An honest and transparent Kyle Davidson stepped out of the United Center shadows Sunday and assumed his role — for the first time publicly — as architect of the Blackhawks’ future.
While technically only the interim general manager, Davidson re-emphasized that CEO Danny Wirtz has handed him “full autonomy” and authority to act as he sees fit. Then Davidson delivered two short sentences that Hawks fans have waited for years to hear.
“I just want to get it right,” he said. “There’s no style points here.”
Former GM Stan Bowman too often cared too much about the style points, about making his decisions look smart and prescient as well as beneficial to the team. So did former coach Jeremy Colliton, whose initial patience devolved in recent months into a bull-headed obsession with proving the worthiness of his system.
Davidson, who was still in college when Bowman became GM in 2009, possesses none of that arrogance, none of that interest in his own image. Having just turned 33 in July — and just assumed this role less than two weeks ago — he’s learning on the fly, admitting he can “see things much differently” from the GM chair than from his old assistant-GM seat.
But Davidson’s lack of experience — and lack of preconceived priorities — might be just what the Hawks need. He’s analyzing the entire hockey operations department with a fresh set of eyes. He’s not, in his words, “beholden to anything that’s happened in the past.” And he’s certainly not timid, either.
“As I continue to evaluate and I get exposed to the different aspects of the organization, there’s definitely going to be some changes,” he said. “I have strong opinions on how certain things should run, how certain things should operate.”
Davidson made the first, and arguably the biggest, of those changes Saturday.
He fired Colliton.
That decision didn’t come as a result of any one moment or any one game, he clarified, but he did realize its necessity quickly.
The coaching staff had been the organization’s one area of continuity in the wake of Bowman’s exit and the sexual-assault-scandal fallout. Davidson’s willingness to sacrifice that indicates just how boldly he can act and how imperative he considered the change to be.
“Obviously, the results are what they are — not good enough,” he said, referring to the team’s 1-9-2 record entering Sunday. “[But] the losses aren’t necessarily the issue. It’s sometimes the way you lose that shows a change needs to be made.
“[The team was] making mistakes that I felt were correctable that weren’t being corrected. The messaging to the players was something I was satisfied with. The translation of message to response was not something I was satisfied with. That’s where it’s on me to step in.”
On Saturday morning, Davidson took his conclusion to Wirtz for approval, then met with Colliton, informing him of his dismissal in a “to-the-point” conversation.
He also fired loyal Colliton assistants Tomas Mitell and Sheldon Brookbank while keeping veteran assistant Marc Crawford, whose 16 years of NHL head-coaching experience and familiarity with the current roster will help facilitate a “smooth and productive transition.”
Davidson’s final major conversation of the morning was with former Rockford IceHogs coach Derek King, his pick as interim coach, and that one went a bit differently.
“I was in shock,” King said. “I had a chat with Kyle, and I was just like, ‘Wow, OK. Sure, I’ll do it.’ ’’
“Marc was entrenched in the coaching staff, and I thought that the person at the top of the pyramid should be from the outside,” Davidson said. “Derek’s not far away in Rockford, but [he provides] an outside perspective and outside voice at the top of that pyramid.”
The simultaneous assertiveness and open-mindedness Davidson demonstrated this weekend seem like early signatures of his leadership. He said he’ll rely on his analytics background and “old-school scouting methods” for hockey management and on his open, approachable relationships with fellow staff members for organizational management.
His next task, he said, will be adding at least one more assistant to the short-term coaching staff around King.
But the Hawks’ search for a permanent coach won’t begin until after this season.
That’s partially to maximize the pool of candidates they can interview and consider, partially to give themselves time to determine a permanent GM and hockey-operations president — who can then approve that decision — and partially because the remaining 70 games this season will be mainly used to right the ship.
“You find out if you’re a playoff team in April, and let’s be totally honest: The math is not in our favor right now to get to that point,” Davidson said. “But no season is ever lost because you’re always going to be able to learn something.
“There’s a great opportunity for these players to have a blank slate with Derek, both individually and collectively. We’re going to learn a lot — I’m going to learn a lot — in terms of what we see over the next weeks and months. We can decide what direction we want to take at that point.”
Davidson’s bold actions this week prove that, at least for a while, he’ll be the man making those decisions.