Blackhawks’ Chairman Rocky Wirtz sent shockwaves through the National Hockey League Monday when he relieved President and CEO John McDonough of his duties. Wirtz sent one clear and concise message to the Chicago Blackhawks: Nobody is safe. The Blackhawks have fallen on hard times, as they haven’t won a playoff series in five years. Change has been needed for the last three years, and McDonough’s dismissal was the first domino to fall.
However, it is important to note that McDonough’s domino can not fall alone. The firing of the man who is deemed most responsible for re-surging the Blackhawks from what ESPN deemed as the worst franchise in sports needs to simply be the first firing. McDonough reportedly wasn’t the easiest man to work for. Former employees reportedly acknowledged such and stated that they simply didn’t like working for the man.
John McDonough was an authoritarian. It was his way or the highway. Players were to adhere to strict guidelines with the media. Front office members were to dress formally at all times. Information was not to be leaked to the media. Organization members feared him. People had to walk on eggshells at the United Center. That isn’t a strong leader. That is a tyrant. McDonough needed to go. Now that he is gone, Rocky Wirtz needs to take a page out of Breaking Bad character Mike Ehrmantraut’s book.
This organization needs to re-haul, much like it did in 2007 when McDonough took over. The marketing and business side of the Blackhawks is fine, but the hockey operations has become a mess. That is a mess that Rocky needs to start cleaning. While McDonough’s dismissal was a step in the right direction, it isn’t enough to fix the team on the ice.
When Joel Quenneville was fired from his role of head coach of the Blackhawks in November of 2018, John McDonough sent a message that he was choosing general manager Stan Bowman over Quenneville. That message fell on deaf ears among Blackhawks fans. As the team continued losing in the post-Joel Quenneville era, the message began to sour and seats at the United Center began to empty.
That last part of the previous paragraph will grab the attention of Rocky Wirtz. Losing isn’t acceptable, but if every seat is filled, the losing can be tolerated. However, when the bottom dollar is in jeopardy, changes come rapidly. McDonough signed his career’s death warrant when he chose Bowman over Quenneville. So how much longer can Stan Bowman last in Chicago?
Step 1: Fire Stan Bowman
If you are looking for the biggest reason the Blackhawks haven’t won a single playoff game since 2016, look no further than Stan Bowman. Joel Quenneville didn’t grossly overpay an aging Brent Seabrook. John McDonough didn’t panic after being swept by the Nashville Predators and dump Artemi Panarin for a far-inferior player.
One could go on an on with Stan Bowman’s poor moves, and we did here, but let’s cut to the chase. There is a ticking clock on everyone in the sports world. If Joel Quenneville and John McDonough’s clock can run out with the Blackhawks, then Stan Bowman’s can be thrown off the side of a cliff.
Stan Bowman has made some good moves in his time as general manager. He revamped the 2010 Stanley Cup Champions after extreme salary cap issues and had them hoisting the Cup three years later. However, as everyone in the hockey world knows, Bowman didn’t build this core.
If it were not for Dale Tallon‘s doing prior to Bowman taking his job, we likely wouldn’t have three championship banners to look at in the United Center. Had Bowman been the man solely responsible for these, his leash would be longer, but he’s not.
One thing that makes dismissing Stan Bowman right now difficult is that the NHL Draft is in less than two months. This is not the greatest time to fire a general manager because, well, who is going to draft?
It can be simple. Fire Bowman and let Vice President of Amateur Scouting Mark Kelley conduct the draft. Kelley is the man doing a lot of the work anyway. He has all the information, and considering he has been exceptionally good at his job over his 14 years with the Blackhawks, he would probably stay with the new regime anyway.
Mark Kelley should probably receive at least an interview for Bowman’s job anyway. Simply put however, Stan Bowman can not keep this job. It is time for change. This is a “What have you done for me lately?” business and Bowman has come up considerably short in that regard. Keeping him around would be the ultimate half measure and it is one the Blackhawks can not afford.
Step 2: Fire Jeremy Colliton
Simply put, the Jeremy Colliton experiment just isn’t working. Stan Bowman tried to sell fans and his bosses that Joel Quenneville was the problem. A year and a half into Colliton’s reign as head coach, we have learned that surely isn’t the case.
The Blackhawks still can not defend well enough to survive in the NHL. The penalty kill has improved, but that can be attributed to personnel additions like Ryan Carpenter and Zack Smith. Colliton is the opposite of Quenneville. There is little to no emotion. There’s no fire and this team needs a kick in the behind.
Colliton isn’t the guy for that. Fans were waiting to see something special from Colliton and it hasn’t come yet. With Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane still just 31 years old, the Blackhawks do not have time to wait for Colliton to figure it out. No half measures or two-third measures. The Blackhawks need a proven guy behind their bench.
Rumors have been floated around for guys in the hockey world who can fill either of these roles. It will be exciting to see what exactly happens. One name that has been floated around is Eddie Olczyk, for both roles. Olczyk was the head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins from June of 2003 to December of 2005. He has served as Pat Foley’s broadcast partner in the television booth since 2006.
While it would be exciting to see Olczyk in an accelerated role, that comes with risk for a beloved member of the Blackhawks family. If Olczyk were to fail in either role, it would tarnish his legacy in Chicago. Just ask Robin Ventura how that worked for him with the White Sox. A once loved player quickly turned into a hated manager.
Olczyk is an extremely smart hockey mind and has said that he misses the competition aspect of one of those jobs. However, whoever takes on both these jobs faces an uphill battle. The Blackhawks are not in a great spot. They have an aging core, they’re not bad enough to get high in the draft, they do not have salary cap flexibility, and they are locked into several no-trade clauses.
Whether the next guy is Eddie Olczyk or not, they better get ready to come in and roll their sleeves up. This will be a challenge. Stan Bowman has left this team in poor shape. Jeremy Colliton hasn’t brought much to the table. Firing just John McDonough would be an incomplete job. Firing Joel Quenneville and not Stan Bowman in 2018 was a half measure. No more half measures, Rocky. It is time to clean house and start fresh.