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3 questions on Blackhawks future after firing of John McDonough

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If McDonough’s job wasn’t safe, whose is?

sports hockey Photo by Scott Strazzante/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

The Blackhawks will have a new team president for the first time since 2007 after they fired John McDonough on Monday. The surprising news rocked the Chicago sports landscape and left many questioning what’s next for the Blackhawks.

What changed in the past five weeks and what did McDonough do wrong?

McDonough oversaw business operations, marketing and fan experience. He led the charge to have games broadcasted on local television — which was not done during the previous ownership — and created the Blackhawks Convention, which has happened every year since 2007. The Blackhawks’ attendance ranked first in the NHL, and at the time of the League’s pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic they were at a record 531 home game sellouts.

It was only five weeks ago that Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz told The Athletic there were “not going to be any changes in the front office.” He also included general manager Stan Bowman and coach Jeremy Colliton when referencing the front office.

Something must’ve changed Wirtz’s mind on McDonough and possibly others in the front office. Was it McDonough himself? What about seeing the overhaul the Bulls have done in their front office and the positive reception they’ve received? Did seeing the Blackhawks’ 2010 championship run re-air on NBC Sports Chicago spark his desire for change and win now?

The Blackhawks haven’t won a playoff series since the 2015 Stanley Cup Final and haven’t made the playoffs since 2017, when they were swept in the first round despite being the top seed in the Western Conference. Chicago was on the verge of missing the playoffs for a third straight season when the season was paused in March due to the pandemic.

Who will be the new president?

Wirtz’s son Daniel, who serves as the vice president of the team, will be the interim president. The Blackhawks will immediately begin a search for a new president.

“I take this interim role with the utmost responsibility to the team and will focus on resetting the framework for the next generation of the Chicago Blackhawks,” the 34-year-old Daniel said. “I look forward to working with Rocky to identify our next leader.”

Rocky Wirtz hired a person with a proven background in Chicago as a sports executive with McDonough. Will Wirtz do the same this time around or will he go outside the city?

“It will take a new mindset to successfully transition the organization to win both on and off the ice,” Wirtz said.

What happens to Bowman and Colliton?

As mentioned above, Wirtz said Bowman and Colliton would return for the 2020-21 season. But if Wirtz changed his mind on McDonough could the same be true for Bowman and Colliton?

Bowman joined the Blackhawks in 2000 as a special assistant to the general manager then spent two years as the director of hockey operations. He was promoted to assistant general manager under Dale Tallon and later replaced him in July 2009. The Blackhawks have won three Stanley Cup championships during Bowman’s tenure as GM, although how much credit he deserves for the 2010 title is often debated.

In November 2018, Bowman fired coach Joel Quenneville, who led the Blackhawks to those three titles, after a 6-6-3 start to the season and elevated Colliton from the AHL. Chicago has struggled to stay consistent under Colliton, who brought a new defensive system and assistant coaches in his second season. There were rumors this past summer of a three-year contract extension for Bowman, but Wirtz did not confirm the deal when asked about it in March. Both Bowman and Colliton’s contracts run through the 2020-21 season, but Wirtz’s confidence in the duo to turn things around before their deals end is now unknown.