Shock reverberated across Hawk Nation last night as the Chicago Blackhawks announced the firing of President and CEO John McDonough. McDonough was hired as Team President in 2007, immediately before what many viewed as one of the greatest franchise resurgences in sports history.
“Thirteen years ago, I recruited John to the Blackhawks because of his leadership, direction and vision,” Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz said. “John brought all of that to the table and more. His contributions went well beyond leading the team to three Stanley Cup Championships. He rebuilt the front office and helped guide the organization toward a winning vision. As difficult as this is, we believe it was the right decision for the future of the organization and its fans.”
Daniel Wirtz — Rocky’s son and Blackhawks vice president — will serve as interim president.
Although his tenure coincided with three Stanley Cup victories, McDonough was often a polarizing figure for many Hawk fans. Legendary play-by-play commentator Pat Foley has gone on record stating that his return to the organization was directly due to McDonough. In addition, it had long been rumored that McDonough was responsible for arguably the biggest free-agent acquisition in the Cup Era when Marian Hossa signed a 12-year, 62.8 million dollar contract in 2009 — a controversial move at the time, considering the team’s decision to walk away from Martin Havlat (Chicago’s lead scorer and MVP) that same day. Televising home games on TV again and bringing back once-ostracized Hawk Legends such as Stan Mikita, Bobby Hull, and Tony Esposito were two of the biggest accomplishments of McDonough’s tenure.
Ironically, it was this type of pull which certain fans resented in McDonough. Many viewed him as having a role in the firing of Dale Tallon, which is still a hot topic today. Whether rightfully or wrongfully, McDonough had been blamed or credited for numerous things — from coaching and personnel decisions to marketing gimmicks — because fans perceived his reach as exceeding his role. The question is: was this resentment justified; and did it play a part in his departure?
When viewed through the lens of Joel Quenneville’s firing last season, the question of McDonough’s reach becomes all the more important. Quenneville was fired because he was no longer successful in his individual (i.e. coaching) role, but what is the exact reason for McDonough’s departure? As far as his role as president and CEO, McDonough was still highly effective within the organization. Even though the Hawks have missed the playoffs for three straight years now, the team still holds an active sell-out streak of 531 games; and the Chicago Blackhawks are still considered one of the most popular clubs in the entire league.
Even if McDonough’s reach exceeded the typical role of a team president, it would nowhere near justify his firing before that of General Manager Stan Bowman, who has failed his sole responsibility of assembling a winning roster for the last three years now.
Perhaps the better question is: who is protecting GM Stan Bowman here — is it Rocky or was it McDonough? Is McDonough yet another fall guy for Stan, behind Dale Tallon and Joel Quenneville? Or is Rocky relying on his future president to continue cleaning house by (finally) firing Bowman?
Either way, McDonough’s firing was a monumental move by the organization and by Rocky, who — for all intents and purposes — had been a hands-off team owner until this very moment. This is the type of change that can reverberate for years, occurring at a moment when the entire organization is at an utter cross-roads. Long-time fixtures of the Chicago Blackhawks’ Cup Era are beginning to fade away and it will only be a matter of time before the core players follow. Just as Rocky’s initial induction as team owner, his most recent intervention symbolizes yet another seismic shift in the organization.