman last week and Quenneville on Thursday before the Hawks practiced. McDonough wanted to deliver the news before the NHL regular season ends on Saturday so there would not be any doubt about their fate heading into locker-cleanout day Monday.
“You pull for these people to succeed, you want them to succeed,” McDonough said. “But every day here, there’s a lot at stake. I don’t take for granted anything that’s transpired over the last 10 years.
“There’s disappointment. I’m disappointed, the fans are disappointed, our sponsors are disappointed.”
That disappointment started last April when the Hawks, who earned the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference playoffs, were swept in the first round by the faster, hungrier Nashville Predators.
“Any successes that we did experience this year are completely overshadowed by the abrupt ending to our season,” Bowman bellowed two days after the Hawks’ Game 4 loss in the 2017 playoffs.
He vowed change and acted swiftly, firing assistant coach Mike Kitchen and later trading Artemi Panarin to Columbus for Brandon Saad, and Niklas Hjalmarsson to Arizona for Connor Murphy.
In retrospect, those last two moves were colossal failures and two reasons why the Hawks failed so dramatically this season.
They weren’t, of course, the only reasons.
• Once standout goalie Corey Crawford went down, there was little chance of success with a shaky, inexperienced defensive corps playing in front of Anton Forsberg (10-16-4), J-F Berube (3-5-1), Jeff Glass (3-6-3) and Collin Delia (1-1-0).
• After a red-hot start, Saad’s scoring disappeared with only 9 goals between Games 7-70.
• Duncan Keith, who has 2 goals on 186 shots, has a minus-24 rating and had perhaps his worst season.
• Without Panarin, the power play short-circuited and ranks fourth-worst in the league with a 16.1 percent success rate.
Quenneville must absorb some of the blame, however. With his constant line juggling, players didn’t develop chemistry and appeared unsure at times about what their teammates were going to do.
Carrying eight defensemen also had everyone except Keith and Brent Seabrook looking over their shoulders. Connor Murphy and Cody Franson both admitted they feared one mistake would mean a healthy scratch in the next game.
And then there’s the way this team performed. The fire, the energy, the determination and passion evident in years past was rarely on display.
McDonough, though, doesn’t believe the players have tuned out Quenneville.
“That used to be something people said all the time, that a coach lost the room,” McDonough said. “I think the respect in that room for Joel is incredible. The players respect him, I think the players respond to him, and there may be some things Joel fine-tunes as well going into next season.
“He’s been doing this for a long time as well. But I don’t feel our players have tuned him out.”
• Check back later at dailyherald.com for more on this developing story, and follow John’s reports on Twitter @ johndietzdh.