The search for the 10th general manager (GM) in Chicago Blackhawks history is underway.
On Jan. 26, Blackhawks CEO Danny Wirtz issued a statement outlining the interview process and the position’s expectations. Along with Rocky Wirtz, team chairman, and Jaime Faulkner, president of business operations, the team will host a town-hall-style meeting open to media and fans this Wednesday, Feb. 2, giving more specifics on the position as well as the franchise’s general direction.
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In the statement, Wirtz said he hopes to make the hire by March 21, this year’s NHL Trade Deadline. He also said current interim GM Kyle Davidson is a candidate and will be involved in the interview process. Many believe the position is Davidson’s to lose, given the progress he’s made since taking over in the interim last October and how much autonomy Wirtz has given him.
However, that’s not to say the Blackhawks won’t explore external options. Everything remains on the table right now. Here’s a look at five different candidates for the position.
On Oct. 26, Davidson was named the Blackhawks’ interim GM following the resignation of Stan Bowman. The 33-year-old has since made a series of moves that have had little impact for the Blackhawks on the ice but have been necessary given the franchise’s state. Davidson has been involved with the Blackhawks since fall 2010, joining the organization as an intern before moving up through the ranks, becoming assistant GM in 2019 and now interim GM.
Although Davidson hasn’t been at the helm for too long, he has a high hockey IQ, as evident by his moves thus far. Unlike his predecessor, he hasn’t been afraid to take a more realistic view of the organization and seems to want to help the team get younger. According to Scott Powers of The Athletic, those working with Davidson have been impressed by his communication, work ethic, and willingness to grow (from ‘Powers: Kyle Davidson seems like the logical choice for permanent Blackhawks general manager,’ The Athletic, 01/27/22).
Personally, I would be slightly surprised if Davidson doesn’t get this job. He’s young, savvy and familiar with the team. Of course, though, Chicago might want someone more experienced, and the interview process needs to be taken into consideration.
Off the ice, Eddie Olczyk is one of the Blackhawks’ most familiar faces. A 16-year NHL veteran and Chicago native, Olczyk has been the team’s lead TV game analyst since 2006 and is also the lead game analyst for the NHL on TNT. His down-to-earth personality and demeanor have made him a beloved figure among both Blackhawks and hockey fans in general. Much like Davidson, he knows the organization’s strengths and weaknesses, given his longevity with the team and relationships with current players and coaches.
While Olczyk doesn’t have any front office experience, he expressed interest in the Florida Panthers’ GM position in 2020. He brings credibility and would certainly be a popular choice among casual fans. However, would he want to embrace a full-scale rebuild? Similarly, Olczyk knows the league well and hasn’t been afraid to voice his opinion of the Blackhawks on broadcasts, but that doesn’t mean his knowledge will automatically translate to the front office. He’d certainly be an interesting choice, though, and would allow the Blackhawks to stay in-house.
Scott Mellanby, a 21-year NHL veteran, was hired by the Montreal Canadiens in May 2012 as director of player personnel. In July 2014, he was promoted to assistant GM before resigning from the club last November. Before working for Montreal, he spent two seasons as an assistant coach for the St. Louis Blues and worked for the Vancouver Canucks as a special consultant to former general manager Mike Gillis.
Something Mellanby may have in his favor is that he’s an outside voice. He currently has no major connections to the Blackhawks, so he’d definitely bring a new view to the organization compared to Davidson or Olczyk. Is that what the organization wants? I’m not sure, as there are arguments both for and against it. He established a solid reputation in Montreal, however, working alongside former general manager Marc Bergevin.
Working for the Canadiens for seven seasons, Mellanby’s experienced the league enough to understand its nuances and recognizes the pressure of working in a high-profile market, which could pay off in Chicago. Given he seems to be eager for a head GM role, Mellanby could make a lot of sense if the Blackhawks do explore external options.
Since May 2015, Chris MacFarland has served as assistant GM of the Colorado Avalanche, working with Joe Sakic to help rebuild the franchise and turn them into a perennial contender. Prior to the Avalanche, he worked in the Columbus Blue Jackets’ hockey operations department for 16 years. He received his bachelor’s degree in business from Pace University in New York City in 1992 before graduating from the university’s law school in 1998.
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Having worked as Sakic’s right-hand man, MacFarland certainly has the experience of helping turn a franchise around, which is exactly what the Blackhawks are trying to do right now. There’s no doubt his business experience would come in handy, too, even though he never played professionally.
Despite lacking a Stanley Cup, Colorado’s management has been viewed as one of the best in the league with Sakic and MacFarland’s leadership. It certainly helps that he’s worked in hockey operations for more than 20 years and has seen the highs and lows in both Columbus and Colorado. Like Mellanby, MacFarland is an intriguing candidate should Chicago want an outside voice.
Weekes, like Olczyk, was a candidate for the Panthers’ GM job in August 2020 before the organization hired Bill Zito. Currently an analyst for ESPN and NHL Network, Weekes has become one of the most well-liked and respected personalities in the hockey world over the years through his knowledge and wit. Should the Blackhawks hire Weekes, he would become the first Black GM in NHL history, adding some diversity to the organization and league.
Like Olczyk, Weekes would be a popular candidate among casual fans due to his credibility as an analyst. Because of his background and great communication, I’m intrigued as anyone by the possibility of the Blackhawks hiring Weekes. While he doesn’t have any front office experience, he is one of the brightest minds in hockey today and seems ready to handle the pressures that would come working in Chicago.
While the above five candidates might seem like obvious choices, there are certainly other directions Chicago could go. Right now, an unexpected hire isn’t out of the possibility.
Meghan Hunter, Blackhawks director of hockey administration and amateur scouting, is a name Chicago could throw into the mix as another in-house candidate. A 2005 graduate of the University of Wisconsin, she seems primed to make her way through the ranks and would make history as the NHL’s first female GM.
If Chicago wants an experienced veteran, former Canucks GM Gillis could be an option. He was at the helm in Vancouver from 2008-14 and helped oversee their run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2011. However, Gillis hasn’t worked in a front-office role since, and I think the Blackhawks would likely want someone with more recent experience.
Some other outside names I’d keep an eye on are Tampa Bay Lightning Director of Hockey Operations Mathieu Darche, Carolina Hurricanes Assistant GM Eric Tulsky, and Seattle Kraken Scout and Chicago area native Cammi Granato.
Looking Toward the Future
Davidson is the favorite for this role, and with good reason. He’s bright, young, and knows the ins and outs of the organization, which is what Chicago probably wants. However, the interview process could be extremely intriguing, and each candidate will likely bring something different.
Chicago appears to be rebuilding. Thus, it is incredibly crucial the organization hires someone not only who is forward-thinking and has good hockey IQ but is able to deal with the pressures of helping the team become a contender again. Hiring a well-qualified and honest GM is an important next step in solidifying the Blackhawks’ direction as they enter a new era.