New Chicago Blackhawks head coach Trent Yawney. (AP \'05/Nam Y. Huh)
The Blackhawks fired defence-oriented coach Trent Yawney and replaced him with assistant Denis Savard - a Hall of Fame player whose No. 18 hangs from the United Center rafters. Expect a faster pace to come with the new coach.
"We want to be a pressure team," said Savard, who joined the Blackhawks in 1997 as an assistant coach and will be behind the bench Wednesday against Dallas. "We've got to score more than one or two goals to be able to win. . . . We have to be responsible defensively, but offensively, we have to be a little more creative."
Yawney, in his second season coaching the Blackhawks, had 33-55-15 record and one season left on his contract.
Chicago has 16 points this season - only Columbus has fewer - and could be on the way to missing the playoffs for the ninth time in 10 years.
"We're eight points out of the playoffs," general manager Dale Tallon said. "We've only won three of the last 15 games. We want to make a run."
Tallon revamped the roster after the Blackhawks finished 26-43-13, the third-worst record last season. During the pre-season, the team seemed faster and more skilled, but the Blackhawks have not met expectations.
"I know that I can turn this around," said Savard, who played 17 years with Chicago, Montreal and Tampa Bay. "We're going to be a team that is exciting to watch. We're going to create a lot more, offensively, with the system we're going to use."
Savard said the team will be more aggressive forechecking, and he expects that to lead to more opportunities on offense.
"We have to play better; that's just a fact," forward Tuomo Ruutu said. "Maybe (Savard) can bring some new things to our team, but I don't think it's going to be totally different. He can't change everything."
Although he is not signed for next season, Savard said he expects to be retained. For that to happen, Tallon said Savard "has to get us close to the playoffs."
The Blackhawks went through an 0-7-1 slide this season and have been hurt by injuries to forwards Martin Havlat and Michal Handzus and goalie Nikolai Khabibulin.
"We scored (17) goals in the last 13 games," Tallon said. "With any offence at all, we're closer to .500 than we are. . . . Once the injuries occurred, we changed our style, and we wanted to play those close-to-the-vest type games. I don't think in the new rules you can play that way."
Although Tallon said there was no tension between him and Yawney, captain Adrian Aucoin sensed the GM and coach "weren't on the same page."
"It was just a vibe," Aucoin said.
Still, he was surprised by the move. Aucoin said most players thought a trade - not a coaching change - was coming.
"It's a little wakeup call for everybody," he said.
Yawney coached the Blackhawks' minor-league affiliate in Norfolk, Va., for five seasons, taking the Admirals to the playoffs five straight times.
He made his NHL debut as a player with Chicago in 1988 and played with the Blackhawks until traded to Calgary in 1991. He spent parts of five seasons with the Flames.
Yawney then joined the St. Louis Blues before returning to the Blackhawks in 1997 as a free agent. After breaking his arm the following season, he assisted the coaching staff and in 1999 was hired as an assistant for Chicago under coach Lorne Molleken.
"It's not about the coach," Ruutu said. "It's about the players, and we should do better."