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Blackhawks fire president John McDonough, signaling monumental change in franchise’s direction

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

John McDonough was fired Monday from his roles as Blackhawks president and CEO.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

After 13 years at the helm of the Blackhawks’ rise, Stanley Cup dynasty and recent downturn, John McDonough was fired from his role as the franchise’s president and CEO.

The shocking news, announced by the Hawks on Monday afternoon, signifies a monumental directional shift in the franchise’s approach to its post-dynasty era.

“It will take a new mindset to successfully transition the organization to win both on and off the ice,” chairman Rocky Wirtz said in a statement. “As difficult as this is, we believe it was the right decision for the future of the organization and its fans.”

Danny Wirtz, previously the Hawks’ vice president, will serve as interim president.

But the Hawks will nonetheless immediately begin the search for a new president, even while the 2019-20 season remains paused because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The timing of Monday’s firing is particularly strange, not only because of the uncertain status of the NHL’s schedule, but also because Rocky Wirtz definitively endorsed McDonough — along with general manager Stan Bowman and coach Jeremy Colliton — just last month.

Wirtz told The Athletic in mid-March that all three would “absolutely” return, adding that “there’s not going to be any changes in the front office.”

Mere weeks later, the biggest possible change in the front office has already occurred, and that change could potentially create a domino effect spilling down throughout the leadership chain.

Bowman’s fate was not mentioned in the announcement, but his job security is certainly now at an all-time low. After all, it was McDonough — who became Hawks president in 2007 and CEO in 2011 — who controversially ousted old-school GM Dale Tallon in 2009 and replaced him with the more analytical Bowman.

And with Bowman’s fate goes Colliton’s, given that Bowman controversially ousted coach Joel Quenneville in 2018 and replaced him with Colliton. The coach and GM have frequently spoken about how smoothly their mindsets toward strategy and team-building align.

For now, though, Bowman and Colliton remain on board, but McDonough — one of the flagship pieces of the Hawks’ 21st-century resurgence, in a less public but equally important role to Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews — does not.

McDonough, 66, was most influential in the team’s off-ice operations. The Hawks’ ongoing sellout streak of more than 500 consecutive games is just as big of a highlight of his tenure as the three Stanley Cups.

But the team’s struggles in recent years — the 2019-20 season, barring a postseason format change, will mark its third consecutive playoff miss — triggered sharp declines in resale ticket prices. The get-in price for some games this season fell below $20, and season-ticket holders complained of big losses. Yet in March, the Hawks still announced plans to increase the price of about 10 percent of season-ticket plans for 2020-21.

McDonough also ran a tight ship in terms of media access, perhaps best exemplified by the Hawks’ current ban on interviews during the pandemic.

Nevertheless, even if the firing of McDonough directly affects the franchise’s off-ice operations, the imminent and sweeping mentality shift will almost certainly spill over to the on-ice side.

Vestiges of the Cup era, from the starting-to-be-mocked “One Goal” slogan to perhaps even veteran stalwarts such as Duncan Keith and Corey Crawford, are in great jeopardy. The back-burner youth movement, already buoyed by Kirby Dach and Adam Boqvist and recently injected with Ian Mitchell, may soon fill the entire stovetop.

Monday’s firing ends the era of McDonough — and perhaps also the current era of the Hawks.