The Chicago Blackhawks fired coach Jeremy Colliton on Saturday.
With the team mired in a 1-9-2 start, interim general manager Kyle Davidson made the decision, naming Derek King interim coach.
Chicago has lost two straight since posting their first victory, and allowed a league-high 47 goals.
“Our on-ice goal remains the same: To build an elite system of hockey — and we have not delivered on that,” Davidson said in a statement. “The fact is our play and competitiveness must improve. Every game, every shift. Today’s coaching changes are difficult, especially given the incredible personal connections Jeremy and others have made with our players in their development.
“We appreciate Jeremy’s contributions to the organization over the last three seasons, and we wish him and his family the best.”
The decision comes a day after another puzzling effort, a 5-1 loss to the Winnipeg Jets. Marc-Andre Fleury, in his first season with the club, made 28 saves, but allowed some questionable goals in front a porous defense.
“It’s been hard on the players, the stretch we’ve been going through,” Colliton said after the loss. “We’ve had some good performances we haven’t gotten rewarded for, and it weighs on you. There’s no excuse. We can’t give ourselves a chance to win when you have the type of performance that we did tonight. But all we can do is move onto the next one and come out with energy and compete level and do a better job.”
Blackhawks’ ownership clearly felt the same about it being time to move on.
“It has been an extremely difficult couple of weeks for our organization, and we have had to come to terms with a number of necessary changes,” CEO Danny Wirtz said. As we look to move forward, we know we must earn back the trust of our fans, and we are grateful for the support of our entire community as we work to do just that. We appreciate all that Jeremy has brought to the Blackhawks, and we look forward to working with Derek as our interim head coach while we work to rebuild our permanent hockey operations leadership.”
King, promoted from AHL Rockford, will debut on Sunday, when the Blackhawks meet the Nashville Predators at United Center. The 54-year-old was a first-round pick by the New York Islanders in the 1985 NHL Entry Draft and went on to appear in 830 career games.
King was an assistant in Rockford when Colliton was summoned to replace Joel Quenneville behind Chicago’s bench in 2018-19, and King subsequently stepped into the IceHogs’ lead coaching role.
“This team has a lot of talent — talent that I am familiar with from my time in the organization — and I look forward to working with them,” King said. “I understand my role and position and [am] ready to do the work necessary to help the organization succeed.”
Davidson clearly has confidence in his choice.
“We appreciate Derek’s willingness to step in behind the bench as we embark on our search for our next permanent head coach,” Davidson said. “His NHL experience as a player and work with our younger players in Rockford over the last four years gives us great confidence in his ability to lead the Chicago Blackhawks in this interim role.”
Colliton, 36, a former NHL forward, was in his fourth season with the club, and in the first year of a two-year contract extension. Assistant coaches Tomas Mitell and Sheldon Brookbank also were let go with him.
Colliton’s dismissal is the latest chapter in a rough stretch for what was once regarded as one of the NHL’s marquee franchises.
The Blackhawks published a report on Oct. 26 that showed senior leaders with the organization largely ignored allegations that assistant coach Brad Aldrich sexually assaulted former first-round pick Kyle Beach during the team’s run to the Stanley Cup title in 2010. Aldrich told investigators the encounter was consensual.
Stan Bowman, Chicago’s general manager and president of hockey operations, resigned in the wake of the report, and the NHL fined the team $2 million. Quenneville, the Blackhawks’ coach at the time of the alleged assault, stepped down as coach of the Florida Panthers.
The firing of Colliton, by contrast, was prompted by the team’s on-ice performance. He stepped into a tough situation when he replaced Quenneville in November 2018, becoming the 38th coach in franchise history. Quenneville led Chicago to three Stanley Cup titles in his 10-plus years in charge.
Colliton was coaching at Rockford when he got the job 15 games into the season. Then his second and third seasons with the Blackhawks were disrupted by COVID-19.
He guided Chicago into the postseason in 2020, winning a four-game series against Edmonton before being eliminated by Vegas. The Blackhawks played without captain Jonathan Toews last season, but they stayed in playoff contention before fading to a 24-25-7 record.
Looking at a normal training camp and schedule for the first time, Colliton had high hopes for his fourth season. The Blackhawks acquired defenseman Seth Jones, forward Tyler Johnson and Fleury in three July trades and signed Jake McCabe, another veteran defenseman, in free agency.
But Colliton was cut loose after a sluggish start that included offensive and defensive issues. The coach was greeted with a round of boos when he was introduced before the team’s first home game, and fans chanted “Fire Colliton!” during a 6-3 loss to Detroit on Oct. 24 that also marked the end of the franchise’s sellout streak at 535 games.
Chicago’s early woes were compounded by stints in the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol for Patrick Kane, Riley Stillman, Jujhar Khaira and a couple members of Colliton’s coaching staff.
The 6-foot-2 Colliton was selected by the New York Islanders in the second round of the 2003 draft. He had three goals and three assists in 57 career NHL games — all with New York.
Information from ESPN NHL reporter Kristen Shilton and the Associated Press was used in this report.