UFA Daze: Hawks Play Hardball

 
 

Stan Bowman: Hawks' Cup-winning GM...and poker star on UFA Day. (photo: NHL/Getty Images)

The UFA Frenzy has passed. As the experts survey the after-effects, the front page news has alternated between ‘The Ilya Affair’ and ‘The Chicago Fire Sale’. The drama set off a few more fireworks on Canada Day and the Fourth of July, while the beer flowed and the barbecues sizzled.

The spice was laid on liberally to disguise the lack of meat in the stories. The blogosphere buzzed about Kovalchuk, but no one knew anything. As for the foofaraw about Chicago, it seemed everyone forgot there isn’t a single Stanley Cup winner since the lockout that hasn’t, following their victory, overhauled their roster. So why should this year’s Champion Blackhawks be any different?

“Okay, they’ve lost six or seven guys from their team. But don’t forget they’ve still got thirteen guys who are pretty damn good.” These words were exchanged on XM Sirius Radio’s Prime Time Sports on Friday, July 2nd, 2010, by panel of Toronto-based hockey observers, debating the effect of the salary cap on Championship pro sports teams; not only in the NHL, but in the NFL and NBA. The bottom line in their view: “the Blackhawks are going to be pretty good next year.”

In contrast, TSN, also broadcasting from Toronto their UFA Draft Day Frenzy programming, carried in the US on the NHL Network, was all hand rubbing and doomsday scenarios.

The irreverent James Duthie did his best as host to punctuate the proceedings with some humor, while the panel pronounced itself, predicting winners and losers not only UFA Day, but for the coming year. Pierre McGuire’s perennial favorites, the Vancouver Canucks, having gotten “over the hump” were now poised to pluck Stanley’s stein from the Tallon-less talons of the Hawks. Former Flyer Keith Jones lauded the moves of Paul Holmgren, his eyes misty with the thought of the Cup being hoisted in the City of Brotherly Love. Bob McKenzie, obviously eager to start his summer vacation, took a deep breath, glowered at the camera and delivered his judgments with the gravity of an envoy from the Vatican.  TV with testosterone, to keep us all on ‘the edge’. 

And to think the season doesn’t start for another three months.

With all the drama generated around the salaries and contracts of players, in today’s showbiz world of the frozen biscuit, we rarely get the unadorned facts. Instead, we see hockey journalists strutting on stage like rock stars, casting aside their objectivity to inundate us with opinion, thrusting their expertise at us like an open-ice body-check.

In the hazy heat of the off-season, some may pine for the era of carefully crafted hockey writing, when masters like Kenneth Rudeen, Gerald Eskenazi, Jim Proudfoot, Scott Young, Trent Frayne, Dick Beddoes and Stan Fischler penned often funny and unusual tales of the men who don the pads and the blades. In those days, hockey writers were smuggled onto sleeper trains by buddies on the clubs they covered; withstood the withering profanities of toothless superstars; and risked the ire of managers who banned them, not only from the dressing room, but from the rink.

Today, hockey journalists tweet, and cap geeks rule.

As Kurt Vonnegut might say, “So it goes.”

Before the next faceoff can be taken, there is already a flood of forecasts on the fate of the 2010 Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks. Never mind that the event itself was momentous; that two million people poured into the city’s streets to celebrate a triumph almost half a century in the making.

As long as it has been in coming, the moment is even more fleeting. But the collective pleasure Blackhawks fans have now will be savored for as long as they can, and far beyond the year they wear the crown. Owner Rocky Wirtz has paid homage to his grandfather Arthur, and his father Bill, who kept the Hawks as a family business even when the bad times could have made it easy to sell them off.

Meanwhile, the media machine talks of dynasties and dismantling, though the truth is, of the few teams who win the ultimate prize, few repeat and almost none in subsequent seasons.

As Jonathan Toews hoisted not only the Stanley Cup, but the Conn Smythe Trophy, the victory was filled with history. Those who had won the Cup in 1961 tasted the champagne again, and slaked the thirst that had lasted more than a generation.

If it meant taking risks, and maybe even bending a few rules, along the way, the numbers on the balance sheet are, after all, incidental. In the business of pro sport, the winners do whatever it takes.

The roll call of Stanley Cup Champions does not include their salaries. One can rummage to find the figures, and if diligent enough, what juggling General Managers might have had to do afterwards.

When there is lack of diligence, there is always convenient cleverness. Likening the Hawks to ‘one and done’ teams, Greg “Puck Daddy” Wyshynski, glibly called the Hawk trades “the worst dismantling”, adding “The Florida Marlins comparisons are starting to inch toward validity.” Mr. Wyshynski’s allusion to Jeffrey Loria, whether accidental or intended, is spurious at best.

In the meantime, many clubs in the NHL who are still ‘none and done’. They’re Cup-less in Vancouver, LA, San Jose, Phoenix, Minnesota, St. Louis, Columbus, Washington, Atlanta, Florida, Nashville, Buffalo and Ottawa (though some Sens fans will valiantly argue the point). Many of those teams are managing their budgets without accusations of being careless, and without being painted as ‘victims’ of the dreaded ‘cap crisis’.

These teams also don’t have to deal with counting up the revenue and other fringe benefits that come from being Number One.

Would they trade the pain for the ecstasy, however brief, of being a Champion? Ask their fans.

Fact is: every NHL Champion since the lockout has had to confront some kind of fiscal fallout. That’s when hockey executives face their stiffest test.

General Managers who play hardball, and make the tough decisions following the celebration, give their organizations a chance to replenish.

During an interview on Montreal-based Team 990 radio, CBC hockey reporter Elliote Friedman recently quoted Red Wings GM Ken Holland as leaning on the book “The Blueprint”, for reference and inspiration.

According to Friedman, Holland shared the main lesson he took from that chronicle of the New England Patriots’ success, an understanding that a winning team seeking longevity as a contender could keep only a small core of key players; and that the rest had to be both interchangeable, and value-priced.

So if Detroit—and Pittsburgh, if one applies the same objective view—have seen the salary cap, at least in part, stifle their short-term hopes for a Stanley Cup repeat, it stands to reason that Chicago would face its own version of the same dilemma.

“The Blueprint” insists that pro sports executives must forsake sentiment in favor of ruthlessness.

On the surface, Hawks GM Stan Bowman doesn’t fit the profile of the ruthless executive. He’s no ’Neutron Jack’ Welch, slashing costs as he snarls at adversity, implementing his Six Sigma credo of organizational excellence like a Marine Drill Sergeant.

But Stan does play hardball.

Hardball is what Champions must play. The salary cap obliges them to do so; principles of good management compel them to do so. The Red Wings roster for 2009-10 is missing 10 members of the Cup winning team from two seasons before. The Pittsburgh Penguins started their housecleaning earlier, after their trip to the 2008 Finals, and finished last year having changed over twenty roster players since then, at least eight of those after they won the Cup in 2009.

So where is the clamor over the moves made by Ken Holland and Ray Shero? There is none, perhaps because there is nothing to clamor about.

Yet when the Blackhawks trade six men, the Church Ladies of the hockey world shake their accusing fingers.

The moderator of the aforementioned Prime Time Sports’ hockey discussion made another point: in the age of the salary cap, trades aren’t made based on talent. They are made based on contracts.

In Stan Bowman’s case, he contends, as he has since the day he took the job, that the organization was going to examine what needed to be done to bring the Hawks’ budget into line. He also made it clear he would take whatever steps necessary without compromising the team’s competitiveness.

“When you have success, guys want raises. That’s normal,” he says. “And we understand that.”

He also understood that paying three million dollars a year to role players was not good business. So Byfuglien and Versteeg joined Cam Barker as ex-Hawks, followed shortly by Andrew Ladd whose agent, it was reported, was seeking a hefty raise to a similar level.

Brent Sopel, having been down that road before, was philosophical and gracious in his departure, thanking the team and the fans. Ben Eager and Adam Burish, in and out of the lineup with injuries or as healthy scratches, get fresh starts in their new homes.

The so-called “Stanley Cup Hangover” never gets a chance. The party is over. A page is turned.

So what has Bowman achieved, and how does next year’s edition of the Blackhawks compare with the Cup winners?

Seeing how the Red Wings and the Penguins lost key players to free agency and cap issues with zero return, Bowman set about getting tangible assets in exchange for the bodies he would ship out.

The term ‘salary dump’ is casually used, as if GMs were trying to find a secret place to toss sacks of ill-gotten cash.

The correct description, however, is ‘salary reduction’.

In the NFL, nobody bats an eye if players with multi-million dollar contracts are simply cut from the roster. In the NBA, teams have a multitude of ‘exceptions’ whereby they can exceed the cap for players who may meet varied criteria. The NHL, however, is lambasted constantly by a contentious segment who can’t find enough things wrong with the league, and that includes moralizing about what ‘the right way’ is to run a hockey team.

Bouquets are thrown at the feet of Ken Holland and Ray Shero, even though players like Marian Hossa, Mikael Samuelsson, Jiri Hudler, Dominik Hasek, Hal Gill, and Rob Scuderi, among others, left, with nothing coming back.

Giving Stan Bowman credit for obtaining four current or former first round draft picks, a former high second rounder, several NHL-ready prospects and a budget-priced veteran two-way center, while trimming nine million dollars from his payroll and saving more millions in possible raises, might be in order. Going from a salary mass of almost $63 million down to just under $56 million since right before the March trade deadline, and about to shed another five and a half million with the presumed exit of former starting goalie Cristobal Huet, Stan Bowman has shown he can not only crunch the numbers, but also swing a workable deal under pressure.

According to the Chicago Daily Herald’s Tim Sassone, Bowman will have about $9 million dollars in cap room if, and once, Huet is gone, which should be more than enough to fill out the roster.

Still, the question remains: will the Blackhawks be as good a team in 2010-11 now that Byfuglien, Versteeg, Ladd, Eager, Sopel, Fraser, and Burish have departed?

With Top 6 forwards in Toews, Kane, Hossa, Sharp, Bolland and Brouwer, a Top 4 defense of Keith, Seabrook, Campbell and Hjalmarsson, and Niemi in goal (assuming Bowman signs the two RFAs, though Niemi had filed for arbitration as of this writing), it’s hard to accuse, with any credibility, the Hawks of being ‘a shadow of their former selves’.

On the contrary, the Hawks’ core is equal to most any in the NHL.

Yes, the ‘bottom six’ and six/seven d-spots are up for grabs. The argument is also being made that the Blackhawks have “lost their depth”.

That argument may not hold up, though, if the new arrivals have anything to say about it.

Former AHL’ers who have paid their dues, Brian Bickell and Jake Dowell, are products of the Hawks’ system: two young, hard-nosed hockey players who will scrap for a puck and engage in a scrap. The 6’4”, 223-pound Bickell brings brawn as well as skill. He got three goals including a game-winner during his brief visits to Chicago, including a few playoff appearances. Not flashy, but responsible and ready to crash the crease, with the potential to become the power forward Byfuglien was hoped to be, and that Ladd and Eager never were. Currently Rockford Ice Hogs Captain, Dowell, a 25-year old stocky six-foot 200-pounder, provides leadership, defensive strength, energy and aggressiveness. He got two points in his three-game stint with the Hawks last year.

Another Hawk farmhand mentioned is 2007 first round pick winger Jack Skille, who has taken more time to develop than might have been wished for, but has the tools and speed to step in and step up.

On defense, former OHL star Shawn Lalonde has graduated to Rockford. He played in one exhibition game for the Hawks last year and is reportedly in the Duncan Keith/Brian Campbell mould, a fast d-man who can bring a physical element along with good decision-making. Brian Connelly is similarly sized and performed well in Rockford; he may be more of a reserve defenseman like Jordan Hendry. Both were part of the “Black Aces” on hand for the Hawks in the playoffs.

Also highly spoken of is 2008 first rounder Kyle Beach, a 20-year old 6’3”, 205-pound winger who potted 52 goals in the Western Hockey League while racking up 186 penalty minutes.

There are a few more ‘wild cards’ in the deck, and these bear further examination.

Viktor Stalberg is a 24-year Swedish left winger with an imposing 6’3”, 200-pound frame and, apparently, the kind of blazing speed that puts a smile on a coach’s face. With nine goals in 40 games on a poor Leafs team, Stalberg can be realistically projected as a 20-goal scorer in Chicago. If he has the toughness and ‘hockey IQ’, which watching him play suggests he does, he might just carve out a spot opposite Marian Hossa.

Defenseman Ivan Vishnevskiy is interesting for a number of reasons. His name is the Russian version of Wisniewski, as in James, the brawny former Hawk d-man who gained notoriety as a Duck after his vicious concussion-causing charge last year on Brent Seabrook. Vishnevskiy, a smooth-skating, puck-moving blueliner from the ancient Siberian city of Barnaul, is the polar opposite. Stan Bowman believes the former Dallas Stars first round choice has a chance to challenge for a regular spot next year. Watching the 5’11”, 176-pounder play as a Star in a few games, he exhibited poise and potential. His scouting report from The Sports Forecaster tags him as a future power play quarterback.

Marty Reasoner is not a superstar, but the ex-Blues, Oilers and Thrashers stalwart was also a first-round pick back in 1996. Reasoner is a robust 6’1”, 205, and delivers value as a smart, dependable checking line center and penalty killer, for half the price of John Madden.

Other players who might surprise include Jeremy Morin, who came in the deal with the Thrashers. At 19 years old, he may need more seasoning, but his 47 goals last year in the OHL are evidence of his talent. At 6’1”, 190, he can reportedly use more strength, but won’t be pushed around, as his 76 PIM indicate.

The Hawks’ draft picks have already been discussed in previous articles, including my own here on Hockey Independent (“Blackhawks’ 2010 Draft: The Known Unknowns”). They appear to be well-considered selections. Among them, Ludvig Rensfeldt, a 6’3, 190-pound 18-year old Swedish winger chosen in Round Two, who patterns his game after Vincent Lecavalier, is an intriguing package.

The only UFA signing being hulking defenseman John Scott, confirms Bowman’s statement that the team would be looking for “low dollar guys to fill in” as necessary.

At about a half a million per year for two years, former Wild man Scott is a 6’8”, 258-pound heavyweight enforcer who can play defense and forward. Is he the second coming of Jerry ‘King Kong’ Korab, or the ‘new Buff’? If Hawk head coach Joel Quenneville, one of the smartest defensemen in his day, and who transmits his knowledge well, can help Scott polish his game and use his frame, the Blackhawks might have themselves more than a fan favorite.

Since Johnny Mariucci fought Detroit’s Black Jack Stewart in one of the NHL’s longest fights ever, a fifteen-minute mano a mano back in 1946, Hawks fans have showered their policemen with affection. Scott inherits the blood-stained cape of Reggie Fleming, Dave Manson, Stu Grimson and Bob Probert.

Another way of Stan Bowman ‘playing hardball’? A statement that the Blackhawks won’t stand for any nonsense from opposition goons? It remains to be seen.

Looking at the talent coming from the Hawks’ trading partners in Toronto and Atlanta, it is worthwhile noting that Bowman didn’t let any of his assets go to Western Conference rivals, or even teams that could pose a threat to the Hawks.

This recalls the tactics of his father Scotty’s mentor Sam Pollock, whose savvy in Montreal as a wheeler-dealer General Manager saw Sam funnel excess talent to struggling clubs and expansion teams. Pollock built relationships as he sent players that could help his partners now in return for players, prospects and picks that could help his own team in the future. Pollock also opened up spots for up-and-coming players eager to prove they were worthy of his, and the coaches’ confidence.

Two historic hockey families—the Wirtzes and the Bowmans—who know how Pollock worked, have gotten together. Their meeting of minds can bode well for the future, if the faith they show in their young, hungry Hawks bears fruit.

Before the experts and fans of rivals turn their noses up, they might want to remember how those ‘in the know’ slandered the Colorado Avalanche prior to the start of the 2009-10 campaign. They had the Avs living in the basement; too young, too raw to keep up, from GM on down. Greg Sherman, Joe Sacco, Matt Duchene and company proved them wrong.

Likewise last year, the doom-and-gloomers ripped Bob Gainey to shreds for daring to give his team a radical facelift. The only thing the Canadiens did was go to the Conference Finals, dethroning the reigning Penguins after winning a trench war against Comrade Ovechkin and his Capital Gang.

Those who snipe at the Blackhawks, might find themselves eating crow. Or not. The astute Paul Kukla (of Kukla’s Korner and NHL.com) , tweeted on July 1st to the New York Post’s Larry Brooks that Chicago would be “like an expansion team next year, with all new players”.

Not that Stan Bowman cares what the critics say.

Before and throughout the 2009-10 season, the talk about how much was ‘expected’ of the Blackhawks permeated discussions about the Chicago franchise.

Now that the Hawks have won it all, the talk will shift to whether or not they can do it again.

Stan Bowman might simply respond, “We’re comfortable with that.”

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About the Author: David Morris' hockey writing has been featured at KuklasKorner.com and Chicago Sports Then & Now. He is also the North American correspondent for leading Swiss hockey site, Planete Hockey.

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  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by TB Lightning Feed. TB Lightning Feed said: #TBLightning UFA Daze: Hawks Play Hardball: The UFA Frenzy has passed. As the experts survey the… http://19FTW.in/2L1qR via @HockeyIndie [...]

  2. Al Cimaglia says:

    Nice blog …

    Word I got is Scott is a brigt guy and he was a very good signing by Bowman.

    If Stalberg can play as a top six forward and score 20 gaols the offfense should be ok.

    There are question marks for sure…

    But what all the critics forget is the Hawks have kept the same group of youngsters together in Rockford for a few years.

    They are very hungry and their window of opportunity is NOW…the other youngsters recently signed are going to want big stage time soon.

    • Dave Morris says:

      Al>thanks and good points about the guys in Rockford. Time for the Hawks to make their AHL investment pay off.

      If Bickell and Dowell (among others) respond well to Q and the coaching staff, no reason in principle why they can’t more than adequately replace the departed.

  3. Mariposa Belle says:

    Let me use a car mechanic analogy for the moves Bowman has made.

    Your high powered sports car has just given you an enormous amount of pleasure during the season – it delivered everything you wanted and expected. It is now in the shop in the off season to replace the tires, change the fluids and change the plugs. By doing so, the integrity of the machine is protected, possibly even enhanced.

    That’s how I see Bowman’s moves. Eventually, you may wish to replace the machine, at which point everything is sold for scrap and built from scratch. That could be a long way off.

    As a Senator’s supporter, let me carry the analogy to that club. Purchasing Kovalev was similar to putting a dual exhaust high performance exhaust system on a 1998 Volkswagen Golf. Looked good but didn’t add much to the performance.

    Prost

  4. David L. says:

    The real question is: who have the Hawks really lost?

    By my count, the only players who were not overpaid “spare parts” were Ladd and Sopel. To be frank, I’m being charitable about Sopel, who was actually a often-injured “character guy.” Assuming Madden is really gone, Reasoner more or less directly replaces his role.

    Byfuglien was such a great player that Quenneville had to move him to forward to get any value from him in either the regular season or the playoffs. People seem to forget that Byfuglien only performed well when skating on a line with true superstars. His role largely consisted of screening the other team’s goalie and feeding in rebounds. While he may have had some value in this role on a championship team, there’s nothing in his history to suggest that he could ever do this on a consistent basis. Byfuglien should be Exhibit A when anyone wants to draw the distinction between “clutch” and “fluke.”

    In my mind, the brutal truth is that most players in the NHL are going to look a hell of a lot better when taking the ice with some combination of Toews, Kane, Hossa, Sharp, Bolland, Brouwer, Keith, Seabrook, Campbell and/or Hjalmarsson. Look at what happened to Tomas Kopecky, for cryin’ out loud. Kopecky went from being a playoff no-show to a contributor in one season.

    The real irony is that no one seems to be lamenting the Flyers’ offseason so far. Philadelphia has made a mess of it. Why re-sign Leighton when there are better goalies who will not be playing in the NHL next season? They then traded a pick for Andrej Meszaros, a $4 million cap hit. Shelley was another inexplicable move, especially at a little over $1 million a year, since he is not as good as either Asham or Cote. Now, I am hearing that Gagne is out the door. Hell, I have even heard rumours that Briere is being shopped. Where is all of the angst for Philadelphia?

    I suppose the real answer is that as a Hawks’ fan, I am used to the team receiving no attention from either local, national, or international media. Having every move scrutinized at this late date just seems odd to me, especially when some of the “usual suspects” are still up to their old tricks.

    • Dave Morris says:

      David L> thanks…the aspects you raise about Byfuglien’s game are very pertinent.

      It’s really just part of the normal cycle for players…at some point, they come out of entry level contracts and get a dollar figure management hopes will both reward and motivate them.

      I believe Buff will do well in ATL. He has a chance to develop on a team where he is under less pressure than in Chicago, and where his personality may be a better fit.

      Al Cimaglia has noted that the relationship between Buff and Rick Dudley is a strong one.

      As for the Flyers–or any other team for that matter–GMs have an extremely difficult time making all the pieces fit, simply because the salary cap gives them no margin for error.

      In the pre-cap days, a General Manager might make a mistake overpaying for a contract, but it could be masked or buried or otherwise absorbed (the most extreme being the Jagr WSH deal).

      Nowadays, GMs are totally exposed.

      To make a Cup run may require taking on an impact player who can totally upset a team’s salary structure. But if you don’t sign that player, you might never distance yourself from the pack.

      Stan Bowman’s actually in a pretty good spot. The fans are happy because the Hawks are Champions, so this is the best time for him to make big changes, as the fan base will probably be most tolerant.

      From a team perspective, the core is strong enough, and the competitive balance throughout the West close enough, that the Hawks can at least get a decent playoff seed.

      The raw material Quenneville has to work with is very good.

      And if the new kids deliver, the Blackhawks are right in the mix, if not better.

  5. David L. says:

    Dear Dave:

    I have to agree that the playoff seeding could really matter next year. (Again, this is why I’m not crying over Byfuglien.) With the core players in place and regular nights off between games, I believe the Hawks may have the luxury of playing their young stars for longer minutes in the later rounds, if necessary.

    On the other hand, the Western Conference looks to be even more competitive next year, which makes seeding a little less critical. As the East demonstrated this year, there’s no guarantee that the weaker teams will just rollover and die in the early rounds. Still, I wouldn’t turn my nose up at a first round matchup with the #8 seed.

    The NHL’s “hard” salary cap may prove to be a long-term mistake. I would be in favor of a system that resembles the NBA, or at least allows for the designation of a “franchise” player and a mid-level exception.

    If the present trends continue, I see two potential results hurting the league. The first would be TOO MUCH player movement from season to season. I think it goes without saying that fans aren’t crazy about the constant reshuffling of the deck. The second trend would be constant inflation of the cap floor and ceiling, which will eventually result in retraction or some significant franchise movement. I would argue that both of these trends don’t exactly help the NHL’s relative popularity.

    Of course, this begs some questions, such as, do we really need two franchises in Florida? This subject has been beaten to death, so I will let it go for the present.

    I wrote a series of articles on parity and salary caps two years ago. Ultimately, I was forced to conclude that franchise location, business acumen, and talent evaluation were more important factors than salary caps in influencing parity.

    However, one critical factor makes this sort of analysis difficult. In short, all of the major professional leagues have a significant history prior to their salary cap eras. We just don’t have enough data; the NFL, NBA, and NHL haven’t had caps long enough to make statistically significant conclusions. Perhaps even more importantly, a handful of teams have traditionally dominated their respective leagues prior to the cap. Even if the salaries were equal, most players would prefer to sign with the Yankees (revenue sharing only in MLB, of course), Lakers, Cowboys, or Red Wings, just for example. You can argue with my individual examples, but the general principle seems to hold true. The recent Kovalchuk/Thrashers situation is a good illustration.

    • Mariposa Belle says:

      David – I disagree with your last paragraph regarding the NHL. After the demise of the Oiler dynasty (replacing the Islander dynasty) there have been no behemoths in the NHL – gorillas perhaps in the guise of the Red Wings, but no ‘we spend money, we will win’ clubs. The Rangers being the poster boy for big spending for failure.

      I also take issue with the Kovalchuck/Thrashers situation. I think you miss the point that players such as Kovy want to play in the high media zones (which tend to bring high cash). If cash was the only consideration-Kovalchuk would have signed with Atlanta – increased his salaray by corporate sponsorship and would have tried to use his personal status with the club to improve the profile of the organization in Atlanta (see Mario Lemieux with failing Pittsburgh franchise).

      I don’t blame Kovy for looking for greener pastures. The dance between players, agents, owners and coaches have been the stock in trade of the NHL since King Clancy was enticed with a wad of cash to leave the Lumberkings for the Leafs.

      Prost

      • David L. says:

        Dear Mariposa Belle:

        I agree that the NHL is the “weak link” in the “salary caps don’t work” argument. However, I did mention that franchise location was important, and I think this is essentially the same point you are making regarding Kovalchuk in Atlanta. That is, not all cities are created equal.

        The NHL has a harder cap than the NBA or NFL, due to the NBA’s laundry list of exceptions and the ability to cut players in the NFL. (There are some limitations on the ability to do this in the NFL, such as signing bonuses.) I think the argument for a salary cap has its best evidence in the NHL’s system, but I also think that there are some other factors that explain the relative parity.

        Since we sort of cross-posted, I’ll mention the fall of the Iron Curtain and over-expansion again. The talent pool expanded, but the number of franchises expanded during the same period. There may still not be enough “A-level” talent to go around. If true, this is not so much “parity” as “dilution.”

        At the same time, some of the perennial losers seem to have no hope. Atlanta will never attract top free agents on any real scale, because they have no chance of winning. No doubt, the fact that Atlanta is not a top media market is a major part of the equation, but the Braves had no trouble in attracting free agents when they were winning. Conversely, the Clippers play in the same city as the Lakers.

        Don’t get me wrong, I think you are on the right track with Kovalchuk. It’s really difficult to say for certain whether the primary factor is franchise location, market size, “winning tradition,” etc., precisely because all of these factors tend come together with the more successful franchises.

        • David L. says:

          Dear Mariposa Belle:

          Here’s yet another thought regarding expansion in the various leagues…

          I was thinking about Atlanta, and two more points finally dawned on me.

          First, when I was a youngster, Atlanta was more or less known as the pre-eminent city of Black America. I’m not sure this is really true anymore. (I’m pushing 40, so I’m talking about the ’70s-’80s.)

          Second, when I was a youngster, the Atlanta teams were more or less it in the Deep South. Almost all of the pro teams in Florida, Tennessee, and the Carolinas have come into being in my lifetime. Only the New Orleans Saints and Miami Dolphins were around back then. The Atlanta teams used to be regional teams with larger potential fan bases. This was definitely true in the case of the Braves, who used to market themselves as such.

          I’m thinking this may be a factor in the current struggles of the Braves, Hawks, Falcons, and Thrashers.

  6. David L. says:

    Dear Dave:

    I forgot to mention that the real key to NHL “parity” may have been the fall of the Iron Curtain. The flipside of this was that the dramatic expansion of the talent pool made franchise over-expansion possible. However, this probably a discussion better left for another day…

    …maybe I should start lobbying for a slot on the Hockeenight Podcast…

  7. Dave Morris says:

    @David L. & Mariposa Belle> you Gentlemen have certainly covered a wide scope in your discussion of the Salary Cap.

    As has been noted by a number of hockey historians, the original intent of the Cap was (a) to ensure teams wouldn’t get into a spending war which would ultimately sink the weaker clubs (b) to implement ‘cost certainty’ whereby budgets could actually be planned based on a relatively stable salary mass.

    In the case of the Chicago Blackhawks, the franchise itself was in danger of extinction in the 1950s before it was rescued by James ‘Jimmy’ Norris and Arthur Wirtz.

    Ironically, Jimmy’s dad James Norris Sr. had wanted to buy the Black Hawks from the original owner, Major Frederick McLaughlin. When he was rebuffed, Norris went out and purchased the Detroit Falcons which he renamed the Red Wings.

    Thus do rivalries begin.

    As for the prospects of the Hawks in the Central Division next year, their objective will probably be what it was last year…to shoot for another Division title, as that has become the only guarantee of playoff seeding.

    Looking at where Detroit, Nashville, St. Louis and Columbus are at, a second Central Division Championship is not unrealistic.

    Right now, much rests on the upcoming negotiations regarding Antti Niemi’s filing for salary arbitration.

    Depending on the result, Stan Bowman might just turn around call Marty Turco, Jose Theodore or Evgeni Nabokov.

    The thought of the oft-victimized Nabby wearing the Indian Head could scarcely be more ironic.

    • David L. says:

      Dear Dave:

      As I’m sure you know, the Norris story is even shadier than people imagine. Since many people may not know about it, I’ll share an excerpt from my article on NHL parity that I mentioned.

      “The so-called ‘Original Six’ era was the NHL equivalent of the Dark Ages. Essentially, professional ice hockey resembled ‘sports entertainment’ more than a legitimate professional league during most of the era. The NHL even had its own version of Vince McMahon, James E. Norris. James E., sometimes known as James Norris, Sr. (to distinguish him from his son, who was actually James D.), essentially took over the league in just 16 years.

      James E. Norris was a self-made Canadian-American millionaire and former McGill defenseman. In 1926, James E. was outbid for the Chicago franchise by Frederic McLaughlin. McLaughlin made the early Black Hawks competitive overnight by buying out the contracts of the WHL Portland Rosebuds, a pro team with a ten year track record. In 1929, James E. stole a march on McLaughlin by becoming one of the primary backers of the Chicago Stadium. This began a vendetta between Frederic McLaughlin and James E. Norris that lasted until McLaughlin’s death. Since the existing NHL owners would not allow James E. an expansion franchise, he decided to back the Chicago Shamrocks of the outlaw American Hockey Association (a.k.a. American Hockey League) in 1930. For the first and last time, the NHL was able to unite to keep James E. in check, and Norris withdrew his support from the AHA/AHL, which folded in 1932.

      By 1932, the NHL had denied over five proposals from James E. Norris, including plans for an expansion team in any of the following areas: Chicago, New York City, St. Louis, Toronto, and various locales in the silver-mining country of Ontario. This included a proposal to bail out the struggling Ottawa Senators (folded in 1934) and relocate them to the Toronto area.

      In 1932, James E. Norris launched upon an entirely new, dramatic strategy: becoming the landlord of the NHL in the U.S. In 1931, the Detroit Cougars and the Detroit Olympia Stadium went into receivership. In 1932, James E. bought the Detroit Olympia outright, and he leveraged this position into approval from the NHL to buy the Detroit club with Arthur Wirtz, which was reborn as the Detroit Red Wings. In the next 10 years, James E. Norris would acquire significant interests in all four of the NHL facilities in the U.S. In 1936, James E. bought the Chicago Stadium. By 1939, James E. had acquired a controlling interest in Madison Square Garden. By 1942, James E. also acquired a significant ownership interest in the Boston Garden.

      In 1944, Norris helped longtime Black Hawks president Bill Tobin put together a syndicate that bought the team from the McLaughlin estate. It was an open secret that James E. actually made all of the major business and personnel decisions for the Black Hawks and Rangers until his death in 1952.

      To recap, the Norris family essentially owned two teams outright (Chicago and Detroit), effectively controlled another (New York), and held significant influence over the remaining NHL team based in the U.S. (Boston) during the ‘Original Six’ era. Additionally, the Norris family owned the stadiums in Chicago and Detroit outright. During this period, critical journalists in the U.S. and Canada routinely denounced the NHL as the ‘Norris House League.’”

      Basically, if you thought that professional baseball had some skeletons in the closet, you should look into the history of professional hockey. It’s pretty shocking. 

      • Dave Morris says:

        Thanks David…actually much of what you have shared is chronicled in a number of excellent books by the greats of hockey writing.

        “Hockey:The Story of the World’s Fastest Sport” (Macmillan, 1969) by Dick Beddoes, Stan Fischler and Ira Gitler, is in my view, a must have in this regard.

        If you are interested in delving into the aspects of the subject you cite further, I highly recommend the following:
        >”Deceptions & Doublecross: How the NHL Conquered Hockey” (Dundurn Press, 2002);
        >”Cracked Ice” by Stan Fischler (Contemporary Books,1999);
        >”Power Plays: An Inside Look at the Big Business of the NHL” (Birch Lane Press, 1997) by Gil Stein.

        Pro sports has never been the domain of nice guys…it’s the domain of the super rich.

        • David L. says:

          Dear Dave:

          Thanks for the references. I live in SW Indiana, and I am more or less self-taught when it comes to hockey, much less hockey history. “Hockey: The Story of the World’s Fastest Sport” is the only one of these I have read. Our public library system doesn’t carry any of those later books.

          I was a college student living in St. Petersburg when Tampa Bay got its expansion franchise. I didn’t seriously follow hockey until then, although I am a long-time bandwagon follower of the Hawks (oxymoron?) due to 1991-1992.

          I used to be a regular contributor for “Another Cubs Blog” until I returned to school to take the classes I needed to sit for the CPA exam. I really didn’t know much about NHL history until I did a series of articles on parity and salary caps back in late 2008.

          • Dave Morris says:

            @DavidL> David, I imagine most hockey ‘experts’ are self taught…

            Your enthusiasm is infectious.

            All the books I cited are available used from Amazon or Alibris.com, for a very affordable price, if you are so inclined.

            And being a Hawks loyalist, you are always among friends here.

            BTW I am most grateful to Al Cimaglia, who invited me to join HockeyIndependent, and whose own Hawkey experiences include some terrific stories. His podcast on XM Sirius–all included with his articles at HI–are well worth discovering.

            You probably also know Mike Kiley’s work at Blackhawks Confidential; HockeeNight! and The Fifth Feather, as well as Sam Fels’ irreverent Second City Hockey…all fun to visit.

    • David L. says:

      “The thought of the oft-victimized Nabby wearing the Indian Head could scarcely be more ironic.”

      On the bright side for Nabokov, his stats would likely improve enough to get a bigger offer in 2011-2012 after a one season stint with Chicago.

      • Dave Morris says:

        @David L> to your point, it’s entirely possible Evgeni Nabokov could finally get himself a Stanley Cup ring if he were a Blackhawk.

        Technically, he is still one of the better goaltenders in the NHL.

        The issue seems to have been that the Sharks are not a particularly good team when it comes to overall defense. And this is not to diminish the efforts of Todd McLellan and his staff.

        The 2010 Russian Olympic team had similar problems in front of Nabby.

  8. shruew says:

    Lots of interesting references in this article. But, with a title like “UFA Daze” you could have at least worked in one Eric Daze reference!

  9. Dave Morris says:

    @shreuw> you’re right.

    The Johnny Mariucci story bumped the Daze reference, though…

  10. Fred Poulin says:

    Great insight guys on the Hawks situation. Eric Daze was known as the Gentle Giant when he played his junior hockey in Beauport, QC, 5 mins from my home! :-)

  11. Patrick says:

    Dave – great article, and perfect timing with the dog-days of hockey summer upon us. Stan’s doing a good job so far, and the 2010-2011 Hawks team is going to be a damn good one.

    Keep up the good words, and keep ‘em coming!

    • Patrick says:

      Dave and All – what do people see as the Hawks lineup next year? I see the lines like this:

      Brouwer / Toews / Kane
      Stalberg / Sharp / Hossa
      Bickell / Bolland / Skille
      Kopecky / Reasoner / Dowell

      Not sure about Skille – I’ve never been impressed with him as I think he’s a low-skill top-2 line guy and not sure if he’s built for a checking or energy line. If he doesn’t fit here, I’d go after Aaron Asham (provided he can be had at a reasonable cap hit for a year or two).

      Seabrook / Keith
      Hjammer / Campbell
      Boynton / Vishnevskiy

      Scott is the 7th/D-man and 13th forward (combo).

      I would resign Boynton as I think he handled himself well when he played and the Hawks need a big body, stay-at-home type to play with Vish-whatever. I think that Hendry is the odd-man out here.

      Niemi
      Crawford

      I think that Crawford gets chance to prove himself and if he doesn’t, the Hawks pick a veteran goalie up mid-season either via trade or off the scrap heap.

      Finally, I think that this team can be signed and make it under the cap. Oh, and I think that they can very much contend in the West, and for the Cup – ‘haters be damned.

      So – whatta y’all think?

      • Al Cimaglia says:

        I wouldn’t bet on Boynton being around.
        They will try to work Scott in is my guess.

        Q. could use Stalberg with Toews and Kane.

        Also Bolland could center the second line between Sharp and Hossa.

        Dowell and Reasoner would be the pivots for the other lines.

        There are options…Q. always seems to like Hossa and Kopecky toether although I wouldn’t play it that way.

        Also depends if they want to keep Sharp at center or they want to try Bolland with Hossa again.

        Crawford will be on the big club.

        Niemi will be too……unless he goes to arbitration and is awarded crazy money.

        • Dave Morris says:

          Patrick>I tend to agree with Al, but I think it’s too early to anticipate line combinations and defense pairings.

          The prospects camp in Chicago is July 9-12, and before/after that there possibly some changes left to be made.

          Much depends on how the newcomers perform. There is a lot of talent to choose from.

          The main thing in the short term, is stabilizing the situation with Niemi and Hjalmarsson.

          • Patrick says:

            Al and Dave – yea, it’s early to do this, but it can be so damn fun, especially with the lack of readable Hawks info out there right now. You and the other Hawks bolgs need to come up with a litigurical calendar so we have something top read every day.

            Anyways, here are a few thoughts on the way I see the lineup:

            - I put Brouwer on the top line since I think that Kane and Towes play well with a “disrupting big” and since they have played together before, this is a plus. Also, I think that T-Brou will have a better year that Buff.

            - I put Stalberg with Sharp and Hossa since I think that his speed plays better with Sharp (and they’re both UVM guys – okay, I know that means nothing, but “it’s a little known fact”). Whether he wants to be or not, Sharp is the second best center on the team, and he finally is with the program. Also, I think that Hossa can play with virtually anyone, but Bolland is one of those guys that Hossa can’t play with so…

            - I put Bolland as the third line center because I think he makes the guys he plays with better (they feed off of him) and I think having him on the third line makes the Hawks deeper. Yea, he’s probably a bit overpaid as a third-liner, but he plays special teams too and he’s a luxury the Hawks have chose to afford. A year without back pain will serve us all well.

            - I’m with you, T-Kop doesn’t quite have the hands for the second line – he’ll be an energy guy and his contract will serve as tagging room to resign Seabrook and one or both of Brouwer and Stalberg (whom I think will go off this year, more so than Versteeg would have).

            - If Scott can become the big man, shut down guy, that’s great – bye bye Boynton and Hendry gets a reprieve, back to the 6th/7th D-man he was last year (a role he’ll share with Scott, depending on the match up).

            - Here’s hoping that Niemi doesn’t crap the bed this year and that Crawford can be a capable backup.

            - Any chance Hjammer signs before Niemi? I know, we have time, but it would be good to get him locked up.

            The funny thing about this is that we’ll probably be doing more of the same next year since the talent in the system is going to need to be elevated, and some guys are going to get too expensive. There are going to be a lot of guys in the NHL that will have the Hawks seal of approval stamped on them before they move onto more money elsewhere.

  12. Allan Martel says:

    Great dialogue here on history between the two Davids – (actually three, since Mariposa Belle is also a David).

    What a contrast to the TSN and SportsNet analysyts whose stock and trade is access and whose claim to fame is getting the scoop seconds before everyone else.

    When one of their supposed best is a former Leafs enforcer forced out of the game by concussions, the fuzzy thinking in their collective analysis is quite understandable.

    This is why the articles here stand head and shoulders above the rest – based as they are on carefully considered and balanced reporting, without the macho machismo that is the former NHLer’s forte.

    As David Morris explains clearly, Stan Bowman has made the best of the hand that he has been dealt. What Mr. Morris does not say is that Bowman (not unlike Lamarillo) has gone about his business quietly without the bombastic BS of The Burke, and far more effectively as a result.

    The Hawks development cupboard is stuffed to the breaking point and this year the best of these kids will finally break into the NHL with predictable success and a potantially large impact on this carefully balanced squad.

    It`s a great time to be a Hawks fan as their prospects have seldom seemed brighter. I see the Hawks and Canucks as the class of the West next year and, as was the case this year, the East simply doesn`t matter.

    • David L. says:

      Dear Allan, Patrick, et al.:

      There’s a lot of good points being made left and right in this thread, and I’m too tired to address them all systematically.

      1. The Spurs (NBA) have had some succes by adding roleplayers from International competition to supplement their superstars. The best example was adding Fabricio Oberto in 2007. It was pretty obvious that Oberto, who had limited (but very real) skills, made a much bigger impact when on the court with fellow Argentinian Ginobili. This was due to their years of playing together and mutual friendship.

      This model doesn’t really hold true with Tomas Kopecky and Marian Hossa. That is, they could be very tight, but they haven’t logged any significant time together on the ice, from what I have been able to determine. Obviously, playing the same position (RW) doesn’t help. I agree that Kopecky is more of a third-line player, but I wouldn’t be adverse to trying the two of them out together on the same line in a few “walk-over” games.

      Since Hossa is signed long-term, and the Hawks control Kopecky’s destiny for another year, I don’t see any harm in pairing these two and observing the results for a few games. As much as I hate to use the term, hockey is all about “synergy,” and the team will be losing a lot of established synergy next season. The best-case scenario would be increased productivity from Kopecky, and the worst-case scenario would be just another case of “Quenneville being Quenneville.”

      This really depends on either Hossa or Kopecky being comfortable as a LW, or Hossa assuming more of a C role. Don’t forget, both Hossa and Kopecky shoot left, FWIW. This is more of a pipe dream than a real strategy.

      2. Like Byfuglien, Niemi is a product of a team concept and team execution, at least as much as individual talent. That is, if he commands too much salary, good luck, buddy. Niemi is almost as flawed as Leighton, but he had the advantage of playing for the better team. Now that the adrenaline has died down, look back at some of the playoff games. Yes, Niemi stood on his head for the San Jose WCF series. He stole a few game here and there, IMHO. Did it matter? We can’t really say. (If I could, I would be making my living at the sports book at Caesar’s Palace, not commenting here!)

      There is a lot of goalie talent still available, and I would be willing to roll the dice (assuming that Rocky is willing to eat the Huet contract). If Nabokov and/or Turco are willing to sign a one-year K, I’m more than content for Niemi to be a theoretical second-stringer or an arbitration casualty.

      I admit that I’m being pretty hard on Niemi, but as a Stanley Cup winner, he will find his payday eventually. Again, I don’t think he’s a stiff, but it’s pretty obvious that he is a product of overall team defense. When the Hawks fail to play proper team defense, he gets shelled. As much as I hate to use the word, it’s about “synergy.”

      3. I think Hossa could play C. A lot of what others have written so far would be retracted if somehow the Sad Panda emerged as a center. I realize that this is a little crazy to expect, since Hossa is now 31. Still, am I just a fool, or does he play more like a center? Huh? Huh!!! I think Quenneville shuffled the lines in the Finals precisely because you can have too many “playmakers” on one line. If Hossa could buy into this idea, I think the Hawks would be sitting pretty.

      Again, call me a lunatic, but the 2010-2011 Hawks would look like world-beaters if they could roll Hossa in the C position.

  13. jahpah says:

    Nice article! Finally someone with some reason clearly lays out why there is reason for some optimism than cause for worry for next season(s). It’s time for many to come in off the ledge!

    I really think Stalberg can be something special. If he can approach 20 goals for the season, which I will cede is a lot to expect, that will nicely round out the top 6 and make everyone wonder why they worried so much. While I loved Sopel, Eager, Madden, and Burish, they’re all role players and are replaceable. I feel Bickell’s size and Ladd’s size are interchangeable so that is a wash.

    Byfuglien may not be missed so much during the season but, I’m not ready to start worrying about how he’ll be missed during the playoffs until the season plays out and we see what we have. StanBo has made some really smart moves and its starting to look like he could leave some cap space for the trade deadline.

    In any case, I really enjoyed this season and I’m going to relish it just a little more before the puck drops in October. Many thanks to all current and outgoing Hawks! It was really a great thing to witness.

  14. Dave Morris says:

    @Patrick> to address some of the points you bring up, here is what I believe Stan Bowman may be doing as he reshapes the roster.

    First off, what many critics ignore is that there is no certainty as to whether the salary cap will continue to increase, or whether it will flatline (or go lower) when the next CBA is negotiated.

    To a certain extent, it is in the owners’ best interests to see the salary cap reduced, simply because it allows to negotiate harder deals with the players.

    The players stand to lose if the cap goes down. They won’t make as much money, and the mid-priced veterans will find themselves out of a job as soon as their contracts are up.

    More and more ‘bad’ contracts (meaning those that don’t justify their value) will be waived…as we saw with Souray, among others, and as we will probably see with Huet.

    Therefore, what Bowman is doing can be seen as anticipating a drop in NHL teams’ salary ceilings in the next few years. Trimming the roster down to a core while bringing in affordable, young, hungry talent makes economic sense.

    It also makes sense to give the young guys a shot, because if he needs to trade someone, he then has a ready replacement.

    PLUS…the young players today are SO much better every year, and in every way.

    Having the kids battle for jobs with the veterans is good business…and ultimately makes for a team that competes harder.

    Looking at the current collection, the message that ‘no job is safe’ may be a subtext in management’s approach.

    This echoes the philosophy Conn Smythe pioneered in the 1940s, when he uttered his famous phrase “Put the kids in with a few old pappy guys who still like to win and the combination is unbeatable.”

    Lest anyone choose to mock Conn Smythe, one of the builders of the NHL and a remarkably successful man, the Toronto franchise was never more powerful than when Smythe ran it with an iron fist…winning the Cup six times from 1942 to 1951, and four times in six seasons between 1962 and 1967.

    Bobby Clarke puts this in perspective when he stated that “there’s not much difference in what it took to win the Cup in 1974 and 1975, and what it takes today.”

    What Clarke was saying is that you can look at teams ‘on paper’ all you want…what matters is the level of desire and purposeful aggression a team is ready to bring when it counts most.

    That was true in his day…and it remains true.

    If the young, ‘new look’ Blackhawks have the guts and drive to set their sights on another Cup, anything can happen.

    • David L. says:

      Dear Dave Morris:

      I think we are headed for one or the other of the following scenarios:

      1) The “hard cap” approach continues. I would argue that this is the “Gary Bettman saves face approach.” This would enable at least some of the marginal American teams in the S-SW to continue operations for at least another cycle of the CBA.

      As you envision, the marginal veteran would cease to exist, at least over time. The problem I see is little continuity from year-to-year. Most fans, eithher casual or hard-core, don’t seem to like this approach. I am basing this on my experiences as an American sports fan of all four leagues.

      To give myself as an example, I am an Indiana resident. Traditionally, most Hoosiers will follow the Colts and Pacers. Since there is sort of a hockey and baseball vacuum, Indiana residents will follow either the Cubs, Cardinals, or Reds, based on their location within the state. Similarly, hockey fans tend to follow the Red Wings, Blackhawks, or Blues. Again, regionalism seems to be the key. Winning certainly doesn’t hurt.

      I don’t think there is such an animal as a “casual hockey fan” in Indiana. There is no local hockey tradition, since even Northern Indiana isn’t cold enough for a real season of pond hockey from year to year.

      For example, the Bluejackets are sort of screwed. Hardcore hockey fans don’t care about Columbus. They could win the Cup next year, and no one in Indiana, or even most of Ohio, would care. Due to inter-collegiate rivalries and pre-existing loyalties, an Ohio team is the last concern on any Hoosier’s mind.

      From a Midwesterner’s/Midsoutherner’s standpoint, the status quo is more or less a zero-sum game, at best. Most hockey fans in Indiana, Kansas, the Dakotas, Tennessee, Arkansas, etc. would be in favor of retraction. We have no “natural” team, and we tend to follow teams from the second wave of expansion or so-called “Original Six” teams. No one really gives a shit about the Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators, etc. outside the teams’ own metropolitan areas.

      2) Massive restructuring, realigment, and/or relocation, including the possibility of retraction.

      In my mind, this is the future of the NHL, and the sooner someone nuts up and does it, the better. I am an original season ticket holder for the Lightning, and my real passion for the game only goes back that far. At the same time, that doesn’t make two South Florida franchises a viable plan. The entire image problem that the NHL has as a “fourth sport” is largely due to carrying deadweight in non-hockey, warm weather markets. (Thanks again, Bettman.)

      I don’t care if the overall population of the U.S. is larger than Canada, that doesn’t translate into t.v. ratings in non-hockey states. I think that a hockey team in Indianaplis would have had a better chance than the Nashiville Predators, just for example. At least we see ice in nature every year!

      Regional teams were a viable strategy for the NFL and MLB for decades. It’s known as making money the old-fashioned way, i.e. having a virtual monopoly. There are too many teams in the Mid-South and Deep South for anyone in the NHL to turn a respectable profit and compete.

      I would be all in favor for about 24-26 teams, with at least two more franchises in Western Canada. This would be the key to damn better hockey on the ice as well, IMHO.

    • Patrick says:

      Dave – I’m with you. The Hawks have become a superior organization, and in a very quick period of time too.

  15. David L. says:

    Dear Hockey Independent Gang:

    I’m sorry if I got the commentary a bit off-track, but I actually trust in the talent of the 2010-11 Hawks more than I do the future of the NHL, FWIW. In other words, the greatest limitation I see for the future of the Blackhawks may be the future of the NHL.

    Another team going BK would not be pretty.

    • Dave Morris says:

      @DavidL> you raise a number of good points, many of them relevant to other threads on Hockey Independent…perhaps you might want to consider doing a fan blog on the subject at HI.

      Coming back to the Blackhawks and the league vis a vis cost reduction…it is not Gary Bettman who determines the agenda, but the Board of Governors. Bettman is basically the referee–the owners are ‘the players’.

      The NHL, throughout its history, has been slow to embrace change. Any of the books I have mentioned to you–especially “Power Plays” by Bettman’s predecessor, Gil Stein–makes that clear.

      “Power Plays” also has a fascinating study of William W. Wirtz, who remains a controversial figure, and for good reason…given Wirtz’s immense fortune, overwhelming personality, and position as one of the NHL’s power brokers for many years.

      I highly recommend Stein’s book for a look inside the league’s workings, and a key to understanding, at least in part, what made Bill Wirtz tick.

      From the introduction: “Behind closed doors, there are power plays, stickhanding, bare-knuckle fistcuffs, and shoot-outs that will put to shame anything you will see on the ice.”

      Thankfully for Blackhawks fans, the regime of Rocky Wirtz has shifted the focus to the success of the team.

      But there is still a contingent of writers/commentators who can’t wait to pounce when the Hawks organization “gets it wrong” …in their view.

      As I mentioned, Stan Bowman has managed to deflect or even ignore what is written and said. He has, from what we see so far, a plan that embraces the change that has taken place in the NHL–the trend towards younger, cheaper players surrounding a highly paid core with expectations to match.

      After several seasons of dramatic change, Bowman appears to have put in place the personnel and salary structure that will be followed for the next few years, or at least until the new CBA.

      The young Hawks selected by Bowman’s staff, like the Hayes Brothers, Morin, Rensfeldt, Vishnevskiy, and so on, represent where the team may be headed.

      The Hawks are now once again part of the so-called ‘elite’ teams. Bowman’s challenge is to make sure they stay there.