Blackhawks insist Pat Foley’s departure voluntary as replacement naming nears

The beloved longtime broadcaster will remain involved with the Blackhawks beyond this season, business president Jaime Faulkner said Wednesday.

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Pat Foley (left) is calling his final season of Blackhawks hockey.

James Foster/Sun-Times file photo

Pat Foley’s departure from the Blackhawks’ broadcast booth after this season will be entirely voluntary, Hawks business president Jaime Faulkner insisted Wednesday.

Although the Hawks’ so-called “townhall meeting” was completely overshadowed by chairman Rocky Wirtz’s outburst regarding the sexual-assault scandal, Faulkner and CEO Danny Wirtz did nonetheless provide a few other updates of note — headlined by clarification about Foley’s situation, which had spawned plenty of conspiracy rumors among fans.

“Let me be clear, the Blackhawks have not fired Pat Foley,” Faulkner said. “We absolutely love Pat Foley.”

Foley told the Hawks over breakfast last summer that he “didn’t know” if he wanted to keep “doing this” and couldn’t commit to a contract extension beyond the 2021-22 season, Faulkner said.

Once the Hawks moved forward with searching for a replacement, Foley also requested a “reduced slate of games” to broadcast, Faulkner said, to reduce the grind and fatigue of his travel. COVID-19 postponements have further disrupted that schedule, as have health issues with usual color commentator Eddie Olczyk, who moderated Wednesday’s meeting.

The Hawks have auditioned a large cast of fill-in broadcasters for Foley and Olczyk this year and are now close to naming Foley’s permanent replacement, Faulkner said. But Foley will remain involved in the organization, and Faulkner is “begging him” to call a few games even next season and beyond.

GM will have full power

The Hawks’ recent announcements about their general manager search had implied they weren’t planning to hire a hockey operations president above the GM, as many had anticipated.

Danny Wirtz confirmed that Wednesday, explaining that he wanted exactly one person fully in charge of — and thus fully accountable for the successes and failures of — the hockey operations department.

“I will be empowering our next general manager to lead all of this with the complete autonomy and authority to make decisions,” he said. “They’ll also be accountable for those decisions, as well as the results we expect.”

“I’ve seen in other organizations, both in hockey and other businesses, [that] when things are spread across a lot of people, it’s very hard to understand how to move forward. We’re going to have clear accountability with our general manager. But that’s not to say it all sits right there in terms of work, and I’m really excited we’ll bring in and build around them the kind of capabilities that we think are the types of differentiators in sports.”

Season-ticket changes

With attendance and season-ticket memberships both declining, Faulkner disclosed Wednesday several policy changes for Hawks season-ticket packages next season.

Season-ticket holders will no longer be required to pay for tickets to preseason games, as well — they’ll be given an option whether or not they want to do so — and will be guaranteed to receive all giveaway items, such as bobbleheads, instead of having to enter the United Center doors before stock run out.

Partial season-ticket holders will be allowed to swap games if conflicts arise, too, and long-tenured season-ticket holders will be given “more benefits” to “reward [them] for that loyalty.”

Fleury starts again

Marc-Andre Fleury made his 13th start in the last 14 games when the Hawks hosted the Wild for a late 8:30 game at the United Center, their last event before the All-Star break.

Interim coach Derek King said the schedule — primarily the lack of back-to-backs — has worked out in such a way that Fleury hasn’t been overworked.

“He’s getting time to rest in between [games],” King said.

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