Chicago Blackhawks: Managing a Faithless Fan Base, Instilling Success
Who could’ve imagined all of the steps taken in nearly the past month?
Arguably many saw it coming, but no one could have assumed how it would feel afterwards.
Looking up and down a roster, it may have more the look of a bullet-riddled platoon exiting a 1972 Vietnam jungle.
Limping and full of holes, the Blackhawks have slowly begun to nurse the wounds of a drastic off-season. To much dismay, they have almost seemed to come back with more of a vengeance. Perhaps, it’s due to a chip on a shoulder that even many of their very own “fans” have placed there.
During a season of ultimate success when winning a championship, a team always witnesses an overhaul of fans. While great for celebration, it serves for horrible criticism in a time like this.
After a weekend of festival and celebration of their first Stanley Cup in 49 historical years, it was met with fan backlash on what could be called “Black Monday.”
In the history of the Blackhawks, many have never witnessed as much disgust over the release of a single player. The disgust continued to roll downhill and within a few hours Twitter and Facebook “statuses” flood the Internet with implication of the Hawks’ demise.
“Chicago Blackhawks. Not making the playoffs next year.”
“Seems #Blackhawks still have their “core,” but the Apple is gone!”
“NOOOOOO Say it Ain’t so!!! :(“
“So why didn’t they sign and trade, or move some less key players? So its Turco and Crawford??? Gonna be a long year”
“Bad move, #Blackhawks could have signed him and move some less key players-all over 1 mil?? They’ll regret it”
While there are obvious disappointments in seeing a third of a team leave a tight organization, it was expected.
Heading into the off-season the Blackhawks knew exactly that they would have a different look this coming season. Through press conferences and updates leading up to the Byfuglien trade, it seemed as if the organization was trying on their end to prepare fans.
John Madden, now a free agent at the age of 37, even gave insight that he would not be back, amongst others.
What fans weren’t prepared for was the emotional tear from the attachment of the players throughout their tenure as a Hawk and through a championship. Mostly they weren’t prepared for what would unravel with their netminder, Antti Niemi. The last thing anyone assumed was for a change in goal when everyone thought that the cost-cutting was to keep him in the organization.
Unfortunately, the arbitration date slowly crept up, while columnists and media guru started to report on the lingering issue the Blackhawks had with their salary. Projecting at first that the Blackhawks would have the means to sign Niemi, in a matter of time and through sources it seemed to have taken a 180-degree turn.
Once the arbitrator made the decision of awarding $2.75 million to Niemi and his agent, Bill Zito, on Saturday afternoon, the mood changed. While optimicism swirled, the reality and rumored Marty Turco interest became more apparent.
The Niemi admirers soon started the doubting and the Blackhawk contingent knew in their minds that the roller-coaster wasn’t over.
The announcement of the Blackhakws deciding to walk away from the arbitrator’s ruling meant the Hawks would not only have six or seven new faces on a regular basis, but a new goalie to boot.
It was hardly the look of the team that had just won a Stanley Cup, but far from the look of one that couldn’t win it again.
While the previous mentioned up-roaring of Blackhawks fans have voiced their opinion regarding the fall of the Tallon-built empire, it is hardly that.
Stan Bowman has lived up to the billing of keeping a team in the mix of contending for championships. Yes… championships, not for another championship or with the intention of falling out of playoff contention all-together.
While stricken with salary cap woes, they still have a team that was built to succeed in the future. The extensions of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Duncan Keith were just a stepping stone under Bowman, not Tallon.
Focusing on the top six forwards, the Blackhawks arguably could very well have the best. Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp will undoubtedly start the season together picking up where they left off. Throw Tomas Kopecky and Troy Brouwer into the mix, who could argue?
If a fan is a fan of the Blackhawks at all, then the last question should be directed towards who is in net. When a supporting cast is made up of four defenseman that could each be a part of the first pairing any given night, the focus shouldn’t be on spending more money on a goaltender.
Going into training camp, at the moment, the Blackhawks will have the familiar faces of Keith, Brent Seabrook, Brian Campbell, and Niklas Hjalmarsson back. This defense was the absolute backbone to the team’s success. Not only will all be back, but John Scott arrived with the mentality of doing what it takes to provide a dual-threat in order to earn playing time.
In the wings the Blackhawks have Nicky Leddy and Shawn LaLonde waiting to prove themselves. Mostly the Blackhawks have professed their desire to sign perhaps one more defenseman with the savings from the Niemi savings.
Which brings this to the penultimate of the focus, Marty Turco.
A man who will be 35 and is on the verge of ending a career. Sources reported bigger contracts, most notably with Philadelphia, which he obviously turned down. He wanted the history and he desired the opportunity of being part of something that is going to be great.
Stats don’t lie, and time will tell that Turco is exactly what the Blackhawks needed. Unlike the ability of some goalies, Turco is mostly known for his aggressive puck-control.
For a team with an arsenal of offensive weaponry this is scary to think of. The difference from playing a puck forward to playing a puck behind the net is seconds. Those seconds lead to breakouts and opportunities, but they do come with risk.
For a team that allows 20 to 25 shots a game on average, I’m sure many would be willing to take that risk for a few more scoring chances per game. The thing many are failing to see is in fact that the Hawks may be more dangerous than last year.
With the forwards having a full year to work together and the defense having another year of experience together, there shouldn’t be doubt.
Those questioning or challenging the, still young, Hawks may be doing so at their own peril. To doubt a team that has been transparent on their path of victory would maybe suggest that you should be divulging yourself in the history of the Blackhawks.
The team the front office is working to ice, could be perhaps one of the most talented. With that will come pressure from teams and fans alike. Sadly, it is some of their own fans who will be waiting in the wings for failure.
Wait if you may, but if you think that the importance of the team left with the players that did this summer, than you might as well board that very bus.
Atlanta and Toronto would be more than happy to have you after recent seasons they have endured. Let’s just wait and see who fares best—those donning the Indian head in the red sweaters or the former heroes of those who will be waiting for their very own team to lose.