In a league in which coaches, general managers and executives are recycled from team to team faster than an aluminum can in a green bin, Blackhawks interim president Danny Wirtz — the son of team chairman Rocky Wirtz — is a wild card.
He has an immediately recognizable surname, but in terms of hockey experience, his résumé is limited — the Hawks’ website describes him as “active advisor . . . for the past decade,” but if so, he has advised in a very behind-the-scenes way.
And in regard to the “old hockey man” description that alarmingly fits so many who hold similar positions around the NHL, Wirtz doesn’t match at all. He’s a mere 43-year-old whose career to date was largely spent in the Wirtz family’s liquor business, not with its hockey franchise.
Yet the Danny Wirtz era of the Hawks has clearly arrived, just as clearly as the John McDonough era has passed.
That much was evident in the comments from general manager Stan Bowman and coach Jeremy Colliton — two who are quite familiar with what has gone down during the Hawks’ highly shrouded spring restructuring — during a Zoom call Thursday.
“I look at this, for me, as an opportunity to learn from Danny — very bright guy, very energetic, he’s got a lot of ideas,” Bowman said. “He’s included me on a lot of things over the last few weeks, and I’m looking forward to collaborating with him.”
“[Danny has] had a ton of success in the business world, and he’s going to bring some new ideas and energy to the organization,” Colliton added. “I’ve been a part of some of that already, which has been exciting, and it gives you energy. . . . It’s going to challenge us all.”
Where Wirtz eventually ends up in the front office, position-wise, remains unclear. The search for a president to replace McDonough technically remains in effect, with Wirtz leading it.
Many believe Wirtz is nonetheless the most likely candidate for the position — or at least half of it, if the Hawks divide McDonough’s far-reaching responsibilities in half and hire a hockey operations president to sit alongside the business president.
Still, even if the Hawks follow through on their publicized search, hire a new president and give Wirtz a new title to accompany his invigorated involvement, he’s not going away. The complimentary rhetoric and future tenses employed by Bowman and Colliton make that obvious.
This Danny Wirtz era seems to have brought a more forward-looking and economical approach to Madison Street.
The Hawks already have tightened their purse strings in response to falling revenue during the pandemic, reportedly laying off scouts and a website reporter while furloughing or cutting the pay of others.
On the hockey side, meanwhile, Bowman said his “reshaping of the team” will wait until the offseason, whenever that arrives. But he did hint that the Hawks’ roster-building strategy, which focused the last few summers on supplementing their aging core with equally aging free agents, might ultimately be included in the new push to “innovate and change some things.”
Bowman, Colliton and Patrick Kane also had kind parting words for McDonough on Thursday. Kane, especially, provided a heartfelt response about how McDonough’s “tough conversations . . . helped me become a better player, a better person.”
“He wanted the best for the person that you were, not specifically the athlete or the hockey player, so [I have] a lot of respect for him,” Kane said.
But even Kane shifted into a discussion of Wirtz’s impact, calling him a “bright mind” with “a good idea with what he wants to do with the future of the Blackhawks.”
It would be difficult to find a clearer sign that the Danny Wirtz era is not only present but permanent.