As the Chicago Blackhawks begin the offseason, something that general manager (GM) Kyle Davidson will likely address before this year’s NHL Draft is the head coach position. From the recently fired Barry Trotz to a young and rising face, there are many directions the Blackhawks could go when it comes to filling the gig. However, while Davidson relieved former assistant coaches Marc Crawford and Rob Cookson of their duties on May 1, it doesn’t mean current interim head coach Derek King won’t get the permanent position. In fact, Davidson made it clear during his end-of-season press conference last week that King is a candidate for the job.
This begs the question: should the Blackhawks keep King as permanent head coach heading into 2022-23? King, 55, took over for former head coach Jeremy Colliton on Nov. 6 amid a miserable 1-9-2 start. Despite Chicago’s woes, he did an admirable job regaining some composure among his players and keeping the atmosphere light in the locker room, but that does not mean he’ll be back next year as head coach or even an assistant coach.
Now, King lacks any other NHL head coaching experience. Yet while there are areas of concern should he remain in the role, there are also reasons the Blackhawks should consider keeping him. Here are three pros and three cons should the Blackhawks retain King as head coach in 2022-23.
Pro: King Keeps It Light
As soon as the Blackhawks fired Colliton and brought up King from the American Hockey League’s (AHL) Rockford IceHogs to fill his role, something that immediately stood out about King was his lighthearted personality and demeanor. From his introductory press conference, he was cracking jokes with reporters and brought a breath of fresh air that differed from Colliton, who often seemed much more stoic and uptight during his media availabilities. Even though Davidson hadn’t officially declared Chicago’s future as 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 he came on board.
With so many uncertainties heading into 2022-23 and a bottom-five finish 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 dividends for the Blackhawks, given they likely aren’t contending next year.
Con: Lack of Experience
Although rebuilding might be a top priority for Chicago, King’s lack of NHL head coaching experience is a slight concern. While an experienced, “win-now”-type of coach such as Trotz might not be necessary for the Blackhawks, if the team is indeed looking at the bigger picture and focusing on someone who could help Chicago contend again sooner rather than later, King might not be the best option.
He might know the Blackhawks and their structure, but hiring a successful veteran would give Chicago the chance to have an experienced and credible voice that King doesn’t necessarily bring yet.
Pro: He Brings Humility & Honesty
During his early days with the Blackhawks, King wasn’t afraid to rely on Crawford for help, who had spent 16 seasons as an NHL head coach before coming to Chicago as an assistant coach in July 2019. He also seemed to be interested in getting to know his players on a personal level and growing with them as opposed to emphasizing power and control. King never had an ego either, which helped relax the team’s vibe.
At the same time, despite his laid-back attitude, King also wasn’t afraid to take blame during Chicago’s rough stretches and honestly discuss areas of improvement. Many, including myself, appreciated his transparency and willingness to speak up without rarely bashing or calling out his players. This balance of humility and honesty, along with being an overall players’ coach, could make King an intriguing candidate for the permanent job considering not all coaches have these traits.
Con: He’s Not a Fresh Face
Staying in-house isn’t always a bad thing. Just ask Blackhawks’ CEO Danny Wirtz, who justified hiring Davidson as permanent GM as understanding Chicago’s culture during his introductory press conference, which I think is reasonable. Though the same might be true about King from a coaching standpoint, a fresh face might be key for the Blackhawks, given they are still in the early stages of their rebuild.
Hiring someone from the outside could be an important step for the Blackhawks as they embark on a new era. A fresh voice could offer players, fans, and even management new ideas, especially if they are able to connect well with young players and have experience working in a rebuild. A good example of this concept is David Quinn, who previously served as head coach of Boston University before serving in the same position for the New York Rangers from 2018 to 2021 until the team let him go last offseason.
King, of course, has experience working with a young group, given he worked for the IceHogs from 2016 to 2021 before coming to the Blackhawks. However, he isn’t new. While he’s said he might make some “adjustments” should he get the permanent job, according to Phil Thompson of the Chicago Tribune (from ‘Derek King says he would make ‘adjustments’ to the Chicago Blackhawks coaching scheme if he returns as coach, The Chicago Tribune, 04/12/22), that doesn’t necessarily mean he’d offer up a fresh perspective or drastically elevate the on-ice product.
Pro: King Knows His Players
There are some uncertainties regarding what Chicago’s roster could look like next year. Restricted free agents (RFA) Kirby Dach, Philipp Kurashev, Dominik Kubalik, and Dylan Strome have yet to sign, and I’d say it’s possible the latter twosome might not 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 if the Blackhawks have some new faces next year, though, it’s entirely possible next year’s squad could have a similar look to this year’s. With 19-year-old forward Lukas Reichel likely to become a staple of Chicago’s top-nine forward group and young defensemen such as Alex Vlasic, Alec Regula, and Ian Mitchell looking to take the next step, it’s helpful that King has worked with these players and others during both his Chicago and Rockford tenures.
Con: Consistency Is a Concern
While there’s no doubt the Blackhawks improved under King after he took the helm, that didn’t mean the results were always consistent. Through King’s first month, give or take, the Blackhawks appeared stronger defensively and had a more grinding style of play. As the season continued, though, many of the defensive mishaps Chicago suffered in its first month under Colliton began reappearing, despite the club’s youth movement becoming more evident.
Though this is what you might expect with a rebuilding and struggling club, the Blackhawks simply couldn’t find an identity this season. That’s not necessarily King’s fault, especially since he was brought in after the season began, but hiring a fresh voice could solve this issue.
To Keep or Not to Keep King
There are certainly other arguments both for and against giving King the permanent job next season. However, as much as I appreciate King’s transparency, attitude, and willingness to connect with his players, it would be in Chicago’s best interests to find a fresh voice heading into 2022-23, with possibly keeping King as either an associate or assistant coach.
The Blackhawks are rebuilding. Hiring someone such as Trotz, who probably wants to win, might not make a lot of sense, but there are many other intriguing options on the market that could help shore up the Blackhawks’ identity. Finding consistency during a rebuild might seem tough, but this should be a goal for Chicago next year. Bringing in a new perspective with similar character traits to King and a willingness to embrace the club’s culture would be a smart move to help guide the rebuild along, even if not a long-term solution.
Connor Smith covers the Chicago Blackhawks for The Hockey Writers. He is from Naperville, Illinois, and recently graduated from Ball State University in May 2022 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism, earning summa cum laude honors. This fall, he plans to attend the Medill School of Journalism in Chicago to further his studies and earn his master’s. Along with The Hockey Writers, he’s written and edited for The Ball State Daily News, Ball State’s on-campus student newspaper, and has interned for Best Version Media (BVM) Sports and Jersey Column, a Georgia-based sports blog. You can find more info about Smith and his work through his online portfolio, connornsmith0719.wordpress.com.