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Mike Nadel: New Blackhawks coach better watch his back

Mike Nadel

When new Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said he and his players would "grow as a team," my only thought was: Grow fast.

And when he said his family was excited about moving to Chicago, three words popped into my head: You'd better rent.

Hey, the way the Blackhawks go through coaches - eight men have held the job in the last 11 years, combining for exactly one playoff victory - Quenneville might want to live at the Marriott.

According to my math, he has until Oct. 22 to win big. That's three games, and that's all Denis Savard was given this season before he was shown the door. (Savard actually coached four games, but GM Dale Tallon said the decision had been made before Wednesday's victory.)

No future Stanley Cup coach needs more than three games to prove himself, right?

Obviously, it doesn't matter which Wirtz is in charge. This remains an organization wandering aimlessly through the hockey desert, hoping to stumble upon an oasis before heatstroke settles in.

Dollar Bill Wirtz was a clueless codger whose mind was trapped in the Original Six era. After a refreshing start - during which he was applauded for dumping his dad's ban on televising home games - Rocky Wirtz appears to have wandered into his father's Desert of Lost Causes.

This isn't to say Quenneville is a lost cause. He had a superb record with the St. Louis Blues and the Colorado Avalanche. Although Colorado fired him a few months ago due to philosophical differences, history suggests the guy can coach a little bit.

Nor is this to say Savard was the greatest coach ever. He wasn't around long enough for anybody to know, just one full season and parts of two others.

This is to question the judgment of those who lead a futile franchise.

Just last week, team president John McDonough - the former Cubs marketing guru who brought Beanie Babies to Wrigley Field - gave Savard credit for developing an exciting team built around second-year stars Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.

During Thursday's press conference at the United Center, McDonough cited an "obligation" to the fans as the reason for firing "a class act." He later mentioned having "realistic expectations" for success.

Oh, so had Savard started an 82-game NHL season with three victories instead of two regulation defeats and a shootout loss, he'd still be coach?

"Hypothetically, probably," Tallon said. "But we don't deal in hypotheticals. We deal in wins and losses. We'll never know. We're moving forward."

OK, but don't EVER ask the fans for patience, sir.

The move's timing is vexing. Tallon watched Savard work last season. He spoke regularly with Savard during the summer. He observed Savard in training camp. He watched the exhibition games. Through it all, Tallon apparently thought Savard could do the job. And then, three games into the season ...

The man can't coach!

"It was a flat (preseason) and we got out of the gate flat and it just didn't seem that we carried over the energy (from) last year," Tallon said. "We thought we needed to send a message."

Mission accomplished. The message: We're operating from the seat of our pants.

"Denis means a lot to me," Tallon said. "Like a brother, but ... "

Tony Soprano used to say stuff like that, too. He'd get emotional about Big Pussy Bonpensiero or Tony Blundetto ... and then he'd gun down his "brudder" in cold blood.

Thankfully, Savard wasn't whacked quite so violently, but Tallon's sentiments rang equally hollow.

Truth be told, it's hard to tell exactly who fired Savard. Tallon? McDonough? Or was it Scotty Bowman, the all-time coaching legend hired as a "senior adviser"? Thursday, Bowman suggested Savard had to go because he was overmatched by the experienced coaches in the Western Conference's Central Division.

Well, maybe the experienced Quenneville will lead the Blackhawks to their first Stanley Cup since 1961. Or maybe he'll be fired after three years, three months or three games.

"We know the ups and downs of our profession," Quenneville said. "The only down part is what can happen happens."

Watch your back, brudder. Like the Sopranos, the Wirtz mob has a way of making ugly things happen.

Mike Nadel (mikenadel@sbcglobal.net) is the Chicago sports columnist for GateHouse News Service. Read his blog, The Baldest Truth, at www.thebaldesttruth.com.