New Chicago Blackhawks head coach Trent Yawney. (AP \'05/Nam Y. Huh)
Assistant Denis Savard, a Hall of Fame player, will be the coach the rest of the season. Yawney, in his second season coaching the Blackhawks, had a record of 33-55-15 and a year 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 eighth time in nine 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."
Savard joined the Blackhawks in 1997 as an assistant coach. His first game in charge will be at home Wednesday against Dallas.
Savard played 17 years with Chicago, Montreal and Tampa Bay. The 44-year-old coach said the players must share the responsibility, but "we're looking to move forward and go in a new direction."
Although he is not signed for next season, Savard expects to be retained. For that to happen, Tallon said he "has to get us close to the playoffs."
Tallon, who expects to add a second assistant coach, revamped the roster after the Blackhawks finished at 26-43-13 and with the third-worst record in the 30-team NHL last season.
During pre-season, the team appeared faster, quicker and more skilled than last year, but the Blackhawks clearly have not met expectations.
"I know that I can turn this around," Savard said. "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."
He said the team will be more aggressive forechecking, starting with Wednesday's game, and he expects that to lead to more opportunities on offence.
"It's not about the coach," forward Tuomo Ruutu said. "It's about the players, and we should do better."
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.
Khabibulin was signed before last season to a US$27-million, four-year contract but has struggled with injuries and last year had trouble stopping the puck.
Havlat, who was leading the NHL in scoring when he sprained an ankle on Oct. 20, has played in just seven games. Considered one of the NHL's rising stars, he signed an $18-million, three-year deal before the season, even though he was limited to just 18 games last season with Ottawa because of injury.
"We scored (17) goals in the last 13 games," Tallon said. "With any offence at all, we're closer to .500 than we are."
Was the lack of goals the result of coaching?
"It's a combination of everything," Tallon said. "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, defenceman Adrian Aucoin sensed the GM and coach "weren't on the same page."
"It was just a vibe," Aucoin said.
Yawney coached the Blackhawks' minor league affiliate in Norfolk, Va., for five seasons, taking the Admirals to the playoffs each year.
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.
He 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.
Savard began his coaching career as an assistant in Chicago after retiring in 1997. He finished his career with 473 goals and 865 assists in 1,196 games.