This weekend brings the 5th annual Chicago Blackhawks Convention to the Hilton hotel in downtown Chicago. I’ve made the decision to essentially boycott the event until some changes are made. The team can start by giving John McDonough and Stan Bowman their walking papers. I’ll touch on that in a moment, but first, a few general words about the convention.
The convention is usually a fun time for fans to meet up and share a common passion. It’s a great place to chat with current and former stars, such as Tony Esposito, Eric Daze, Pierre Pilote…the list goes on. During the first convention, for example, I ran into Eric Daze in the empty hotel bar. He could not have been a nicer guy, and we had a conversation over a brew.
However, the dynamic surrounding the Chicago Blackhawks has become so different, it’s almost unrecognizable. The divide between die-hard Hawks fans and “new” Hawks fans is obvious, and it’s easy to determine where someone falls within a minute of conversation. This isn’t intended to be a knock on new hockey fans. Hockey brings people of all cultures together, and it shouldn’t be ‘exclusive’. I’ll admit, there is a big part of me that wonders where all of these Hawks fans were 10 years ago. I had Blackhawks season tickets from 1998-2002 (when I moved from Chicago), and the team was terrible. To quote Pat Foley, “You could have shot a cannon through the United Center and not hit anyone”. There IS some stupid sense of pride that I get from having always been there, even when times were bleak. To see these new people show up in droves when the winning starts (and leaving by the 2nd intermission) is a little sad to me, because even though we were fewer in numbers, we were the “real” Hawks fans. We put the time in.
Excuse the loyalty commercial, but there’s a point behind that. The current Blackhawks front office is structured under owner Rocky Wirtz with John McDonough as team president, and Stan Bowman as GM. Who’s John McDonough, you ask? He’s the former Chicago Cubs marketing guru. How is he qualified to hold the position of President with the Chicago Blackhawks? He isn’t. The Chicago Cubs are known for their marketing, so I know that he does a good job in that department. But, if there’s one team that NO other professional sports franchise should strive to emulate, it’s the Chicago Cubs.
I don’t think that you should necessarily have to be a genius hockey mind to hold the title of president, but Rocky Wirtz has given him full reign of the day-to-day and hockey operations. You do, however, need to let the hockey people in the organization run the hockey team. He’s great at formulating “One Goal” commercials for TV, Print, and billboard…the “new” fans eat that up. He can wax poetic about how Brandon Saad is the next Gretzky, and “new” fans are convinced. No need to go out and get Center depth…we have Saad in the system. And that’s my rub with the new Hawks fans. The old guard can see through that, but as long as there are people drinking the red Kool-Aid, it doesn’t matter. Sound familiar, Cubs fans? Every fan base overvalues their prospect system, but the Blackhawks take it to a new level.
The other problem with McDonough is his ego, which ran some of the best hockey minds this team has seen in decades out of Chicago. Dale Tallon, former GM, was reportedly infuriated when McDonough insisted that Cristobal Huet, at the time the hottest free agent goalie, be signed. The Blackhawks already had Nikolai Khabibulin on a near-max contract, but McDonough demanded the “splash” signing. Same with Brian Campbell, who ironically Tallon traded for in order to reach the cap floor in Florida. Al Mac Adams and Mike Havilland are two others who have been essentially ran out of town by McEgo. As much as it hurts as a fan, I find it funny that as the Blackhawks decline post-Tallon, the Florida Panthers are coming up the same way the pre-Cup Blackhawks did under Tallon.
Stan Bowman as GM. Where to start?! I’ve always felt that Stan Bowman is living off of his father’s (Scotty Bowman) name. Now, I’ve obviously not sat in on negotiations directed by Bowman, but just listening to him talk is painful. Even in interviews, he mumbles and waffles constantly. To his credit, I don’t doubt that his hands are somewhat tied by the suits in the organization, but he was hand picked for the job. Get the theme? Scotty Bowman’s son…almost sounds like a marketing hook. The first clue that Bowman was going to be a disaster came when he was serving as the assistant GM under Dale Tallon. At the time, Tallon took the fall, like any good boss would do when an understudy screws up. It has since come out that Stan Bowman was responsible for sending the paperwork to 8 Blackhawk RFA’s. The paperwork was sent late, prompting a grievance by the NHLPA, and costing the Blackhawks dearly. That mistake directly contributed to the post-Cup salary cap fiasco that gutted this team of its depth.
So, when Hawks fans go to the convention this weekend, they can give Bowman, McDonough, and co. a standing ovation for their one signing this offseason. Nothing against Sheldon Brookbank…he’s a solid player…but this team needs more than a #5-6 defenseman. A lot more. Free agency is a two way street, I get it. It takes a competent GM and a willing player. This is Chicago…a team 2 years removed from a Stanley Cup Championship. A city with everything possible to offer to a player and his family. I invite you to look at the team the Hawks defeated in the 2010 Stanley Cup Final, the Philadelphia Flyers. Since the Hawks skated the cup around Philly ice, the two teams have gone in completely different directions. When the city of Philadelphia is considered a better option than Chicago, we have a problem. And it starts at the top.
Have fun at the convention. I’m staying home.