An Open Letter to All You Young Blackhawks Fans Out There

An Open Letter to All You Young Blackhawks Fans Out There

Yes, I used an Eddie Olczyk catch phrase for the title of this letter: don’t let that deter you. The Eddie O you know now is very different from the Eddie O I first knew. The now-redundant color commentator was just an aging veteran making his triumphant return to his hometown back in the late 90’s as I, myself, was solidifying my appreciation for the red-headed stepchild of sports franchises here in Chicago.

That’s right, your superstar Blackhawks were the team everyone in this hockey-loving town forgot about. This is no secret. Anyone that labels him or herself a ‘true Blackhawks fan’ is the first to point to this period of time as proof of their undying loyalty.

“Back when I was your age the Blackhawks sucked and weren’t even on television. We went to Wolves games to see real hockey.”

I admit, that sentiment has come out of my mouth on more than a few occasions- because it was true. While I loved the Blackhawks as a child, my main motivation for attending games was solely to scam my father into buying me some cotton candy and watch grown men fight (legally) on the ice like my schoolyard friends at recess. My dad loved it because he could see an NHL game for less than $10 a ticket. I would then go home to my desktop PC and waste away hours playing Eric Daze on my first line on NHL 2003. Yes, Eric Daze was my Patrick Kane and you’ve probably never heard of him. He did win the All-Star Game MVP in 2002, just so you know.

This letter was sparked by a conversation I had where a coworker of mine said following the Blackhawks has lost its luster because they just always win. They are predictable. I gaped at him. How could someone be bored with these Blackhawks? If I could find ways to be entertained in the late 90s with THOSE teams, surely you can find things to get excited about with THESE teams. It got me thinking more, however, about the young fans that are growing up and viewing the Hawks in their present state. What must that be like? Oh yeah…

There was something else going on in the mid to late 90’s that took up the majority of this town’s attention, in the same building, in fact: the Chicago Bulls and the Jordan Era. I grew up and developed my sports acumen during the prime of the greatest athlete to ever play the game of basketball. When I was really little, maybe about five or six, I actually thought the ‘B’ in NBA stood for Bulls. I thought it was their league and the other teams competed to play them in the championship. How was I to know any different? They were in it almost every season. The one season they didn’t win, I was living in California that year and actually thought it was my fault for moving away. I always had a great sense of responsibility when it came to sports, I guess.

I’ll admit, I took these years with MJ for granted. I didn’t understand half of what I was witnessing. But one thing I never was: bored. I begged my dad for every championship t-shirt, watched every game right alongside him and whoever happened to be over doing the same. I drew the Bulls logo in my art class over and over and over. I once won a pair of Bulls tickets at a church raffle and gave them to my dad for Father’s Day. He took my uncle. That remains one of the single most devastating things to happen to me in my childhood.

The point of this is: I understand. I understand you may not comprehend this ‘Golden Age’ of the Blackhawks right now. I understand you have no concept of how hard it is to win year after year in the Salary Cap Era of the NHL. I know you don’t get the fact that Coach Quenneville is now sitting as the 2nd All-Time Winningest Coach in NHL history and how big of a deal that is.

But even if you don’t understand I hope you get excited watching every Seabrook slap shot from the blue line; every impossible dangle by Kane and every laser snipe by Panarin. I hope that if you happen to get the chance to go to a game you don’t sit in your $220 lower bowl seat playing Candy Crush on your iPhone. I hope you get a set of Blackhawks shinny hockey sticks for Christmas and play until you have rugburns on your knees in the basement or better yet: build your own mini ice hockey rink in your backyard.

And I hope you never, ever get bored.




My Miserable Apathy Towards the NHL Lockout

ScreenShot2012-09-16at12.28.27AM_crop_650x440I’m tired. Not just tired; no, I’m apathetic. Even as I write this I had to will myself to start pressing keys on my keyboard. I am just so sick and tired of being sick and tired over this NHL lockout. The only motivation for writing this article was more of an ‘I told you so’ angle.

Back when the lockout started I chronicled my thoughts and ever growing despair about this lockout for weeks. I made it until Halloween. That’s when I gave up hope. I believe it came right after the NHL canceled the Winter Classic: the biggest revenue producing single event the NHL has. But then I remember- I just don’t care that much.

Well now it seems I’m not the only one who has given up hope. The NHLPA itself may have just done the same. The latest rumors are that the NHLPA is going to disband itself, abandoning talks and any hope of rationalizing with the league. Players would then have the opportunity- individually- to bring their own litigation against the NHL. The league itself went forward with a motion to bring lockout negotiations into the New York City Court System. None of these things, simply put, are good. But then I remember- I just don’t care that much.

I want to laugh at anyone who thinks we are going to have a season, albeit a shortened one. Hell, I want to laugh at anyone that even cares anymore. But then I remember- I just don’t care that much.

I want to rant and rave on and on about Bettman, Fehr and Daly. About the sheer incompetence these men and their ‘mediators’ possess. I want to shake all three of them, demanding to know where they get off keeping us puckheads away from our favorite sports release. I want to smack each and every NHL owner that hasn’t been involved in negotiations because of their arrogance. I want to right hook every player that hasn’t been involved in negotiations because they are playing overseas. I want to slap shot a puck at Alexander Ovechkin’s face because… well, just because. But then I remember- I just don’t care that much.

My Blackhawks 2010 Stanley Cup jersey is hanging, collecting dust, in the back of my closet. No need to bring it out- my dad and I won’t be going to a single game this season, which has been a tradition since before the last lockout. All I’m wondering now is what the NHL doesn’t understand about its ability, or rather lack thereof, to withstand its second lockout within the course of a decade? But then I remember- I just don’t care that much.

The NHL isn’t the NFL or the NBA. It’s not even NASCAR. The NFL boasts $9 billion in total revenue per year. NASCAR- $3.3 billion. The NHL projected revenue they are about to lose on this season? $2.7 billion. Nothing to snuff at, to be sure, but it’s still less than NASCAR. The NHL is acting like the biggest diva of them all, when in reality they aren’t even close. In keeping up this attitude they are going to lose fans. A lot of them. But then I remember- I just don’t care that much.

I want to encourage fans to stay the course. I want them to create an uproar- give Bettman and the NHLPA no choice but to figure this thing out fast. I still can’t comprehend why the rowdiest fans in professional sports have been silent these past few months, standing idly by watching as the season slips out from between their gloved fingertips. I want to tell them to care. I want everyone to care.

But then I remember- I just don’t care that much.

Impending Doom for the NHL

Does anyone realize that the current Collective Bargaining Agreement in the NHL is set to expire September 15th and that no new deal has been reached so far? No? Didn’t think so.

I personally haven’t seen enough concern as of late considering the NHL is facing a full-fledged lockout in less than a month. I decided to post about it to at least get whoever reads my blog up to speed. I guess what I really want to know is has anyone been an NHL fan long enough to remember the 2004-2005 lockout? And how disastrous that was? Hockey wasn’t the same after that.

Growing up my dad and I always went to Chicago Blackhawks games, a tradition we still continue to this day. As a little tyke I was drawn to hockey. Of course, back in those days, the Hawks sucked and the only reason to go to games was to see the fights and puppy-dog eye my dad into getting me some cotton candy. Yeah, violence and sugar- my dad was winning on the parenting thing.

After the lockout though, things changed. Of course the only thing I was concerned with was that the rules for fighting changed. I knew nothing of the CBA and the implementation of salary caps and revenue sharing. I just knew that I didn’t get to see as many teeth being knocked to the ice. Luckily for me, just a few short years later the Hawks became awesome and then won the Stanley Cup. That worked out.

And yet, I notice that not all hockey fans are as passionate as Hawks fans are. There are certain teams that won’t survive another lockout. With the league struggling in comparison to the other three major sports, this is the absolute LAST thing it needs. Hell, the entire league might not survive another lockout, especially one of the 04-05 variety where the entire season is wiped out. That would make for two seasons within ten years, gone.

I don’t want to see this happen. When the NFL was in a lockout fans were in an uproar. When the NBA missed a portion of last season, fans were breaking down David Stern’s door, calling for his resignation and demanding the season be reinstated. Why isn’t there a similar uproar from hockey fans? Hockey fans are some of the most rowdy in the entire sports world. Now, when the league needs that battle cry- where is it?

Now that I understand more about the business end of sports this lockout is completely unnecessary. The changes the owners are demanding are outrageous. They want to cut the players’ revenue sharing from 57% to just 43%. The players union estimates that this would cause a $450 million shift in revenue from the players to the owners, according to an article on ESPN. That is just plain insane. You are going to take away 14% of the total revenue share from the players (who are the workhorses of your league) in one fell swoop? And I thought the NFL owners were greedy…

The owners proposal does suggest limiting player contracts to five years, which I can’t say I’m not in favor of. These 12 and 13 year contracts are getting a bit on the ridiculous side. I understand guys can play in the league longer than most other professional sports, but I’m not trying to see guys my dad’s age out there, and I’m sure the 16-year-old rookies aren’t either.

The players union counterproposal however is substantially more reasonable and could set balance to the industry. It agreed to a revenue share cut- but one that would be broken up over a three year period. It also urges the NHL into a revenue-sharing program that helps struggling franchises, which face it, there are a number of in the league. It was estimated that the league would gain $465-$800 million with this agreement if the players were allowed to switch back to the current system on the fourth year, according to the ESPN article.

While my sports business knowledge is limited, what the players are proposing seems pretty fair. But by default I think I’m always on the players’ side anyway. They are after all, the ones who are taking the ice… and the hits.

It’s time to step it up NHL fans. Let the league know that we aren’t enduring another black hole of a season this year. Show them you are on these players’ sides. Show them just how many ‘pucks’ we give.

Rootin for Rose

Inspired by this ESPN Chicago article on Derrick Rose and his ACL rehab I decided to be ambitious and write another post. Especially with Chicago sports season at its ‘slimmest’ time of year, here’s something to celebrate about our beloved Derrick Rose. According to the article he’s ‘ahead of schedule’ regarding his recovery time.

When he- and subsequently the entire Chicago Bulls 2011-2012 season- went down,  I was disappointed and saddened, but I was not panicked. If anyone is coming back from a torn ACL, it’s him. He’s Derrick Rose and those my friends, are the rules.

I want to take this opportunity to examine some other notable players who have come back to some of the best years of their playing careers after suffering torn ACL’s. Here are my Top 5 (in no particular order):

1. Jerry Rice– We all know Jerry. Tore his ACL in 1997, returned the following season in 1998 to record 82 receptions for a total of 1157 yards and 9 touchdowns. He also returned to the Pro-Bowl that year. Did I mention he was 34 at the time? He would have two more 1100+ yard seasons before his eventual retirement. He’s now sittin pretty in the HOF. Yup, he good.

2. Tom Brady– While it pains me to put him on this list as I’m not his biggest fan, he serves as a great example of an athlete who has come back just fine. Lord knows those UGGs aren’t providing any support. Brady suffered his injury in 2008. Week 1 against the Kansas City Chiefs, no less. Not only did he suffer a torn ACL, but also a torn MCL, complicating the surgery. While Cassel held down the fort and avoided a complete meltdown by the Patriots, much to my chagrin, Brady recovered, returned in 2009 and has been going strong ever since. Dammit.

3. Andrew Brunette, Chicago Blackhawks– Now he may not be on your well-known list but this Hawk sure makes mine. While playing for the Minnesota Wild in 2008, Brunette suffered what was later diagnosed as a torn ACL. I say later because the dude KEPT PLAYING. Not only the rest of the game… but the rest of 2008-2009 season before he had surgery on it. He then went on to tally 25 goals and 36 assists for the Wild the very next season. All at the age of 37 years old. If that isn’t resilience people, I don’t know what is.

4. Tiger, Tiger Woods y’all– You knew this was coming. While it can be argued his best years of golf were pre-2008, it remains to be seen. But he didn’t take a ‘leave of absence’ from golf due to his physical indiscretions- I mean injuries… oops 😉

5. Derrick Rose– I’m putting him on here because I have absolute and total faith he will come back, strong as ever. Bring on the 2012-2013 season. The Bulls, and Rose, are comin for that title.

Legitimacy? …Your call

With tonight’s OT officiating debocle in the Eastern Conference Finals I have to wonder where these ref’s eyes are going. The Celtics’ Rajon Rondo got facially assaulted and the result was a no call that allowed Miami to pull ahead and win. The legitimacy of the win is now rightfully questioned and it gives Boston another reason to bitch “That was wicked wack, man. I need to watch that again on my Hopp-ah.”

This is coming of course after game one the other night where Ray Allen a.k.a. Jesus Shuttlesworth- one of the good guys- gets called for a technical and so does Doc Rivers subsequently for protesting a frankly BS call in the first place. Eight Crazy Nights interlude anyone? (I know you saw that SportsCenter segment). This. Has. Got. To. Stop. The NBA Playoffs, or at least the Eastern Conference Finals are becoming the NHL… which brings me to another point…

FOR A LEAGUE THAT IS TRYING TO GAIN EXPOSURE AND LEGITIMACY IT HAS EXCEPTIONALLY CRAP OFFICIATING. I’m a huge hockey fan. HUGE. I want nothing more than for every NHL game to be like the ones at the United Center. Packed house. Loud crowd. Your hair standing up on the back of your neck during the national anthem as the entire crowd cheers for its entirety. Hawks fans are a community- rallied around their team. That’s not how it is everywhere and I appreciate that.

But with the most inconsistent, incoherent, incompetent officiating I’ve ever seen, it’s hard for anyone to see the legitimacy of the sport, much less make heads or tails of what exactly offsides is (it has to do with physical lines on the ice and location of the puck). You have one guy getting suspended for a hit that didn’t cause any injury (and I don’t even like Giroux) but then you let the Almighty Alexander Ovechkin get away with yet ANOTHER hit to the head where he left the ice and launched himself into another player. Some discrepancy happens every single game if you watch close enough. This simply will not cut it. How is anyone supposed to take this league seriously when the only exposure it’s getting is negative?

So what is the answer? I sure as hell don’t know. I’m open to suggestions though. What do you think?