The king is dead
Just a handful of weeks after giving his President and General Manager votes of confidence, Blackhawks owner Rockwell Wirtz today at least partially, yet dramatically, reversed course, firing the aforementioned team President and CEO John McDonough.
Blackhawk nation finds itself in a state of shock at the news. And yet, for some, especially those of us here at The Rink, it is not a big surprise. We had expected it before the vote of confidence.
McDonough has his supporters—the “he won three Cups and turned the team around” epitaphs are many. But, facts are pesky things. And Wirtz, to his credit, as a smart, shrewd businessman, can see them plain as day.
What turned the fortunes of this franchise around 10–15 years ago were a series of good draft picks, trades and free agent signings, a true rebuild that, at the time, was long and painful. But, it eventually paid off in the form of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa—all acquired by the GMs who preceded McDonough’s handpicked “team player,” Stan Bowman.
And great teams, like great cars, in turn, sell themselves. Marketing can only get in the way if it is really, really bad. Otherwise, if you build it, they will come.
And they did.
Sure, it probably was McDonough’s big idea to put home games on local television and hire back Pat Foley as the team’s play-by-play man. But, after the decades-long ineptitude and fan alienation of Wirtz’ father, Dollar Bill Wirtz, there was nowhere to go but up in the fans’ eyes. McDonough just grabbed the lowest of low hanging fruit.
The young, brash, big and talented team that won the Cup in 2010—almost entirely built by Dale Tallon, Mike Smith, Rick Dudley and Marshall Johnston, and for the most part before McDonough’s tenure began—formed the core of the remaining two Cup teams as well.
And along about 2015, the Hawk front office, swollen with functionaries and false pride, began handing out massive contracts with no movement clauses—including one to a slow Russian forward who had yet to play in a Blackhawk uniform, with McDonough’s full review and approval.
And the price of that arrogance came due in successive seasons, as with each humiliating playoff elimination, followed by two (and possibly three) years out of the playoffs completely, it became more and more apparent that something was wrong with the Hawks’ front office.
And it was McDonough’s show, make no mistake.
Suddenly, with the exit of Marian Hossa, the decline of Brent Seabrook and some would argue Keith as well, with a string of missed draft picks and overhyped prospects, year after year, the celebrated Hawk front office could not get out of its own way. Fingers began to be pointed, and a Hall of Fame coach was replaced with an AHL coach who was younger than some of the team’s best players, which has not worked out.
At that time, McDonough declared himself accountable, and some of us started to wonder when Wirtz would take that to its logical conclusion.
Now we know. The king is dead.
Long live the king
Already, theories abound as to what’s next. Why is Bowman still around—could he have been part of an insurrection? Doubtful, and Bowman will likely be gone sometime this summer, or “reassigned” within the organization.
The idea that Chris Chelios or Eddie Olczyk will be the next team president has been floated.
But, while you cannot rule anything out, Wirtz’s bold move today signifies another is likely soon to follow. In all likelihood, Wirtz will go out and hire the best available visionary leader for his hockey team. And, in light of the huge importance of making excellent hockey decisions going forward, it will probably be not only an executive with a hockey background, but one with some proven bona fides in management—and likely from outside the organization at this time.
Firing Stan Bowman and retaining McDonough, as some would have preferred, would have been like cutting out a small tumor and leaving the cancer to slowly destroy the body. Wirtz did the right thing today.
Let’s all commend him for that and hope it is just a prelude to an even better move.
All for now, comment below.