Ever since the Chicago Blackhawks were knocked out of the first round the NHL playoffs rumors swirled regarding the coaching staff. After winning the Stanley Cup in 2010, and subsequently having to blow up the team, the Blackhawks have struggled with high expectations for two seasons in a row and have lost in the first round in the past two postseasons.
There were rumors that head coach Joel Quenneville might be headed to coach in Montreal but after a few days of speculation Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman and Quenneville himself denied the reports. However, change was needed and instead of a major coaching change in Chicago the team decided to part ways with assistant coach Mike Haviland, in what appears to be a somewhat controversial decision.
By some accounts, there was dysfunction in the coaching staff and between the coaches and the players. Haviland was already an assistant in Chicago when Quenneville was hired, who brought his own assistant to the team by the name of Mike Kitchen. It's well established that Kitchen and Quenneville are good friends and the fact that Haviland was not "his guy" is likely the reason for the change, which appears to be Quenneville's decision and backed by Stan Bowman.
What is interesting about this is that Kitchen is not considered by many to be a very good hockey coach, while Haviland is considered one of the top assistants in the country and likely had a good chance at the head coaching spot in Chicago had Quenneville left.
If Haviland doesn't get one of the head coaching positions that are bound to be available this summer, he could represent a very intriguing option for the Dallas Stars as an assistant coach who could undoubtedly help the team moving forward.
While the specifics over why Haviland was fired by the Blackhawks are up to debate, there's no doubting that Haviland is one of the best assistant coaches in the NHL. Following a very similar path as Glen Gulutzan, Haviland never made it above the ECHL level as a player and eventually worked his way from ECHL coach to the coach of the Blackhawks AHL affiliates, before being named an assistant by the Blackhawks in 2008.
Also, like Gulutzan, Haviland is known as a "player's coach" who is well respected by his players and someone the fans love as well. A down to earth coach who doesn't rely on intimidation to get his point across, Haviland has built a reputation as one of the great up-and-coming coaches in the NHL and came close to landing the coaching position in Winnipeg last summer.
Haviland has generally been the coach in charge of the power play in Chicago, peaking as the fourth-best power play in the NHL last season at 23.5 %. The power play started off abysmally this season for the Blackhawks, however, and the job was handed to Kitchen -- and not much happened after that. The Blackhawks finished the season 26th in the NHL on the power play.
Haviland is also a coach that understands the balance between defense, goaltending and an aggressive offensive attack -- which is what the Stars have been attempting to build under Glen Gulutzan. While the relationship in styles and beliefs in how to build a successful team may be similar, where Haviland immediately becomes valuable tot he Stars in regards to his NHL experience as a coach. This was Paul Jerrard's and Gultuzan's first year in the NHL and there were times the inexperience would show, even with Willie Desjardins behind the bench as well. While Gulutzan showed he was capable and willing to learn and adapt, the presence of NHL experience on the bench cannot be overlooked.
This possibility is also tied to the fact that the Dallas Stars currently have a full coaching staff, which is why this proposal sounds odd to some. Yet the Stars also have a vacancy at head coach in Austin for the Texas Stars, and with the team looking to create a better relationship in systems between the AHL and the NHL -- it makes sense to have one of the assistants in Dallas take the head coaching position in Austin.
There has been speculation that Paul Jerrard could be offered the job in Austin, yet perhaps Willie Desjardins would be the best option. Desjardins has been with the Stars the past two seasons after being the head coach of the Medicine Hat Tigers of the WHL and has gained a reputation as a very good assistant coach who excels at strategic decisions late in games. He has also been an extremely successful coach in the Canadian juniors and is a coach who should be a great option to help develop and mold the young players coming through Austin over the next few seasons.
The Dallas Stars came surprisingly close the playoffs this season but the year was not without its major issues. The power play was one of the worst the NHL has ever seen -- and we don't say that lightly -- and while changes in the coaching staff haven't been called for, perhaps this is the perfect situation to not only bring in a good hockey mind at the NHL level but also provide a more streamlined relationship between Austin and Dallas.
The problem here, of course, is the fact that Haviland is very close to his own head coaching position and could be offered an AHL job as well. After being an assistant coach in Chicago for the past four years it's possible he'd rather be back in charge of his own bench at some level. Perhaps he could be offered the position in Austin, if the Stars feel a change at the NHL level is not needed.
At any rate, there is a debate currently raging over who's fault it was in Chicago for the failures of the past two seasons. Reading articles from the Chicago press and seeing the reactions from Blackhawks fans shows that most feel that Quenneville has been the issue and that Haviland was one of the few decent coaches on the bench, although there is certainly a divide between fans on the issue.
What can't be debated, however, is that Haviland could represent the sort of coach that would be invaluable next to Glen Gulutzan. An intelligent, progressive coach who works well with his players is exactly what many have said about Gulutzan and after the discontent between coaches in Chicago has become known, enough cannot be said about the need for harmony on a coaching staff.
This would also be an opportunity for the Stars to build continuity between the AHL team and the NHL team, with Willie Desjardins getting the chance to be a head coach above the WHL level. With more and more NHL teams turning to AHL coaches, this would also be a good opportunity for Desjardins to start his ascension to one-day NHL head coach.
It's an intriguing possibility and one we hope Joe Nieuwendyk certainly explores.