As recently as 2006-07, if you attended a Chicago Blackhawks game, you’d see the 300 level was about as populated as a nuclear testing site. For the NHL Stanley Cup Finals, people will pay north of $400 to STAND in these sections. With three more wins, Chicago can drink from the Stanley cup of life in 2010, and give this original 6 franchise a metamorphosis that would make Franz Kafka proud.
Quoting Talking Heads: “and you may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?”
By Paul M. Banks
GM Stan Bowman discussed the 180 degree turnaround at Stanley Cup Final Media Day:
I think you’ve seen the transformation of our franchise in the city. It’s really remarkable to look around at how they’ve embraced this team. It’s an exciting team to watch, an exciting team to cheer for. I think they also recognize the differences have been made since Rocky took over. We’ve tried to make this a whole organization that is dedicated to the fans that support us so much.
You try to be fan friendly. Like I said, when Rocky made the decision to bring John McDonough aboard, it was important that we kind of change the way things were approached here. The fans really believe in that. Because it’s a different approach we’ve tried to take. The excitement that you guys can see here in the city, it’s evident. You walk around anywhere, you see Blackhawks things. This building is so loud, starting with that National Anthem.
Last summer, Bowman took over for Dale Tallon who was controversially and unceremoniously demoted, and eventually left. And you gotta feel for Dale since he’s one of the main architects of the Blackhawks’ rebuilding project. Here are some other revival cornerstones:
-Hawks draft Jonathan Toews #2 overall in 2006, in 2008 “Tazer” is named Captain, becoming the youngest captain in NHL history and third youngest in league history. Tonight saw the end of his postseason scoring streak (13 games), a franchise record.
-One of the most unloved owners in all of sports, Bill Wirtz passes away in September of 2007. His son Rocky immediately takes over and begins work to get all Hawks games televised. Wirtz, the elder had an insanely regressive belief that home games should NEVER be televised, because it would supposedly hurt ticket sales. Wirtz, the younger gets every game on television within a year, helping the franchise catch up to every other NHL team that is about 50 years ahead of them media/PR wise. Hawks also negotiate new, more favorable radio deals.
-Rocky Wirtz takes on more proactive role in free agency, representing a stark contrast from the cheap policies of his father. He also hires Cubs Marketing V.P. John McDonough to a higher office with the Hawks. McDonough inevitably brings along executive Jay Blunk, the Smithers to his Mr. Burns, and the Hawks become “Cubified.” Cubification is a word that only Chicago sports geeks will truly appreciate, but trust me it’s true! Being Cubified is great for marketing, ticket sales, attendance and general business, but it’s bad for the media and hard-core fanbase.
-Hawks win draft lottery, and have #1 pick for the first time in franchise history in ’07. They draft Patrick Kane who becomes their leading scorer and face of the franchise. Kaner also becomes poster child for Team USA hockey which silver medals at Vancouver 2010.
-Hawks finish with winning record in ’07-’08, but narrowly miss playoffs. In ’08-’09, Hawks obtain first playoff berth since 2002, and reach Conference Finals for the first time since 1995.
Hawks winger Adam Burish, always a joy to talk to, summed it up perfectly
It’s kind of crazy because it feels like it happened almost overnight. Two-three years ago nobody cared about us. You couldn’t give a ticket away. I was trying to get my buddies to come and give ‘em out to people in town and you look up in your seats and nobody is sitting there; no one wanted to go.
Nothing is life changes this fast, but it did. A lot of credit goes to the guys in the office, the other half is we started winning games, and you can’t sell tickets and get people in the building unless you’re winning games. We’ve done that. I can’t tell you how crazy it’s been this year. This town has erupted, you always heard this is a hockey town, a sleeping giant, you just don’t know it, but once you start winning you won’t believe it.Follow paulmbanks