For the last few years, the Chicago Blackhawks have been kind of stuck in gear. This season wasn’t going well, and up until the NHL shut down, it looked as if the Chicago would be on the outside looking in again for the postseason.
Then everything ground to a halt, and the biggest debate seemed to be when the draft should be held. However, in a press release today it was reported that Chicago Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz made a shocking move and fired president and CEO, John McDonough.
(Blackhawk Up’s take on the news can be found here.)
No one seemed to have seen this coming, but was this the right move?
Everyone has more or less agreed that there needed to be some kind of organizational change, and most people thought it was going to be General Manager Stan Bowman that was shown the door.
Honestly, if you looked around the Blackhawks organization, McDonough wasn’t underperforming.
In an old Forbes article, (yes, it’s from 2009), the praise heaped on McDonough is nothing short of extraordinary. If his job was to turn around a mess of an organization, then he not only succeeded but wildly exceeded expectations. From the Forbes article:
"“Rocky Wirtz’s rapid reinvention of the Blackhawks has largely been due to his decision to hire John McDonough as team president, a marketing guru who emerged from baseball’s Chicago Cubs. McDonough quickly modernized an organization that until recently did not have a human resources manager or even a receptionist.McDonough moved the Blackhawks’ radio broadcasts to regional powerhouse WGN Radio, organized a summer Blackhawks convention and secured the outdoor hockey game the NHL puts on during New Year’s Day. He scrapped the team’s ad agency and its outdated rotunda pricing scheme, under which all tickets on each arena level cost the same, whether for the corners or center ice.McDonough also instituted a commitment to winning. He fired coach Denis Savard after winning only once in this season’s first four games, replacing him with Joel Quenneville, who has guided the Blackhawks on-ice success. “It’s very complimentary for people to say it’s the greatest sports turnaround in all time, and that is for others to judge,” says McDonough. “I am very impressed with what has gone on, but we have a long way to go.”"
That was back in 2009. Now just over ten years later the Blackhawks have won three Stanley Cups, kept going a sellout streak of 531 home games, and the team has won over the public’s hearts and minds. By any definition, McDonough was doing his job well.
Why did he get fired then?
The press release offered no specifics but had this quote,
“While we can reassure our fans there will be hockey again, no one knows what that will look like. What we do know is that it will take a new mindset to successfully transition the organization to win both on and off the ice,” Wirtz said (Italics added)
This is a 180-degree turn-around from what Wirtz said in an article in The Athletic about a month ago.
"The fans’ displeasure with the state of the franchise has grown over the last few years, and it’s currently greater than it has ever been since Wirtz took over as chairman in 2007. There was a long stretch where he couldn’t do anything wrong. Even now, fans’ anger doesn’t seem so much directed at Wirtz, but the base has become more vocal about wanting change elsewhere. Fans want others in the organization, like president John McDonough, general manager Stan Bowman, and coach Jeremy Colliton, to be held accountable in the same way Joel Quenneville was when he was fired in November 2018.Wirtz isn’t on the same page as those fans. Asked about his confidence level in the trio, Wirtz replied, “I think they’re all good.”Does he envision all three returning next season?“Oh yeah, absolutely,” Wirtz said. “There’s not going to be any changes in the front office.”"
Well, Wirtz’s mind changed, and so did the front office.
Until the team announces McDonough’s replacement it won’t be clear what the new direction is, but clearly, Wirtz had become unhappy with McDonough’s performance.
Maybe Wirtz is worried that the team isn’t focused enough on winning on the ice, and spending too much time on ticket sales? That’s the only thing I can think of that McDonough could have done wrong.
If that’s the case though, why not keep McDonough and fire Bowman? It isn’t McDonough that is responsible for drafting, player development, and over-seeing the coaches. That’s all on Bowman, and that’s what makes this move confusing.
John McDonough was hired to turn the organization around, and he did.
If Joel Quenneville is a hall of fame coach, then John McDonough could very well be a hall of fame executive. The proof is in the pudding so to speak, and removing him from the organization is probably not the best course of action to have taken.
Only time will tell, and if a change at the top brings the Stanley Cup back to Chicago, then Wirtz made the right move. However, if the team slips further into mediocrity, then like firing Quenneville, this may be the kind of thing the team will go on to regret.