There is an extraordinary situation in Chicago where head coach Joel Quenneville and general manager Stan Bowman now have an uneasy peace after months of conflict both in and out of the public eye.
Both Bowman and Quenneville will now go about their jobs under the demanding presence of Blackhawks president John McDonough, who does not hesitate to put the boots to anyone he finds lacking. Just ask Dale Tallon, whose thanks for putting together the team that eventually won the 2010 Stanley Cup was a one-way trip to Florida.
If the Blackhawks recover from two consecutive exits from the first round of the NHL playoffs since their Cup win, Quenneville and Bowman will live happily ever after, albeit with the odd forced grin. If not, Quenneville and maybe even Bowman will have to answer to McDonough.
The uneasy truce was necessary because the tension between Quenneville and Bowman was starting to affect the players. They could sense the doubt about the coach from the GM. But the Blackhawks were not keen to lose Quenneville, who had a chance at the Montreal Canadiens job when his friend Marc Bergevin left the 'Hawks to be the Habs GM, so a deal was struck.
As a result, Quenneville fired assistant coach Mike Haviland, who was thought to be a little too close to Bowman and who Quenneville inherited from the previous head coach, Denis Savard. Quenneville will get to pick the replacement, which is the first time Bowman granted him full control over his coaching staff since he was hired in October, 2008. Thus he will stick around to see if he can get the Blackhawks back to the Cup final.
A good part of the problem may be that Stan Bowman also inherited Quenneville when he became GM in July, 2009. Historically, that's never worked well in the NHL.
There were lots of rumours of trouble between Quenneville and Bowman, with Blackhawks management split into either camp. On one side were the coaches and on the other were the Bowmans, Stan and his father Scotty who acts as the team's senior adviser, and player development director Barry Smith, a long-time Scotty Bowman retainer. But it was not until Quenneville appeared on a conference call with the media this week that the tension was publicly acknowledged.
Quenneville raised eyebrows around the league with his reason for firing Haviland: "I had an assessment that there is some dysfunction to our coaching staff and we need a change."
Even though the lack of success of the Blackhawks' special teams and the role of assistant coaches Mike Kitchen and Haviland in that were flashpoints this season, the firing was not about competency but loyalty. Haviland is a good coach but Quenneville obviously questioned where the assistant's loyalty was. Kitchen, on the other hand, is a long-time friend and colleague of Quenneville's, going back to their days with the Toronto Maple Leafs organization in the 1990s.
Someone familiar with the Blackhawks situation recounted a conversation he had with a veteran NHL head coach from another team. "He said it is more important that I have an assistant who is loyal. He may not be as good a coach but I'd sacrifice that for his loyalty," the fellow said, implying that one person looking out only for No. 1 is death to coaching staff.
This, by the way, is not to say Kitchen is a lesser coach. He is taking some lumps in the Chicago media along with Quenneville but is well-respected by his peers.
Things were going well enough between Stan Bowman and Quenneville last season until the Blackhawks hit a nine-game losing streak in February. It got nasty over the power play, which was first handled by Haviland and then Kitchen.
Three games into the losing streak, after Scotty Bowman was with the Blackhawks on a road trip, Smith was brought in to work with the power play. The sight of him on the ice at practice while the other assistants watched was unusual enough to raise questions about who was in charge. The questions were brushed off but it later became clear Quenneville did not have a say in the matter.
Smith did not effect a lasting turnaround and those who were in position to know said Quenneville finally had a showdown with Stan Bowman about it at the end of the season. Smith was far less visible during the playoffs and he will no longer play a coaching role as long as Quenneville is the head coach.
Now, it all depends how the team does next season. If the Blackhawks challenge for the Stanley Cup, everybody stays employed, at least if they want to. If not ...