When Jeremy Colliton took over as the head coach of the Chicago Blackhawks in Nov. 2018, he faced numerous challenges. He had huge shoes to fill replacing the legendary Joel Quenneville, not to mention inheriting a not so good team. He was touted for his success with young players, and that was obviously the direction the Blackhawks were headed.
But could he earn the respect of the veterans? Three-time Stanley Cup champions Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook had all been in the league for a long time, and seen their fair share of success. How were they going to handle an upstart coach with no NHL experience telling them what to do?
I’d argue Colliton did earn the respect of the Core Four, as they’ve been dubbed. But it took some time, and the group definitely had their struggles and growing pains along the way. Now Toews unfortunately isn’t playing because of illness, and Seabrook won’t play again due to insurmountable injuries.
One player that has found a cohesive fit with Colliton is 32-year-old Kane. It appears the two have a common goal, and are working together to benefit each other and the team.
Kane as a Leader
With Toews not in the lineup, Kane has certainly become the de facto captain of the Blackhawks. It’s one thing to lead production-wise. Kane’s had that covered for a while now. He consistently leads the team in goals, assists and points season after season. Sure enough, at the time of this writing he’s in first place by a longshot with 30 assists and 41 points. Alex DeBrincat is second with 14 assists and 29 points. Yes, DeBrincat has him beat with 15 goals to Kane’s 11. But there’s that minor detail of Kane assisting on the majority of the Cat’s tallies.
Kane has also stepped up this season in the locker room and off the ice. Being one of the oldest and most experienced players on the team, this is a natural progression. And as referenced above, being one of the most successful doesn’t hurt either. But Kane seems to be fully embracing his new role. Colliton recently commented on Kane’s leadership both on and off the ice.
His production is better than ever, but to me it’s all about the work ethic away from the puck and willingness to put pressure on the puck and create transitions for himself and his linemates, too. That type of team-first mentality, that’s what we’re trying to build here so we can have long-term success. Not only is he doing it, but he’s encouraging other guys to do it. When you’re unselfish, it comes around. When he’s driving that, it sure is powerful.
Let’s face it; anything Kane does is powerful with this young group. A lot of these guys grew up idolizing Kane. Now they’re on the same team as him. Kane, who lives and breathes hockey, has made it a habit of playing puck games after practice with the younger players. He might be older than them, but it doesn’t really matter when they have hockey in common. Stan Bowman, Blackhawks’ President of Hockey Operations/General Manager, had nothing but praise for the way Kane has taken the youngsters under his wing.
But I’m not surprised about what I’ve seen from Dunc (Duncan Keith) or Patrick. Patrick is one of the best players in the world, one of the best NHL players ever, but he’s very unassuming for a superstar. He’s always gravitated toward younger players, yet he fits in with all groups and individuals. Great personality, great wisdom. And obviously, very competitive. Leads by example.
Kane is a superstar. He could easily be aloof, or think he’s better than everyone else. Expect special treatment. But he’s not doing that. Instead, he’s working hard and leading by example. There’s no doubt this is helping the team’s acceleration and growth.
Colliton Supporting Kane
As referenced above, Colliton recognizes how Kane is influencing the team, and he’s doing everything he can to support him. Kane is on the top line and the top power play unit. This obviously goes hand in hand with the veteran consistently having the highest ice time among forwards.
In other words, Kane is given every opportunity to succeed. It’s not uncommon for Colliton to double shift Kane, putting him out with one of the other lines to optimize his talents. Sometimes Kane stays on the ice for the entire two minutes of the power play. When the other players change, he simply waits for the second unit to join him.
On Feb. 23 against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Kane recorded a substantial 3:12 minutes of ice time in the overtime frame. Remember, overtime lasts five minutes, and it’s very fast-paced three-on-three hockey. Kane’s normal OT partners, DeBrincat and Keith, recorded 2:35 and 2:32 minutes, respectively. Kane pretty much just refused to come off the ice. Do you think he heard about that from Colliton after the game? I seriously doubt it.
Kane knows what his body can handle, and Colliton gives him the leeway to be the playmaker he knows he can be. Sure, one could argue he’s taking away ice time from the younger players. And I guess to a certain extent that’s true. But we can’t exactly complain about the youth not getting their opportunities.
Six rookies have made their NHL debut with the Blackhawks this season. Pius Suter is one of them, and he’s centering Kane on the top line. Defenseman Adam Boqvist is in just his second season, and he’s quarterbacking the first power play unit. Defenseman Nicolas Beaudin and forward Brandon Hagel both appeared in just one contest last season, but many more this season. It’s a combination of youth and veterans, and Colliton is doing an commendable job of balancing that.
Kane’s Support of Colliton
The respect goes both ways. Kane is the first to give kudos to his head coach. Here’s what Kane recently had to say regarding Colliton.
No, I just think he’s a really smart guy. And seeing this year, where it’s a lot of young guys (who) have come up and are playing for NHL jobs and NHL roles, they really buy into the system. And his system works when you buy into it. There’s no doubt about it. You trust how smart of a coach he is, and how when you do the right things it’s going to pay off for you. Whether it’s been this year or last year in the bubble against Edmonton. It’s a work in progress. He’s such a big communicator, where he wants to check in every day or every couple days just to see what’s going on in your head. We can share certain ideas on what’s going on on the ice to help our team out or help us in certain situations. Same things with him. There’s really not any satisfaction, you’re always trying to get better and it’s always fun to work with him. A lot of young guys have bought into the way that we need to play to be successful. He’s really been at the forefront of that.
(from ‘Blackhawks mix progress with pain as Bolts beat the buzzer in thriller: 12 observations’, The AthleticCHI – 3/5/21)
It’s true we’ve seen Colliton and Kane skating and talking at practices, apparently bouncing ideas off one other. As Kane referenced above, it appears Colliton is interested in his input. Keeping the lines of communication open with your star player is a very smart strategy. As we all know, Colliton doesn’t have a whole lot of experience in the league yet. Why not lean on a player who does?
Obviously there’s a mutual understanding between Kane and Colliton. They’re working together to support each other’s strengths. And they both have the same goal in mind; to make the Blackhawks a better team. This sounds like a pretty good combination. Let’s see where it takes them.
Avid Chicago Blackhawks fan and follower! Would much rather be reading and writing about hockey than cooking and cleaning. Otherwise known as The Hockey Housewife.