Blackhawks shuffle hockey operations personnel to adjust to flat salary cap era

Three new assistant general managers — Mark Eaton, Ryan Stewart and Kyle Davidson — will divvy up the responsibilities formerly held by Norm Maciver, who will now head a new scouting group.

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The Blackhawks have made some changes to the job titles in their United Center offices.

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times file photo

The Blackhawks quietly shuffled the job titles of several front-office employees during the coronavirus pandemic, not long after firing president John McDonough and effectively ending the previous era of the franchise.

The motivation behind the shuffling was twofold, general manager Stan Bowman said Monday — first, to give greater weight and influence to some younger voices, and second, to put more resources toward finding cheap, young players who can help the Hawks survive their impending salary-cap crunch.

“We took this as an opportunity, with the pause in the season, to look at where we were as an organization and where the league was heading and how we were going to be better positioned to be successful in the future,” Bowman said.

The Hawks promoted Mark Eaton, Ryan Stewart and Kyle Davidson to assistant general managers — in player development, pro scouting and hockey administration, respectively.

They also promoted Mike Doneghey from head USA scout to director of player evaluation and recruitment and filled Doneghey’s old role by promoting one of their amateur scouts, Rob Facca.

Meanwhile, Norm Maciver — a 13-year veteran of the front office — was technically demoted from assistant general manager to vice president of player personnel.

“Looking at our makeup, we had a lot of younger people that were ready for bigger roles,” Bowman said. “When I say that, I’m talking about Ryan Stewart, Mark Eaton and Kyle Davidson. The three of those guys were really blossoming in their current roles and ready to do more.”

Eaton, 43, has adopted an especially large public role. The retired NHL defenseman has worked closely in recent years with Adam Boqvist, Ian Mitchell, Nicolas Beaudin and other defensemen to aid their development in junior and college hockey.

Stewart, 46, was a Hawks video and assistant coach from 2006 to 2008 before shifting into scouting.

Davidson, 32, started as a Rockford IceHogs intern and spent the last nine years dealing with the salary cap and player contracts.

After many years of constancy in the front office, Danny Wirtz’s move into the interim president role has brought a more businesslike approach to running the Hawks. Eaton, Stewart and Davidson are expected to similarly alter the dynamic.

Maciver’s “demotion” is the most curious change.

“If you look around the league, it’s not a surprise to see that most teams have two — some teams have three — assistant GMs because those responsibilities in today’s game are expanding,” Bowman said. “We found that we put a lot on Norm’s plate.”

Now, the assistant GM duties will be split up more evenly among Eaton, Stewart and Davidson. Maciver will instead lead a newly formed group of scouts, including Doneghey.

“[With] Norm’s background as an assistant coach in Boston . . . he’s really good at identifying players,” Bowman said. “We wanted to try to give him an opportunity to do more of that. He’s going to have a number of people who report to him, and he’s responsible for guiding that whole group.”

The Hawks hope the new Maciver-led team will be able to find young and/or overlooked players with NHL-caliber talent. Most players fitting that bill will be in the European leagues — where the Hawks historically have had great luck finding diamonds, from Artemi Panarin to David Kampf to Dominik Kubalik — as well as in college hockey.

These new finds will become especially valuable in the coming years because they’ll be available on cheap entry-level contracts, which the Hawks can stuff in around their expensive, aging core in order to stay compliant with a stagnant NHL salary cap.

Once expected to rise to $84 million to $88 million, the cap will instead stay at $81.5 million next season, the league announced last week.

“That’s really the key if you want to have success in a system where the cap’s not growing — you need to have those young players,” Bowman said. “It provides the opportunity to remain competitive. You’re going to rely on those guys, give them bigger roles, more opportunity.”

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