The Case Against Joel Quenneville
Through injuries and personnel changes, the one constant this season for the Avs has been Coach Joel Quenneville behind the bench. Considering all the adversity, I've felt he's done one of the best coaching jobs in the League this season: Adapting his game-plan to the cards he's dealt, like when the Avs became a collapsing defensive team with Joe Sakic, Paul Stastny and Smyth out of action. I had him as a potential Jack Adams winner before the season; should Colorado make the playoffs, that prediction is looking fairly solid.
Or so I thought. I was rather stunned to discover an anti-Quenneville vitriol from some Avs fans, captured in spirit in posts like this one by Joe from Mile High Hockey. Was I missing something?
I bugged Joe for some clarification and enlightenment on the case against Quenneville; and boy did he ever make one for the prosecution.
"The reason so many people were convinced that Q's amazing powers alone were all that kept the Avalanche from bottoming out during the injury period was that he finally had the lesser-skilled players he needed to properly employ boring trap hockey," said the Mile High Hockey editor, who requested to go by "Joe" in this article. (Obviously, Mr. Sakic wants to keep his association with the blogosphere a secret.)
Joe said he doesn't believe the team should "fire Q immediately because there's nobody really around to replace him. Instead they should allow his contract to expire at the end of the season, shake his hand, and start shopping for somebody new."
He spelled out some of the gripes the like-minded fans have against Quenneville. Keep in mind this interview was conducted before Smyth and Svatos were injured.
1. Line Juggling. Joe believes that lines have been broken up too quickly, even sometimes based on a single bad shift. This was occurring well before the team's rash of injuries.
2. Goalie Carousel. While he's settled on Jose Theodore now, Quenneville's juggling between the Avs' two keepers allegedly cost Colorado points earlier in the season. Both Theodore and Peter Budaj have shown they play well when given long stretches of starts. Until a run of seven starts from Budaj beginning Dec. 13, the longest either of the goalie went was three consecutive games. Although he's also a believer in Theodore, Joe remains in Budaj's camp: "Everybody seems to forget the 15-2-2 run of last season and how Budaj anchored that expertly. He's a capable starting goalie if given the opportunity."
3. Power play. Colorado is last in the League in power-play percentage, and was third-worst before the injuries. Joe believes Quenneville's been stubborn with his personnel on the power-play -- a stark contrast from his quick trigger at full strength.
4. Wyatt Smith. Truth be told, I wasn't sure who the hell Wyatt Smith was until Joe brought up his name. He's bounced around the League like a bad penny for several seasons, and played the first 25 games of this season. Three assists and a minus-4 later, and he was back in the sticks. It was 25 games too many for Avs fans and for Denver Post writer Adrien Dater, who threatened to light himself on fire if Smith remained with the team. Seriously.
5. Karlis Skrastins. Another questionable personnel decision from Quenneville, as Skrastins would get in the lineup and see more ice time than players like Jeff Finger. Ah, well ... he's Florida's problem now.
6. Tyler Arnason. Among the sins Joe lists regarding Q's dependence on Arnason: Bad on defense, bad on face-offs, and inconsistent on offense. He also believes that while players like Hlinka, Wolski and Svatos have taken grief from Quenneville for their play, Arnason has gotten off.
7. Winning. "Coaches are in the business of winning, and yet Coach Q doesn't do enough of it," said Joe, who frankly feels Theodore's goaltending has meant much more to Colorado hanging in this playoff race than anything his coach has done.
It's an interesting case to be made against a successful coach -- although one that hasn't taken any of his teams to the Stanley Cup Finals. Some of the gripes seem legit, like the goalie flip-flops and the lack of power-play success. I guess the last question, rhetorically, would be: Could another coach have kept the Avalanche in the hunt facing the adversity Quenneville faced? I believe there are a few that could have -- but not many.