Chicago Blackhawks' McDonough: Abrupt ending last year got everybody's attention

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Chicago Blackhawks president and CEO John McDonough is more than confident the team can again be a championship contender.

      Chicago Blackhawks president and CEO John McDonough is more than confident the team can again be a championship contender. Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 10/4/2017 6:09 AM

John McDonough saw something in a Nashville Predators team last April that impressed him to another level.

There was speed, talent and amazing goaltending for sure, but what stood out to the Chicago Blackhawks' president and CEO was how absolutely hungry and ravenous they were to finally vanquish the big, bad Hawks.

 

And he wants his team to recapture that desire.

"From an experience standpoint I think it's great to have won Stanley Cups," McDonough said. "But I would like us to play with the hunger that we've never won any."

So as the Hawks get set to embark on their 11th season under McDonough's watch, he wants all fans to know he's not satisfied -- nor is anyone in the organization satisfied -- with the three titles the franchise has won since he came on board.

It's time to wipe the slate clean and start over.

"The message that we have sent to everyone in this organization is never take any of this for granted," said McDonough, the Blackhawks' president and CEO. "We're not entitled to a regular-season win, let alone a playoff win. The abrupt ending of this past season got everybody's attention and there was a recalibration here across the board.

"We are on Phase 2 of this journey. We've had a pretty good run, but I want to close the book on that chapter."

Consider it closed.

The big question is, how will the next chapter look? Will there be more photos of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Seabrook waving to adoring fans at a Stanley Cup parade or two? Or are those days over?

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The Hawks remain one of the most talented teams in the NHL. Their top nine forwards match up with anyone, Corey Crawford is a high-end goaltender, and while their defense isn't what it used to be, the back end should be able to hold its own.

There's absolutely no reason the Hawks shouldn't win 45-50 games again this season and compete for the Western Conference's top seed.

What must change come April, though, is how each individual approaches playoff hockey. The young players need to learn from the humbling experience against Nashville, while the veterans -- in McDonough's mind -- must totally change their mindset.

"You draw from those experiences because you've been in those situations where you're in a visiting arena and been in these pressure-packed situations and won games -- incomprehensible overtime games in the playoffs. You draw from that experience, but your approach is, 'We haven't won anything.' That hunger has to be there. …

"I never want us to be that comet that came back and said, 'Hey, remember when the Blackhawks were really good?' I'm looking for consistent, sustained excellence."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

So first-round exits, like in 2016 and 2017, won't cut it for McDonough. He remembers all too well what it was like when Rocky Wirtz hired him in November 2007.

The United Center was half full. The playoffs were a pipe dream. Legions of season ticket holders gave up their seats. Pat Foley had been fired. Home games weren't on television.

It was so bad, ESPN The Magazine ranked the Hawks as the worst franchise in pro sports.

"We're going to be on trial every single day. Every single day," McDonough said. "Because there was a period of time where we were irrelevant. We were off the map.

"So we've been fortunate enough to have that success, but now we're in a different phase and we've got to do it all over again."

But can they?

The Hawks' core players -- Patrick Sharp (35), Duncan Keith (34), Brent Seabrook (32), Corey Crawford (32), Jonathan Toews (29) and Patrick Kane (29 in November) -- won't be around forever, and it's fair to wonder if the championship window is closing for these icons.

Asked if he's worried that may be the case, McDonough said absolutely not.

"We're fortunate to have so many good players on our team, and I think that they are relatively in their early prime," he said. "So you need contributions from those third … and fourth lines. You need contributions from your 5 (and) 6 D.

"When we talk about the One Goal of our franchise -- Joel and Stan have been in place for nine years -- the first commitment we have is to make the playoffs. You've got to get in. And then put yourself in a position to make a long run, and anything can happen. Health plays a role, bounces play a role.

"But as we learned this year, being ready in April is of paramount importance."

But what if things don't go as planned? The unthinkable happens and the Hawks are unceremoniously bounced from the playoffs before May, or worse, don't qualify?

Could this be Joel Quenneville's final season behind the bench?

That's a question we'll delve into Thursday in Part 2 of our talk with McDonough, a piece you won't want to miss.

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