The Chicago Blackhawks have been bad lately, really bad. They have lost their last six games and can barely see the playoffs way off in the distance. From this situation, two camps have emerged. One, who openly bashes the players, especially the core, as if they are responsible for their lives’ woes and the second, a group who takes the holier-than-thou approach openly supporting the players to show everyone what loyal fans they are. To be clear, both are hard-core fans and care about the team. They just express their displeasure differently.
Surely, there is a better answer than bashing or gushing. I certainly think there is accountability to be had even while supporting those who give us a three-hour escape from reality every other day. Obviously, we as fans, have no real say in the makeup of the team other than in ticket and merchandise sales, but we can certainly enjoy spirited debate online. It’s fun to break down the team and envision what we would do if we were in charge. Sadly, however, these exchanges often turn ugly.
While I don’t condone nasty tweets or Facebook posts, it’s easy to see why fans take their teams so seriously. My wife and I were only able to attend one game in person this year. After buying tickets, gear, food and lodging, we were out $700. We have already purchased our lodging and tickets for the Fan Convention this summer which goes far beyond that. We are educators with children in college so that isn’t chump change. (Season ticket holders obviously must feel completely invested and feel the sting of losses even more.) Further, we spend hours watching every game, and I spend even more writing about them. Simply put, we, like many others, are heavily invested in this team. Some fans simply don’t know where to draw the line with their disgust.
So, beyond losing, what is drawing the ire of the fanbase? The Chicago Blackhawks have an aging group of superstars with three Stanley Cups under their belts. The transition from this group to a new group of younger players is not going as smoothly as hoped. The two sides of fandom differ in the approach they expect from General Manager Stan Bowman. The one side would like those players cast aside as they seem no longer useful. The other side would like to honor those players as long as they play and have them eventually retire as Hawks.
Both sides are wrong. To make the right choice, this needs to be viewed as a business. It is a business. The owners pay all folks involved as employees. A good product earns them money. Good GMs, good coaches, and good players put fans in the seats and on the couches wearing all manner of Blackhawks products. We, the fans, who support the team allow these players, coaches and owners to make millions of dollars. This isn’t to say that they owe us anything, but a happy fan is a fan who keeps their revenue stream flowing.
In the case of the current core of Blackhawks, they were paid very handsomely due to their outstanding play that led to three championships. Some would argue that the contracts were too exorbitant and lengthy, but what they have done for the Hawks cannot be argued. Currently, the core is not performing up to those contract amounts. Toews is struggling offensively. Seabrook and Keith have lost a step and have turned the puck over frequently. Saad is having his worst year in recent memory. Patrick Kane is having a decent year, but recently his game has suffered as well. Corey Crawford, the lone highlight, is injured and has missed nearly two months of play.
The internet has exploded recently. Fans calling the Captain, Jonathan Toews, a Bum. Other fans mocking him for being the Captain. And still, others mocking Toews’ fans for supporting him. Fans have also been quite ruthless to Brent Seabrook. Yes, he has a bad contract for the Hawks and he has certainly lost a step. The question is, why are we bashing Seabrook. The Hawks offered the contract; he accepted. Would your moral superiority have led you to decline the contract if you were in such a situation? Of course not.
Disparaging remarks are not limited to these two, but they seem to be the loudest. Keith and Saad have felt their fair share lately. To be clear, I have also been critical of their play. Toews, Seabrook, Keith, and Saad have all under-performed. To be fair, Kane has looked disinterested at times. He has only four points in his last ten games. They are all showing signs of slowing down or having lost the scoring touch. I don’t think that point is debatable. So what is to be done?
In my occupation, if an employee falls short of expectations, he or she is put on an improvement plan. Under the plan, they would receive a mentor. They would receive direct instruction. They would be sent to others who are masters of the same job. In other words, they would receive support to help them become effective employees. They are not cast aside like some would contend we should do with our Hawks. While I called the team a “product” they certainly are not. They are people just like you and me. The difference is that people don’t pay $100 or more per night to watch me or you do ours.
In the case of the Blackhawks, this is a team which led the Western Conference in points last year. A team that won the Stanley Cup three years ago. Other than two rough playoff series, this is the first time that the Hawks have been unable to bounce back in their usual fashion. So, using the business model above, we should be offering support to this team, not dumping them. The core has earned at least that much.
That puts the onus on Stan Bowman. He should be doing everything he can right now to put players and a system on the ice that will support the aging veterans. He will need to make hard decisions and consider unpopular trades. He simply can’t stand pat in the offseason if he expects results to be different next year. The Blackhawks need four lines of scoring potential. They need to keep developing skilled, speedy youngsters. They need an adequate backup goalie. They need fewer journeyman fill-ins. And, most of all, they need lockdown defensemen who won’t give up the puck like Oprah, “you get a puck and you get a puck.”
Obviously, the veterans cannot be protected indefinitely. At some point, they have to produce or they will be shown the door. Sadly, a few losing seasons will lead to a lot of lost revenue. Secondary market ticket prices have already dropped. It’s only a matter of time before the demand starts to affect seats in the arena. When the bottom line suffers, our favorite players will no longer be protected. It’s up to management to make good decisions now to mitigate a potentially ugly upcoming five years.
Hawks fans- let’s keep it classy!