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Blackhawks president search: 5 outside candidates

Could Carolina’s Darren Yorke or Columbus’ Bill Zito get their opportunity to run a hockey operations department?

2019 NHL Draft - Round 2-7 Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The Blackhawks will begin their search for a new president after releasing John McDonough from the role Monday.

McDonough, who spent 24 years with the Cubs and did not have front-office experience in hockey, handled business operations for the Blackhawks. Will Blackhawks chairman Rocky Wirtz keep the new president exclusively on the business side, over both business and hockey operations or solely on the hockey side?

Here are five outside candidates Wirtz could look to.

Mike Gillis (Former Canucks president of hockey operations, GM)

Gills has said he’d like to return to the NHL in a hockey operations role. He was the 2011 GM of the Year and architect of back-to-back Presidents’ Trophy winning seasons in 2011 and 2012 before he was fired in 2014. He’s been out of the NHL since then and has studied various professional sports teams around the world, including Australian League Football and Premier League.

Gillis, a left wing, played six NHL seasons with the Rockies (1978-80) and Bruins (1980-84).

Ron Hextall (Former Kings/Flyers VP of hockey operations/GM/asst. GM)

Hextall has been involved in hockey operations in some capacity since 1999 with the Flyers and Kings. He was a scout for three seasons (1999-2002) with the Flyers then spent four seasons as director of player personnel before leaving for the Kings. With Los Angeles, Hextall was the Kings’ AHL GM, assistant GM and VP of hockey operations (2006-13). He won the Stanley Cup in 2012 then returned to Philadelphia for the same roles for one season before being elevated to general manager.

Hextall built a good foundation in Philadelphia, but the Flyers did not win a playoff series with two first-round exits before he was fired in 2018. He rejoined the Kings the next year as a part-time advisor to hockey operations.

Hextall, a goalie, played 13 NHL seasons with the Flyers (1986-92, 94-99), Nordiques (92-93) and Islanders (93-94).

Mark Hunter (OHL London, co-owner/VP/GM; former Leafs director of player personnel/asst. GM)

The Blackhawks are quite familiar with Hunter and his brothers as they’ve drafted a fair share of players from the Hunters’ London organization. Hunter started with Sarnia as a head coach (1994-2000) before purchasing the Knights with his brothers. He was named the 2004 OHL Executive of the Year then won the 2005 Memorial Cup and three OHL championships (2005, 2013, 2016). He also led Canada to gold at the under-20 World Junior Championship this year as their GM.

Hunter does have some NHL front-office experience having served as the Leafs director of player personnel for four seasons (2014-18). He was a co-interim GM for three months (April to July 2015) with Kyle Dubas before Hunter mutually parted ways with Toronto when Lou Lamoriello took over.

Hunter, a right wing, played 12 NHL seasons with the Canadiens (1981-95), Blues (85-88), Flames (88-90), Maple Leafs (90-91), Whalers (91-92) and Capitals (92-93).

Darren Yorke (Hurricanes, Director of Player Personnel)

Yorke is in his 11th season with the Hurricanes, and second as director of player personnel. He started as a video scout (2009-17) and manager of scouting (2017-18) before taking on his current role. He’s in charge of the team’s amateur scouting and draft, which has been highly-rated by draft analysts the past few years.

Yorke would bring a new, open mindset with a track record of success developing young talent to Chicago’s rebuilding organization.

Bill Zito (Blue Jackets, senior VP of hockey ops/associate GM/alternate governor)

Zito is in his seventh season in Columbus’ organization and is frequently mentioned among the top candidates for GM jobs. He spent four seasons (2015-19) as the Blue Jackets’ AHL GM, which included winning the Calder Trophy in 2016. In 2019, he was promoted to his current roles where he focuses on contract negotiations, scouting, player development and salary cap management.

Zito, who lived in Chicago when he was a practicing attorney, is a co-found of Acme World Sports and previously was a player agent. He played collegiately at Yale.

Honorable mentions

Meghan Chayka (Co-founder, Stathletes)

Chayka’s analytics and hockey data company works with many NHL teams though it’s not publicly known if they work with the Blackhawks. She knows the business and would bring a new forward-thinking mindset to the organization.

Christian Lechtaler (SHL Frölunda president)

Lechtaler is the man behind Swedish powerhouse Frölunda’s recent success, winning the SHL twice in four seasons and Champions Hockey League in four of the past five seasons (2016-17, 19-20). He joined Frölunda in 2011 as an assistant coach for two seasons before spending three seasons (2013-16) as general manager until becoming the club’s president.