Chicago Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman vowed that changes were coming after their embarrassing first-round sweep at the hands of the Nashville Predators.
Those changes started on Monday at the bench, where assistant coach Mike Kitchen was fired after seven years. He was there for the Stanley Cup wins in 2013 and 2015. But the two areas of the team for which he was most responsible – the penalty kill and the defensemen – were two of the most problematic areas for the Blackhawks this season.
Kitchen and coach Joel Quenneville are close friends and former teammates. He served as an assistant with Quenneville in Chicago and as well as when he was head coach with the St. Louis Blues. (Kitchen actually replaced Quenneville after the Blues fired him in 2004.)
Chris Hine of the Chicago Tribune had a good catch regarding the Kitchen firing by the Blackhawks: Quenneville wasn’t quoted in the team’s press release.
Hine found out that the coach was “upset” about this move, as he wasn’t the catalyst for it:
Multiple league sources told the Tribune the decision to fire Kitchen did not originate with Quenneville and that Quenneville was upset and surprised by the move. Kitchen’s firing is likely to re-ignite conflict between Quenneville and Bowman and the rest of the front office, conflict over coaching and personnel that existed before the Hawks won Cups in 2013 and 2015, two championships that helped maintain peace in the organization.
Sources said Bowman likely fired Kitchen to re-assert authority over personnel in the Hawks organization and send everyone a message, including Quenneville, going into next season. Bowman said Saturday Quenneville, who has a contract through the 2019-20 season, would return as coach.
Bowman’s decision to fire Kitchen was also likely a move in self-preservation to pacify a demand for change coming from the upper reaches of the Hawks organization, such as President John McDonough.
Firing an assistant coach is a time-honored tradition in the NHL when things aren’t going well. But as Hine notes, this isn’t just an assistant coach getting canned: It’s Quenneville’s right-hand man.
And given the coach’s history with management, his reaction to that firing is worth noting.
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