24 years ago, nobody knew what kind of coach the St. Louis Blues were hiring. Today, there’s only one or two names in the same category.
Hindsight is always a funny thing. If St. Louis Blues fans knew then what we know now, they’d have been more excited 24 years ago.
Instead, most of us were a little puzzled by the Blues choice for their new head coach. After firing Mike Keenan earlier in the season, the Blues named Jimmy Roberts as the interim coach but were conducting their search for a permanent replacement the entire time.
When the Blues announced Joel Quenneville as their 20th head coach, plenty of people were a little shocked. Some expected the team to wait until the offseason and talk to any of the head coaches that might have been available.
Outside the truly plugged in hockey world, not everyone knew who Quenneville was. I had heard the name, purely by being a fan of the Colorado Avalanche due to Patrick Roy being on the team. Even so, it was not like it was a forgone conclusion the Blues were getting a great coach.
You hoped that would be the case. Any time you hire an assistant off a championship winning team, you hope you’re getting the one that helped the most.
Plenty of times that is not the case. Just look at all the Bill Belichek coaching tree and how many have not had success as a head coach.
Not to point fingers at the man we’re discussing, but Mike Kitchen was hardly a sound replacement. We’re getting ahead of ourselves though.
24 years ago, Quenneville was just an assistant. He was coming off a Stanley Cup winning season in Colorado, but not everyone knew him.
He had been an assistant with Quebec and stayed with the franchise prior to that. He had a decent playing career, staying in the NHL for 14 years, most of which was spent with the Hartford Whalers.
It was appropriate that Quenneville ended up coaching when the Nordiques moved to Denver. He played three seasons with the Colorado Rockies before they moved to New Jersey. Interesting that Quenneville moved with a franchise as both a player and coach.
Nevertheless, at the time, there was no way of knowing what kind of coach the Blues would get. 24 years later, Quenneville is one of the winningest coaches in league history.
Only former Blues coach Scotty Bowman has more wins in NHL history. Quenneville would need more than 300 more wins to take the top spot, so I don’t see that happening but second-fiddle to a coach that won nine Stanley Cups is not bad.
Coach Q would finish his Blues career with 307 wins. That was double the amount of wins of his next closest Blues coach – 153 for Brian Sutter. The only coach to come close afterward was Ken Hitchcock with 248 wins behind the Blues bench.
Unfortunately, playoff success evaded Quenneville just as much as it had always done with the Blues. Despite a Presidents Trophy in 1999-2000, the Blues lost in the first round.
St. Louis would make the Western Conference Final the following season, but Quenneville was outdone by his former team, the Avalanche. Coach Q made the playoffs seven consecutive seasons, but finished with a 34-34 record in the postseason.
While it felt like it was a reasonable decision to let him go at the time, it still stings that Quenneville not only won a championship elsewhere, but three of them with the Blues rival the Chicago Blackhawks. That’s the definition of salt in the wound.
Quenneville is now the coach of the Florida Panthers, so Blues fans can feel free to root for his success again.
It’s funny how small statements in the past can end up being almost clairvoyant. In his introductory press conference, Quenneville said he felt this was the place his family could finally settle down.
January 5 1997
Joel Quenneville named Head Coach of the St Louis Blues replacing interim Head Coach Jimmy Roberts.
— STL Blues History (@STLBlueshistory) January 5, 2021
Little could even he have known what success he’d have. 18-15-7 was enough to sneak the Blues into the playoffs his first half year after leaving the Avalanche midseason.
Quenneville 45 wins in his first full season. He would set a then-franchise record of 51 wins two years later.
The points record stood for 14 years. That 114 points in 1999-00 still stands as the most of any Blues team.
There is a strong argument to be made, based on longevity and continuous success, that Quenneville is still the best coach in team history. Only a handful of others could lay claim.
Scotty Bowman usually makes the team’s coaching Mount Rushmore based on name alone and he did helm the team to three-straight Cup Finals. Bowman made his name elsewhere, if we’re honest.
Ken Hitchcock had a love/hate following with both players and fans. Only a lockout shortened year kept Hitch from obtaining five straight 100-plus point seasons. If he had been head coach for full seasons in all six of his years, he might have accrued more wins than Quenneville.
And, of course, almost everyone will put Craig Berube up there. Even in less than two full seasons, Berube vaulted to the top as soon as he hoisted the Stanley Cup.
But, it’s easy to forget how good Quenneville was. He made several Blues teams better than they might have been otherwise and that’s the sign of a quality coach.
Longevity is one thing, but you cannot win the most in a franchise’s history and be mediocre if that franchise has had any success.
The argument is an unwinnable one, no matter what side you take, but it cannot be said that Quenneville was not one of the best coaches in team history. Who knew that would be the case 24 years ago? All we knew was the man had one of the best mustache game’s in the league.