Just two days after the end of the regular season, the Blackhawks’ coaching changes have already begun.
Neither associate coach Marc Crawford nor assistant coach Rob Cookson will return to the Hawks next season, the team confirmed Sunday.
“They have each made significant contributions to our club and we appreciate their dedication,” the team said in a statement. “We wish them the best in their future endeavors.”
Cookson’s departure is hardly surprising. The 61-year-old former Flames and Senators assistant –a longtime friend of Crawford — was brought into the Hawks in November to provide much-needed experience and manpower to Derek King’s shorthanded interim coaching staff. But his presence never seemed likely to be long-term; his contract was for 2021-22 only.
Crawford’s removal, however, is more notable. He’d been a fixture of the Hawks’ bench for the past three seasons and had a year left on his contract.
The Hawks somewhat surprisingly retained him in fall of 2019 when a number of physical abuse allegations against him by players he coached with the Kings and Canucks came to light. Crawford was suspended for a month and investigated, but rejoined the team after apologizing for times he “crossed that line,” reaching out to former players and stating he’d undergone nine years of counseling.
The Hawks also somewhat surprisingly retained him this past fall when Jeremy Colliton was fired and King was installed as interim. Fellow assistants Sheldon Brookbank and Tomas Mitell were also fired; only Crawford and goalie coach Jimmy Waite stayed.
And Crawford seemed to fill an even bigger role under King than he did under Colliton. He basically ran many practices, especially during the first few months of King’s transition, and provided an intense, vocal, leader-type personality to balance King’s easygoing vibe.
“We are really good together because we understand that you can’t take yourself too seriously,” Crawford said in November. “He likes to have fun. As much as I want to be serious, I also like to have fun, too. We’ve got a nice balance.”
Crawford’s extremely eventful Hawks tenure came to an abrupt end Sunday, though. And it may be just the start of another extremely eventful period for Hawks coaching.
General manager Kyle Davidson said April 1 the head coaching search would begin after the season, so it may have begun already. Even then, he was already doing “prep work and profiling on different things we want.” Davidson is scheduled to speak to the media again Tuesday.
King will certainly be a candidate. Davidson has praised his impressive job reuniting the team and keeping morale up during this difficult season, and has acknowledged his hands were tied in terms of his freedom to make tactical changes. He’d obviously have more freedom — and time to implement such changes — if named permanent coach.
King, too, has diplomatically (as always) made his interest in sticking around clear.
“The process will take place and if I’m part of it, great,” King said last week. “If not…I respect their decision. I have no grudges, no nothing. This has been a great experience for me, I’m a better coach for it, and we’ll see what happens.”
Numerous others will also be candidates. The Hawks may be hesitant to permanently hire yet another internal interim guy after already doing so with Davidson, too.
Former Stars coach (now Blues assistant) Jim Montgomery, former Rangers coach David Quinn and rising European coaching star Rikard Gronborg, who currently works in Switzerland but is widely perceived as ready for the NHL leap, are three of the most notable available coaches around the hockey world.