On the heels of his promotion to CEO of the Chicago Blackhawks, team president John McDonough sat down for a question and answer session about his organization coming off a first-round playoff exit:
How does the promotion change anything you do within the organization?
JM: Well, we know over the last few years the signature here has been profound change, and what we’re looking for is continuity. [General manager] Stan [Bowman] has been in his position for two years. Jay [Blunk] has been in his position [business operations] for three and a half years. For me I’m proud to play a small role in the development of this franchise, but this gives us more continuity. I think we’ve made advancements, but we have a long way to go. My responsibilities pretty much remain the same.
When you say you have a long way to go, what do you mean? You’ve won a Stanley Cup, sold out 146 consecutive games, raised the season ticket base to about 14,000 and on paper have a perennial contender. Are you talking about continuing to raise the profile of hockey in this city compared to other sports?
JM: This is a very hungry organization. We don’t take anything for granted. Winning the Stanley Cup and having those sellouts is important, but we’re about looking forward. We’ve had an opportunity in the last month -- since being eliminated -- we spent a day with every single entity within the organization from hockey operations to scouting to business operations and media relations and everything else. We want to get better everywhere.
OK, then going back to my last question: Would you like to raise the day-to-day awareness of hockey in this city? You had it during the run last season but what about all the time?
JM: We know where we are in regards to sports teams in Chicago. We were off the radar, not on the menu for many years. We’ve come a long way but have a lot of ground to make up. We understand that. Our players right now are high profile, and we’ve had a chance to market them over the last few years. And they also understand they have an obligation to help us grow the product. At the core of all of this we are never going to take our eyes off the fact that winning is the greatest marketing idea of all time. We need to win. But I do think we have a unique formula where our business operations and hockey operations work in collaboration and that has proven to be a great resource for the Blackhawks. But we know we’re the underdog, we have that underdog mentality. It’s a very, very hungry franchise. I think it’s primarily the youngest front office in the NHL. I am looking for people who are great, that want to be part of something that has never been done before or something that is very special. We just don’t take anything for granted. If there was one way to define the culture here at the United Center, it’s comfortably uncomfortable.
You said you spent a day with each department within the organization. Was there anything interesting you found out which you can share publicly?
JM: Not really, but we did a great deal of research on our fan base. The reasons why they come to the games, and why they are re-energized or re-engaged. What I want to see here is when people leave the United Center it’s an experience they’ve never seen before and it’s going to give them an appetite to come back. The product on the ice is most important, obviously, but we wanted to address everything.
Let’s go on the ice. Toward the end of the season, Duncan Keith was very open and honest about his lack of preparation last summer. Did you hear those comments? In hindsight now, a month or so removed from it, how upset were you with your team’s shortcomings? Or do you take it all with a grain of salt considering how difficult it was going to be to go far again?
JM: First of all, we turned over half of our roster. It was important for us to get off to a good start and hopefully a good start at home which did not happen. That comes due at the end of the season. All of a sudden we’re in a ‘must-win’ situation. You don’t have an opportunity to rest some players. Duncan probably would have been one of them. I think he was just being completely honest from what he was saying that he was gassed, and he might have been speaking on behalf of some of the other players. I think when you win the Stanley Cup and have a very short offseason it’s a wonderful dilemma. But it’s a wonderful dilemma I hope we have an opportunity to face again and now that we’ve had the experience of doing it, we handle it well. And when 45 percent of your roster is completely different, there is an assimilation period. There is a transition period. It probably came together a little bit later in the season than we wanted. It was tenuous and a difficult situation to go through but the team showed an incredible amount of character the way they came off the canvas to come back three games to none and take Vancouver to overtime and were actually on the power play with a chance to win Game 7. It didn’t happen. We ran out of miracles.
Off the ice, are you fully cognizant of the proliferation of the gossip websites and camera phones and everything else that can put a player in a bad light?
JM: We stress to the players the fact that their profile has exploded. With the age of new technology and new media it’s very difficult to do things under the radar. You have to be somewhat stealth in how you do it. We do talk to the players about that. It’s important going forward that they do understand that.
Do you think Patrick Kane is unfairly targeted?
JM: I don’t know. I’m very proud of the progress Patrick has made in that category, and I’m confident he’s going to continue to make progress in that area, and I’m thrilled he’s a member of the Chicago Blackhawks. I’m sure he will be one for a long, long time. But these things are all addressed internally both collectively and individually.
You’ve admitted many times you don’t come from a hockey background. I’m curious, do you ever go to Stan Bowman or anyone in the front office when things are going poorly and, like a fan ask, ‘Did we do the right thing? Was that signing or trade the right way to go?’
JM: Anytime I would ask that question it would be in advance. One of the attributes that Stan has and [assistant general manager] Kevin Cheveldayoff has is that they are a very good tandem. They are very methodical, very analytical about everything. By the time it gets to me I feel comfortable these things are really well thought out. What I’ve asked of Stan and Chevy and everybody, Joel Quenneville included, it’s that we have to have this big picture mentality. It’s not going to be just live for today. I always say to Stan there has to be a big picture approach to everything we do.
Are you rooting for Boston? Is that the consensus within the Blackhawks?
JM: I’m not rooting for anybody. I’m rooting for a good series, and I’m looking at the winner of that series as the benchmark we have to get to and exceed going into next year.
Any news on Chicago getting the All-Star Game or even hosting the draft?
JM: I don’t think either one of those are imminent so I wouldn’t be looking for those in the near future.
Just to bring this full circle. Do you believe a few tweaks and a long summer is all this team needs to return to prominence?
JM: It is going to give everyone a chance to re-energize. Like I said before, I think a lot of these guys probably needed it, to the point I haven’t seen most of these guys in a month. Stan is looking at every variable, every potential move to improve. I’m very happy he signed Corey Crawford. I’m very confident in our hockey operations leading into the draft and next season.