Danny Wirtz has officially become the fourth chairman of the Blackhawks since the Wirtz family first purchased the team in 1954.
He had been functionally leading the organization as its CEO for the past three years, and he doesn’t expect things to change much from their given course. It’s worth noting he will maintain the CEO title, as well.
But following the death of his father, Rocky Wirtz, in July, his role at the top of the pyramid has been cemented.
“I don’t know if that doubles the amount of work necessarily, but...I take that [chairman role] seriously,” Wirtz told the Sun-Times on Tuesday. “It’s a real role to represent our business at the [NHL] Board of Governors meeting as the governor of the club.”
“But there isn’t a change in owner. Our family has owned this team, and our family continues to own this team. It’s now my responsibility to steward on behalf of the family. That’s an important distinction in these transitions that the ownership actually hasn’t changed. Now it’s my turn to go and hopefully be as successful as my dad, my grandfather and my great-grandfather.”
This summer has been difficult for the 46-year-old Boston College grad, who had a mountain of succession-related logistical tasks to handle while simultaneously grieving his father’s fairly sudden passing.
He will be pulled in many directions now as chairman of the entire Wirtz Corp., which includes the family’s Breakthru Beverage liquor distribution behemoth as well as its real estate, banking and other holdings. He’ll have to improve his time-management skills even more to monitor such a wide array of responsibilities, he said.
That could give more power and autonomy to business president Jaime Faulkner and general manager Kyle Davidson, who have each had some time now to settle into their roles since Wirtz hand-picked them to lead the two primary branches of the organization. Wirtz said he’ll continue to “support” Faulkner and Davidson throughout the day-to-day operations, though.
This summer also marked three years since Wirtz announced and outlined his vision to “reimagine the potential of hockey” and implemented sweeping changes to the Hawks. At this point, he feels the organization has now gained a “tremendous amount of momentum” along that path.
“The work has been underway, so it’s very much a continuation of that work, now with more of [Rocky’s] legacy in mind versus his influence,” he added. “It’s one thing to put the words out there, but we’re starting to see...real change as to how we operate as an organization. Hopefully we’re also starting to see the results of those changes.”
He mentioned the Hawks’ internal culture (prioritizing diversity, equity and inclusion), fan outreach methods, ticketing process, corporate partnerships, investment in local youth hockey and analytics-based approach to hockey operations as some of the areas in which he believes those changes have been most evident and successful so far.
His emphasis on improving that internal culture specifically, particularly in the wake of the Kyle Beach sexual-assault scandal in 2021, has been wise and much-needed. There’s still plenty of work to do, but that could end up being one of the defining aspects of his early-career legacy as CEO.
And then there’s the on-ice side of things, where Wirtz has greenlit Davidson’s thorough, patient approach to the rebuild every step of the way. That’s not going to change this season, either.
“This year, the introduction of young prospects that will start to play a bigger role will be an important step forward,” Wirtz said. “At the same time, we want to make sure we don’t rush the development process...so that once we get into that [championship] contention phase, we stay there for a while.”