You’ve seen the outbursts from Blackhawks Owner and Chairman Rocky Wirtz by now. You’ve likely also read the apology statements from him and his son, Blackhawks CEO Danny Wirtz. Last week, a Town Hall event meant to provide the public with a vision for the Blackhawks to move forward was thrown off the rails by Rocky answering, or rather not answering, a question directed to Danny. A question Danny was fully prepared and willing to answer before his father stopped him.
It was the first opportunity for the organization to address what was being done to protect their players and employees since the Jenner and Block investigation findings became public regarding the sexual assault of former Blackhawks player Kyle Beach by former video coach Brad Aldrich, since the removal of Stan Bowman and Al MacIsaac from Chicago’s front office, and since the lawsuit settlements with Beach and “John Doe 2.” To show what they had learned from their mistakes. And to at least begin to turn a corner in the public’s eye.
Unfortunately, that opportunity that was never realized. Instead, it became the biggest story in the hockey world since the sexual assault investigations became public knowledge.
Since then, there have been numerous calls for Rocky Wirtz to step-down as Chairman of the Blackhawks. To sell the team. To have the NHL front office remove him as Owner of the Blackhawks. None of that is happening. At least in the immediate future it’s not.
The Wirtz family are the longest tenured owners in the NHL, dating back to 1954 when Arthur Wirtz purchased the team and was under his control until his death in 1983. The team then turned over to his son William “Bill” Wirtz, and was under his control until his death in 2007. Then the team was turned over to Rocky.
While the day-to-day operations of the club have been turned over to Danny for a short time as CEO of the Blackhawks, Rocky Wirtz has remained as the face of the team’s ownership and the Chairman of the organization. That time needs to end.
I don’t believe that the Wirtz family will sell the team. But out of the 45-minute Town Hall event, the other 40 minutes not surrounding the outbursts of Rocky towards The Athletic’s Mark Lazerus and the Chicago Tribune’s Phil Thompson were guided peacefully and sincerely by Danny Wirtz and President of Business Operations Jaime Faulkner. They were poised and poignant with their answers to questions regarding the GM search process, the efforts to change the culture of the organization, and the concerns of season-ticket holders to name a few topics. Until Rocky decided to answer for Danny on the question regarding the fallout of the Kyle Beach investigation, everything felt like the right words were being said and the right actions were being put in place.
That’s what needs to continue for the organization to move forward.
In his statement last Thursday night, Danny Wirtz revealed the Blackhawks were creating a mental health department available to players and employees, that they would be creating an employee-led committee focused on aspects of the organization’s culture, and taking-on a zero-tolerance approach to reports of “non-compliance.”
We saw that come into play with the report surfacing yesterday evening that the Blackhawks had fired long-time Rockford IceHogs head athletic trainer D.J. Jones following a report of sexual harassment. After the Jenner and Block investigation findings were made public on October 26, a former IceHogs ice crew member came to the organization the following day with a report of an incident involving Jones from 2014. He was fired a week later.
Today, while discussing the latest goings-on with the Blackhawks on the DFO Rundown Podcast, Daily Faceoff’s Frank Seravalli said that Danny Wirtz held a meeting with Blackhawks staffers following the incidents of the Town Hall event.
Interesting note from @frank_seravalli on @DailyFaceoff Rundown, says Danny Wirtz held "emotional" meeting with #Blackhawks staff the next day following the Town Hall event, expressing the incidents were the "most disappointed" he had ever been in his Dad, Rocky Wirtz.
— Mario Tirabassi (@Mario_Tirabassi) February 7, 2022
Everything points to Danny Wirtz and Jaime Faulkner, genuinely, doing and saying the right things for the Chicago Blackhawks as they try to move forward from the past couple of months and try to re-gain the trust of the fanbase in Chicago and around the hockey world. That trust moving forward is not going to be found if Rocky continues to be the face of the ownership, it just won’t. Not after what happened at the Town Hall event. The goodwill that was being rebuilt for the Blackhawks was set back to square-one and it’s clear that the NHL has no interest in forcing the Blackhawks’ hand to make any changes in ownership dynamics.
Fans have been vocal in the past week about not supporting the team financially any longer, or not again until Rocky is “removed.” That’s the language the Wirtz family speaks: money. If/when the organization begins to see fewer tickets sold, less merchandise sales, and more empty seats in the United Center, that is when change will be forced. If they want to avoid it having to come to that any more than it already has, Danny Wirtz will need to do what he was unable to do at the Town Hall event. He’ll need to step in front of his Dad.