“When you find hypocrisy in the daylight, look for power in the shadows.”
2020 has taught us many things. But one thing some in Hawk nation still have yet to learn is that when General Manager Stan Bowman goes on a self-initiated media sit-down or full-blown media tour, as he has over the last several days, there is usually more to it than immediately meets the eye.
When Bowman does this (and he has done it before, though perhaps not as comprehensively as he has this time around), it is usually to head off growing perceptions in the fanbase that are not “good” for the organization.
You cannot just assume this is normal, or a normal part of Bowman’s job. He, and more broadly the team, would like you to think that, because that makes you an easier mark.
The truth is, Bowman does not (because he is not empowered to do so) just set up a bunch of media interviews on his own. That is not how corporations function—or pro sports franchises that typically function like corporations, especially the Chicago Blackhawks.
Follow the money.
I do not have the exact numbers. But anecdotally, the feedback I hear from season ticketholders regarding their communications with the team and their willingness to drop significant coin on ticket plans, suggest the Blackhawks—in an already low revenue environment due to COVID-19—are simultaneously finding themselves having an unusually hard time selling tickets or justifying high ticket prices.
Again anecdotally, countless ticketholders have told me how the resale market for their purchased tickets has fallen off a cliff over the last couple of seasons.
These types of “sales” problems quickly become a problem for PR and messaging to solve. And if you think the Blackhawk PR team and senior management were not fully bought in on (or fully driving) the idea of Bowman’s Big October PR Adventure, you are being colossally naïve.
For the second time this week, I have to credit Barstool for something (again, 2020).
When Bowman appeared on Red Line Radio, Barstool Ryan was fairly relentless in pinning him down on his expectations and “moves.” Full marks on that. I will even suggest giving it a listen. The Athletic’s Mark Lazerus went in that direction as well. Bowman’s responses (or lack thereof, more like evasions) were telling. Short of a transcript or blow by blow, let’s just look at what is obvious.
Bowman is now talking about essentially the status quo of the last few years as a “rebuild.” Sure, the team may rely more heavily on youth this season than it has the last couple of seasons—but this was the same thing they tried three years ago with the “youth movement” (other people’s words, not mine) that included Nick Schmaltz, Tyler Motte, Vincent Hinostroza and others. It did not make a difference then, and do not expect a different result now, either.
Bowman traded or chose not to re-sign three fixtures of last year’s team in Brandon Saad, Olli Maatta and Corey Crawford and did not receive one draft pick or high-end prospect in return. Yet he is now throwing around the word “rebuild.”
No one had a gun to his head; he could have dealt Saad or Maatta at any time before the in-season trade deadline, when either may have had greater value, too. He could have dealt Crawford last season, along with Robin Lehner, for whom he only got a second-round pick (and your new “No. 1” goalie Malcolm Subban).
Yes, yes, we have heard the rationalization of the diehard “Stanatics”: our boy had to make these moves to free up money to sign Dominik Kubalik (sure), Dylan Strome (meh, not so essential) and Drake Caggiula (who cares).
Even if you buy all that, nonetheless, Bowman’s “moves” all amount to just cost-cutting toward some end—not improving the team short-term (at all), not acquiring futures, which is not a “rebuild” in any sense, especially not when the cost-cutting only allows you to retain assets you already had, and improve the balance sheet (even if only slightly).
Bowman also steadfastly clings to the claim that the team has no plans to deal Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews or Duncan Keith (which may or may not be true)—the only pieces Bowman has left that could potentially bring back the high draft picks or high-end prospects required for a real rebuild. And Brent Seabrook’s nearly $7 million per year is not going anywhere regardless.
At best, Bowman is double-talking—and he went out on this tour with a clear messaging mission: reassure the fans, indoctrinate the media—and sell tickets.
“Sure, we are rebuilding, and you are gonna love Alec Regula and Ian Mitchell. But Kaner and Jonny and Duncs are not going anywhere. A return to glory is not far off. Blah blah blah.”
Remember, this is the same guy who advertised Dylan freaking Sikura as his “big trade deadline acquisition” during the last “youth movement.” How can anyone not be at least skeptical? How many times do you have to walk face first into a ball peen hammer
Hey, we all want to believe in something and not drown in our own cynicism—even crusty old characters like Puckin Hostile and myself. But there is another very telling phrase that describes all this: The tyranny of hope. If you buy their hope narrative, you will buy tickets.
There is a recurring pattern here. Same motive, same method, same madness.
Rationalizing a lack of a clear plan.
The Savior Prospect Of The Year (which is nothing more than an annual “fix” of hope).
“Dedication to excellence.”
Sell tickets and keep prices high.
Lather, rinse, repeat.
What I hear in all the “yeah, buts” about “StanBo” is, some people just do not want to let go and admit the organization they love has sunk this low: Deliberately digging in for three more seasons of on-ice mediocrity (until Toews, Kane and Keith’s contracts expire), on top of the last three mediocre seasons, because ownership does not want to bite the bullet—and take a more serious revenue hit for a couple of years.
Because that would be the cost of a real rebuild. And it is not chump change, either, to be fair.
So, a real rebuild may actually begin then, in the summer of 2023, which means three more seasons in the meantime of “anything can happen,” 13th place in the Western Conference and periodic spin by “StanBo.”
At the same time, you need to know that this organization remains as PR- and bottom line-driven as ever—even if that stands in the way of actually contending for a Cup again any time soon.
Or, keep making excuses for “Stan,” while the organization continues to basically coast on past glories, four high-priced veterans and a constant barrage of prospect hype. It has worked (as far as keeping the lights on, even if the team has been either bad or a bubble team at best) the last three years.
It is a free country, and tickets are going to be easier to come by, anyway.