Were it up to the Chicago Blackhawks in the dressing room, Joel Quenneville would return to coach them in 2012-13.
He's well-liked, and the public support he received during an epic slump for the team this season wasn't just a function of process. As Patrick Sharp said in February: "He's our leader, he's our coach, we play hard for him and we believe in him. I know that if something would happen, there would be a lot of unhappy people in the room right now, as far as players putting that on themselves."
But it's not the players' call. (OK, maybe it was when Denis Savard was turfed in favor of Quenneville, but not this time.) It's management's call, and Coach Q has seen his cheering section in the Chicago front office dwindle even smaller after Marc Bergevin left to become the Montreal Canadiens' new general manager.
There have been trouble signs throughout the last few months that Quenneville could be in trouble, and that's underscored by the Blackhawks' first-round elimination to the Phoenix Coyotes.
Now, the inevitable question is raised: If the Blackhawks move on from Quenneville, does he become the next coach of the Montreal Canadiens?
The Hockey Night in Canada Hot Stove focused in on the Canadiens' coaching vacancy on Sunday night, with Elliotte Friedman going right to Q:
"If you ask people, in a perfect world Marc Bergevin's hire would be Joel Quenneville, head coach of the Chicago Blackhawks. You say, 'alright, that's wonderful, but he's still under contract.' Well, there is a sense — if you watch Stan Bowman's media conference at the end of the season in Chicago — that he wasn't really happy with some of the coaching that was done this season. If the Canadiens come calling, would the Blackhawks be willing to listen?
"Bergevin and Quenneville have a close friendship that goes all the way back to when they were in St. Louis. Quenneville does have a French background. I don't know how well he speaks it, but he at least knows it. I think if the Canadiens went down this route, there would at least be a conversation about Joel Quenneville leaving Chicago for Montreal."
As CBC's Tim Wharnsby noted, the Bergevin relationship runs even deeper. He suggested Quenneville come aboard in Chicago as a scout in 2008, and former GM Dale Tallon hired Quenneville for that gig and then as the team's new head coach.
Now, Bergevin and Tallon have both moved on from the Blackhawks, leading to speculation that Quenneville has run out of allies in the front office. There was talk of a rift between Coach Q and the Bowmans when John Scott was traded to the Rangers.
There was more talk when Quenneville allegedly received some unsolicited assistance this season, according to Jesse Rogers of ESPN Chicago:
Quenneville and general manager Stan Bowman may not have seen eye to eye on all matters this past season, which might not be that unusual during a year that saw unexpected turmoil on the ice.
At one point, Director of Player Development Barry Smith was asked to help with some coaching -- but not by Quenneville, according to multiple sources. That directive came from above. And at the team's year-end press conference last week, Quenneville talked highly of Marcus Kruger's job as the team's second line center while Bowman said that Kane might be the best candidate for that position moving forward.
Will all of this lead to Quenneville leaving Chicago, potentially for Montreal? If it does, it could be the most significant move the Habs could make in this offseason. Find another available coach who has made the playoffs in 13 of his 15 years in the NHL, and has a Stanley Cup ring?
(And if it does, it would be a former Whaler hiring a former Whaler to coach with another former Whaler in Randy Cunneyworth. Cue up the Brass Bonanza ...)