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Blackhawks should follow Bulls’ blueprint for hiring new front office leadership

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Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz should pursue a “hockey” person to fill the team’s president vacancy.

2017 NHL Draft - Rounds 2-7 Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images

In a two-week span, the Blackhawks and Bulls have reshaped their respective front offices in hopes of becoming relevant once again.

On April 13, Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf reassigned John Paxson to senior advisor of basketball operations and named Arturas Karnisovas the new executive vice president of basketball operations. Paxson’s general manager, Gar Forman, was fired and is no longer part of the organization and Karnisovas has reportedly hired Marc Eversley as Forman’s replacement. For now, coach Jim Boylen remains in place.

Two weeks to the day of the Bulls’ front office shakeup, Blackhawks chairman Rocky Wirtz released president and CEO John McDonough after 13 seasons with the organization. Wirtz’s son Danny, who is the vice president of the Blackhawks, will be the interim president while the organization conducts its search for a new president. Stan Bowman, senior vice president and general manager, and coach Jermey Colliton still have their jobs.

“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,” Danny Wirtz said in a release. “I look forward to working with Rocky to identify our next leader.”

Both Reinsdorf and Wirtz used their respective league’s seasons being on pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic to reassess their team’s future. The Blackhawks and Bulls have missed the playoffs the past two seasons — with head coaches who were hired mid-season in 2018 — and were in position to again when their leagues were suspended.

Reinsdorf made his long overdue front office changes almost a month to the date of the NBA’s shutdown. Karnisovas, who has nearly two decades of front-office basketball experience, is responsible for all decisions made in the team’s basketball operations department and not in the business area — a department led by president and COO Michael Reinsdorf, Jerry’s son.

McDonough oversaw the Blackhawks’ business operations, including marketing and fan experience. He put games on local television, created the annual Blackhawks Convention and helped build the team’s 531-game home sellout streak. While McDonough took care of the business side, Bowman ran the hockey operations once he was promoted to GM in July 2009. It’s an area Bowman knows well having been in the department in some capacity since 2000.

Wirtz said he wants a “new mindset to successfully transition the organization to win both on and off the ice,” and in order to accomplish that he should follow Reinsdorf’s blueprint.

  • Make Danny Wirtz or a new hire be in charge of business operations and not hockey.
  • Hire someone from outside the organization with front-office experience in hockey, which is something McDonough didn’t have with his 24 years with the Cubs, to lead the hockey operations.
  • Let the new hockey ops hire decide whether or not Bowman moves into a senior advisory role, remains GM or is no longer part of the organization.
  • The new hockey ops hire along with Bowman or a new GM determines if a coaching change is needed.

It’s a simple, yet effective, logical path to begin evaluating with fresh eyes on the on-ice product which can give the Blackhawks back their biggest selling point — winning.