As the Chicago Blackhawks begin the offseason, general manager (GM) Kyle Davidson will likely approach the head coaching position ahead of the NHL Draft this year. From recently fired Barry Trotz to a young and rising face, the Blackhawks could go in many directions to fill the job. However, although Davidson relieved former assistant coaches Marc Crawford and Rob Cookson on May 1, that doesn’t mean current interim head coach Derek King won’t get the permanent job. In fact, Davidson made it clear during his season-ending press conference last week that King was a candidate for the job.
This begs the question: should the Blackhawks keep King as a permanent head coach until 2022-23? King, 55, took over from former head coach Jeremy Colliton on November 6 amid a miserable 1-9-2 start. Despite Chicago’s setbacks, he’s done an admirable job of regaining some composure among his players and keeping the mood light in the locker room, but that doesn’t mean he’ll be back next year as a head coach or even assistant coach.
Now, King has no other NHL head coaching experience. Still, while there are concerns if he were to stay in the role, there are also reasons the Blackhawks should consider keeping him. Here are three pros and three cons if the Blackhawks retain King as head coach in 2022-23.
For: King Keeps It Light
As soon as the Blackhawks fired Colliton and brought King in from the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League (AHL) to fill his role, something that immediately stood out about King was his upbeat personality and demeanor. Right from his introductory press conference, he was joking with reporters and providing a breath of fresh air that differed from Colliton, who often seemed much more stoic and uptight during his media availability. Even though Davidson hadn’t officially declared Chicago’s future a “rebuild” when King came to Chicago, King seemed to understand the team‘s situation as the Blackhawks’ playoff hopes were pretty much dashed when came on board.
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With so much uncertainty heading into 2022-23 and a finish in the final five possible, if not likely, King could be the perfect developmental coach for Chicago and its youth. Personality isn’t everything when it comes to coaching, but King’s relaxed approach could pay off for the Blackhawks, given they’re unlikely to be in contention next year.
Cons: Lack of experience
While rebuilding may be a top priority for Chicago, King’s lack of experience as an NHL head coach is a slight concern. While an experienced “win now” type coach such as Trotz may not be needed for the Blackhawks, if the team does indeed look at the big picture and focus on someone who could help Chicago struggle again sooner rather than later, King might not be the best option.
He may know the Blackhawks and their structure, but hiring a successful veteran would give Chicago the chance to have an experienced, credible voice that King doesn’t necessarily bring yet.
Pros: It brings humility and honesty
In his early days with the Blackhawks, King wasn’t afraid to rely on Crawford for help, who spent 16 seasons as NHL head coach before coming to Chicago as an assistant coach. in July 2019. He also seemed interested in getting to know his players on a personal level and growing with them instead of emphasizing power and control. King never had an ego either, which helped lighten the mood in the team.
At the same time, despite his easy-going demeanor, King also wasn’t afraid to blame himself during Chicago’s tough times and honestly discuss areas for improvement. Many, including myself, have appreciated his transparency and willingness to speak up without rarely disparaging or calling out his players. This balance of humility and honesty, in addition to being a general player coach, could make King an intriguing candidate for the permanent position given that not all coaches have these traits.
Con: He’s not a new face
Staying in-house isn’t always a bad thing. Just ask Blackhawks CEO Danny Wirtz who justified hiring Davidson as a permanent GM by understanding Chicago culture during his introductory press conference, which I think is reasonable. While the same may be true for King from a coaching standpoint, a fresh face could be key for the Blackhawks given they are still in the early stages of their rebuild.
Hiring someone from the outside could be a big step for the Blackhawks as they enter a new era. A new voice could offer players, fans and even management new ideas, especially if they are able to connect well with younger players and have experience in a rebuild. A good example of this concept is David Quinn, who was previously head coach at Boston University before serving in the same position for the New York Rangers from 2018 to 2021 until the team let him go. the last offseason.
King, of course, has experience with a young squad, given he worked for the IceHogs from 2016-2021 before joining the Blackhawks. However, it is not new. Although he said he could make some “adjustments” if he got the permanent job, according to Phil Thompson of the Chicago Grandstand (from ‘Derek King says he would make ‘adjustments’ to Chicago Blackhawks training schedule if he returned as coach, The ChicagoTribune4/12/22), it doesn’t necessarily mean it would offer a new perspective or significantly elevate the on-ice product.
Pros: King knows his players
There are some uncertainties about what Chicago’s roster might look like next year. Restricted Free Agents (RFA) Kirby Dach, Philipp Kurashev, Dominik Kubalik and Dylan Strome have yet to sign, and I would say it’s possible the latter duo won’t be back. Just about anything could be on the table for the Blackhawks this offseason, especially if Davidson takes an aggressive approach reminiscent of this year’s deadline when he surprisingly traded forward Brandon Hagel to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Even though the Blackhawks have some new faces next year, it’s entirely possible that next year’s team will look like this year’s. With 19-year-old forward Lukas Reichel likely to become a fixture in Chicago’s top nine forward squad and young defensemen like Alex Vlasic, Alec Regula and Ian Mitchell looking to take the next step, it helps that King has worked with these and other players during his tenures in Chicago and Rockford.
Disadvantage: Consistency is a concern
While there’s no doubt the Blackhawks improved under King after he took over, that doesn’t mean the results have always been consistent. In King’s first month, more or less, the Blackhawks seemed stronger defensively and had a more aggressive style of play. As the season continued, however, many of the defensive mishaps Chicago suffered in its first month under Colliton began to reappear, despite the club’s youth movement becoming more evident.
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While that’s what you might expect with a struggling, rebuilding club, the Blackhawks just couldn’t find an identity this season. It’s not necessarily King’s fault, especially since he was recruited after the start of the season, but hiring a new voice could solve this problem.
To keep or not to keep the king
There are certainly other arguments for and against giving King the permanent job next season. However, while I appreciate King’s transparency, attitude and willingness to connect with his players, it would be in Chicago’s interest to find a new voice for 2022-23, perhaps keeping King as associate or assistant coach.
The Blackhawks are rebuilding. Hiring someone like Trotz, who probably wants to win, might not make much sense, but there are plenty of other intriguing options on the market that could help solidify the Blackhawks’ identity. Finding consistency during a rebuild may seem difficult, but it should be a goal for Chicago next year. Bringing in a fresh perspective with similar character traits to King and a willingness to embrace club culture would be a smart move to help guide the rebuild, even if it’s not a long-term solution.
Connor Smith covers the Chicago Blackhawks for The Hockey Writers. He is from Naperville, Illinois, and recently graduated with a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Ball State University in May 2022, with summa cum laude. This fall, he plans to attend the Medill School of Journalism in Chicago to further his education and earn his master’s degree. With The Hockey Writers, he wrote and edited for The Ball State Daily News, Ball State’s on-campus student newspaper, and was an intern for Best Version Media (BVM) Sports and Jersey Column, a Georgia-based sports blog. You can find more information about Smith and his work in his online portfolio, connornsmith0719.wordpress.com.