With Blackhawks now firmly Kyle Davidson’s team, rebuild will begin in earnest

The Blackhawks are Kyle Davidson’s team now. He’s going to run them his way. And it’s going to start by starting over.

The personable yet assertive 33-year-old Canadian made that all very clear in a Tuesday news conference introducing him as the Hawks’ permanent general manager.

“We’re going to look at more of a rebuild here,” Davidson said. “There are some things we really need to fix that are going to take time. We’re not going to put a timeline on it. Whether it’s three, five [years], that will be determined as we proceed.

“We really need to do this the right way. We’re going to stick to the plan and take our time with it and make sure [that], when we get to where we want to go, it was the result of a plan that was stuck to and not deviated from.”

Not specifically referenced, but evidently not forgotten, was the fact former GM Stan Bowman himself declared a rebuild less than two years ago, in October 2020 — then flipped his position to all-in last summer while insisting the rebuild was still happening.

Bowman’s name was never actually spoken Tuesday by Davidson, CEO Danny Wirtz or any Hawks employees. But the United Center atrium echoed all afternoon with thinly veiled shots at Bowman’s directionless final years as GM, and establishing the great differences between Davidson and Bowman was clearly a priority.

So was establishing that Davidson, despite being the lone internal candidate among the six interviewees in the GM search, will initiate just as much progress, change and innovation as the external candidates would have.

“What we learned [through the search] is that ‘out of the box’ didn’t have to be synonymous with ‘outside these walls,'” Danny Wirtz said.

“[Kyle] is his own person, he has his own philosophies, and he’s not married or tied to anything in the past or any preconceived notions coming into the job. It’s quite an advantage to be both a fresh and open-minded thinker, but also understand our starting point very expertly. You get the best of both worlds.”

Danny Wirtz lauded Davidson as a clever strategist, a collaborative and communicative decision-maker, a vocal, visible and transparent leader and a passionate hockey mind.

There’s no question the former straight-out-of-college intern’s rise up the ladder over the past 12 years to become the NHL’s youngest active GM is a fascinating and inspiring individual story.

“Right off the bat [as interim GM], he was assured, assuring and confident,” Danny Wirtz added. “Since then, he has approached the role like that. Whether it’s an assessment of last night’s game or a transaction we have to go do, Kyle is very clear about what needs to get done.”

Danny Wirtz (left) congratulates new Blackhawks GM Kyle Davidson (right) on Tuesday.

AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast

Business president Jaime Faulkner said she and Davidson developed “synergy” through deep discussions about trends in sports business while watching fans-less games together in 2021. The Hawks’ hockey and business operations departments will work more in-tandem now with the two of them in charge.

In terms of those hockey operations, Davidson — who, as assistant GM last summer, established and built out a new “integrated strategy and analytics department” within the front office — said he’d hesitated to change too much during his four-month interim tenure “out of respect for the potential new hire that could come in.” That was one of the few areas in which he didn’t previously have total freedom. But the floodgates have now opened, and significant structural and personnel changes are likely.

In terms of the team itself, Davidson is expected to share Wednesday more concrete, specific details about his rebuilding plan, but he indicated the process will begin imminently. The March 21 trade deadline is less than three weeks away.

“I don’t think it’s any secret where we are in the standings,” he said. “If there’s an opportunity to acquire some future talent and augment what we have in our prospect pool or our draft asset pool, then we’ll explore that.”

Lingering veterans Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews will be informed about and involved in the process. Davidson talked to the two franchise icons Tuesday morning about the rebuilding comments he’d later make publicly, making sure to avoid repeating one of Bowman’s messier blunders.

Davidson’s repeated mentions of “three or five years,” though, emphasized just how long-term a plan he plans to enact and foreshadowed just how much endurance waiting for the Hawks’ next window of contention will require.

But at least Tuesday presented a tangible, reasonable plan for this long-aimless franchise. And with it came universal agreement on said plan — and a universal promise to stick to it.

“We have to get this right,” Danny Wirtz said. “Oftentimes when teams get a little impatient is when the plan tends to short-circuit a bit, and then we lose more time. We’re going to give him the time he needs to manage expectations as that plan becomes more secure.

“One of the advantages of our family being in this for four generations is we’ve seen ups and downs in franchise, so we do have patience on our side built in. We’re as anxious as anyone to see a winning team, but we want to do it the right way.”

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