Opinion: The Emperor Has No Clothes


It’s time for Blackhawk fans—all of them, not just those who hearken back to the days before 2007 (when, to paraphrase Mel Brooks, things were truly rotten)—to accept a few simple, harsh realities. Or perhaps, first, the management of the team itself.

This team stinks.

It stinks because of several bad decisions by the front office.

And it will continue to stink as long as those aforementioned fans continue to buy in to the “spin” of the front office/marketing/pr monster at 1901 W. Madison.

Those who used to read me over at hockeybuzz will recall, perhaps, my “myth exploding” blogs. This will be one of those. The first myth:

“Bowman won 3 Cups.”

Sure, Bowman was the titular GM for all three Cup wins in 2010, 2013 and 2015. But the fact is, Gordie Clifton, the Official 2nd Rate Lounge Singer of The-Rink.com, could have served as GM and won at least one Cup after inheriting Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Marian Hossa, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Dustin Byfuglien, Brian Campbell, and Dave Bolland.

In fact, while Bowman deserves some credit for tinkering around the edges to optimize his rosters (trades for Michal Handzus and Antoine Vermette before the 2013 and 2015 trade deadlines), the 2013 and 2015 Cup do not happen without the aforementioned core of players that was assembled by previous GMs Mike Smith and Dale Tallon. No, Bowman sank 2-3 relative gimme putts after Smith and Tallon drove the green.

Here’s another myth:

“Tallon couldn’t manage the cap—so he got fired.”

While there may be an element of truth in that, it skirts the larger reason. Team President John McDonough wanted a “company man” in the role of GM. He said as much at the time.

Around that time, the Hawks also clarified a job description for former Norfolk Admirals GM Al McIsaac as McDonough’s “personal adviser” on hockey matters, a sort of “hockey whisperer” to inform a guy who basically knew (and still knows) very little about the game. Or are you forgetting his incisive scouting of once future great Drew Leblanc via “youtubes?”

Later, McDonough would explain to the media how he wanted to “understand” every move of any significance Bowman made—before he made it. Essentially, he wanted to approve any important move, ostensibly with the help of his “hockey whisperer,” McIsaac.

This, I have been told by sources within the Hawk organization and outside as well, made it next to impossible to do “value for value” trades with the Hawks. Certainly, Bowman has done a few of those (with McDonough’s stamp of approval—don’t kid yourself), but they’ve been driven largely by the salary cap or impending free agency (Brandon Saad to Columbus in 2015, Artemi Panarin for Saad in 2017, Niklas Hjalmarsson to Arizona in that same year), and they haven’t turned out very well.

Oh, finally, who was the assistant GM in charge of the cap during Tallon’s tenure as GM? Right.

Next myth:

“Bowman has drafted well.”

That’s somewhere between debatable and flat out inaccurate. Many fans (and writers) have jumped to point out that Bowman drafted Saad at 43rd overall in 2011 (the same year he took Mark McNeill at 18th). And many of these same fans now also rush to point out how Saad is “ a bum,” because “he don’t score no goalsss.” Another metric used in support of Bowman’s “shrewd” draft moves was grabbing Alex DeBrincat at #46 overall in 2016. Meh, ok.

But just for the sake of comparison, Columbus took an arguably slightly better version of DeBrincat, Cam Atkinson (he’s much faster, and just as much a scorer), in the 6th round in 2008.

The point being, in the 10 years Bowman has been running the Hawks draft, he has not drafted a single elite player, and most of his 1st round picks are either on other teams or no longer in the NHL. And all those players picked with selections gained during the great talent sell-off of 2010? Pffffffft.

The big myth this year:

“We still think this is a playoff team.”

This was the myth that Bowman and McDonough floated when they made Hall of Fame head coach Joel Quenneville the fall guy for their abject failure as NHL executives, and replaced him with 33 year-old Jeremy Colliton. It’s since been embraced and amplified by Hawk ticket reps. Leave it to McDonough to completely miss on the gravitas necessary to coach storied veterans with all kinds of achievements in the pro game, in favor of hiring a guy with 5 years of pro coaching experience, 4 in Europe and 1 in the AHL. And this is not an indictment of Colliton, who was clearly put in position to fail. But the calculus that getting decent production out of a team of 21 year olds would translate to the 2018-19 Chicago Blackhawks was just plain stupid. Remember, it was McDonough and Bowman who made the call—and who felt Colliton was the right guy to optimize the performance of their veteran-laden roster.

Another half-truth:

“Bowman needs to go.”

Bowman needs to go, but so does McDonough. Because anyone McDonough hires to “replace” Bowman will just become another extension of the crowded, dysfunctional management apparatus at the top of Hawk hockey operations. I am not a betting man by nature, but I would not hesitate to put several thousand dollars on a wager that, if the Hawks continue to suck the exhaust of the rest of the NHL this season, Bowman’s will be the next body McDonough throws on the fire. But it won’t change anything, unless you believe McDonough can recognize how his style and his choices have contributed to this mess. Don’t bet on that.

Another myth:

“You can’t deal any of these big contracts.”

You can, but it won’t be easy or cheap or popular. It may mean parting with other assets you wanted to keep. It may mean retained salary. It definitely means—as an NHL exec suggested to me a few weeks ago—a new, objective leadership team that isn’t trying to force old narratives, cover their past moves, and delude a fanbase into buying a sub-standard product..

The last myth. Wait, no it’s a mentality.

“But if you trade (insert name here), there goes our (insert function here)”

This is what is keeping this team in the Land of Make Believe—“we can still make the playoffs,” “next year will be better when all our young (tiny, fragile, bad in their own end) defensemen magically matriculate from the NCAA and junior.” Did you watch the Winnipeg Jets absolutely blitzkrieg the Hawks in the first period last night before setting it on cruise the rest of the way? The Jets had to go through a few years of stinking—and drafting a raft of exciting young talent (Josh Morrissey, Nikolaj Ehlers, Patrik Laine, etc) to get where they are now—big, fast, talented, dangerous.

This last bit is also not a myth.

Having been a fan of this team since the mid-70s, I have seen how front office dysfunction, massive egos, bad personnel decisions, and dishonesty with fans can ensure mediocrity—not just year after year but decade after decade.

The Chicago Blackhawks, led by Chairman Rocky Wirtz, need to bite the bullet and clean house from the top down. Soon.

Bring in a Team President who is either a legitimate hockey person, or possessive of an ego that will allow him to get out of the way and let hockey people do their jobs. Followed by a GM with a scouting/playing background. And the right head coach for the roster. In the end, maybe that is Colliton. Maybe not.

Regardless, the chain of decisions and the decisions themselves need to be made the right way, for the right reasons, with painstaking honesty. Or expect things to get worse and stay that way for a long time.

Comment below.

Center Ice Forums Opinion: The Emperor Has No Clothes

Viewing 15 posts - 1 through 15 (of 15 total)
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    John Jaeckel

    It’s time for Blackhawk fans—all of them, not just those who hearken back to the days before 2007 (when, to paraphrase Mel Brooks, things were truly r
    [To continue reading full article, click here: Opinion: The Emperor Has No Clothes]

    Apparently, all goalies are Vikings

    Mr. T

    Amen, brother JJ, both Stan and Mcd need to go

    for this team is horrible.

    The $$$$ is will Rocky see the light, for does the

    son fall far from the fathers tree?

    Bob P.

    WOW JJ!!!     This in spades!!!   Great honest read in my opinion.

    John M

    Great read and bang on.

    There is no way this team is going to be successful with the way the front office is structured. Bowman and McDonut need to go.

    Bring in a guy like Yzerman and let him get this ship righted.




    It’s time for Blackhawk fans—all of them, not just those who hearken back to the days before 2007 (when, to paraphrase Mel Brooks, things were truly r[To continue reading full article, click here: Opinion: The Emperor Has No Clothes]

    Hey JJ,
    Thank you for this article. I hope this was as cathartic for you to write as it was for me to read. Even during the giddy hey-days of Cup victories, many of us had this lingering, uneasy feeling that McD was a fraud. Look no further than to McD’s former employer, the Cubs and Theo Epstein, to see how a professional sports team president should operate. Player evaluation and development, roster construction, McD hasn’t the slightest clue – and that’s at the heart of whether the Hawks are successful, both on and off the ice. But you’re also right that McD knows enough about how to play the “Game of Thrones” that he’ll orchestrate Stan’s termination in order to undeservedly buy him some more time. It’s a sorry state of affairs.
    Bob Rose Jr

    >Well said, JJ —  very painful to read, but very sadly true.

    >McD helped make the Hawks a $1 billion franchise, in essence, 5X it’s worth.

    >That’s no small thing on the business side.

    >And Stan hit a home run on the Johnny Oduya trade which was a major help to the 13 & 15 Cups.

    >But what really drove the Hawks success and ultimate franchise value was the incredible will to win by a core group of players who did  everything they could do to win.

    >And the right coach for those players.

    >Rocky needs to ask himself, “Is it possible that the on-ice success just happened to coincide with McD’s merging of business and hockey ops?

    >Rocky needs to ask himself, “Why isn’t the McD structure working now?”

    >Rocky needs to ask himself, “Who is pushing the acquisition of players who can’t play?”

    >Stan doesn’t do this alone, there are a whole bunch of people with their fingerprints all over bad decisions.

    >Rocky needs to ask himself. “Do we have the best skill development team available vs the rest of the NHL?”

    >Rocky needs to ask himself, “Is this the organizational structure and team of people that can turn things around?”

    >Rocky needs to get involved.






    Great read and bang on. There is no way this team is going to be successful with the way the front office is structured. Bowman and McDonut need to go. Bring in a guy like Yzerman and let him get this ship righted.

    Agreed, Steve Yzerman, or someone of his similar professional hockey gravitas should be brought in as team president to evaluate this operation from top down. If Stan were to survive, then so be it – but McD is a charlatan masquerading as a hockey executive.


    All I want for Christmas for the Blackhawks:

    Dale Tallon GM

    Mike Dehaviland Head Coach

    John “the Torch” Assistant

    Trade for everything you can get: 2, 50, 15, 16, 29, 40, 23


    This is spot on. I really think they have to blow this thing up now. The longer they wait the longer it will take them to get back to the playoffs let alone contend. Hire the hockey version Theo Epstein and let’s go. My question to you is was all this inevitable or could something have been done differently to prevent this crash from happening?


    I’ll try to be brief but that never goes as planned.

    1. Bowmans moves have been very hit or miss at tth pro level. Not a lot of meh. Barker for Leddy was a home run. Coming off Leddy though because the cap not so much. Lotta very bad defenders in and out but also never needed to get a top 4 guy except Oduya.

    2. Drafting has been pretty solid but retaining talent or evaluation of pros coming back has been bad. Danault, TT, Schmaltz, Shaw, Kruger, DeBrincat, Saad, Young Henri now. They could do worse and it looks like they have some interesting guys who should sign in tht next year or two lighting up their respective leagues.

    3. The roster this year bad. Last year too. I asked a few buddies if Bowman was just an idiot or planned for failure so he could get his coach and have his picks (Boqvist and who ever else + a potential lottery selection this year) as his guys taking the torch and telling everyone else to pound sand and validate that hes good at his job.

    4. The Strome deal can make him look super smart. I think they got a superior player back and won that as a 1 for 1 trade. Can also probably bridge him early next year as long as he doesn’t rack up 50 points this yeae.

    Either way the team should have said we hoped to be a playoff team but depending on how things go well evaluate at the TDL, talk to our veterans and have a plan to get back in it.

    I also have to say Eddie is becoming a joke (pat too) and is basically pretending to interview for coaching jobs. I think hes pissed JC got the helm instead of him getting another shot.

    I think with the talent coming to the blue line and Delias success with the goalie whisperer and a top 5 pick this year they basically reload and in 2 or 3 years are making another run.


    Fantastic write up JJ!

    As much as we know Stan Bowman needs to go, McD needs to go even more!!!  McD should have been the very first to go on the list!  With ZERO hockey experience, he should never have been anywhere near any meetings regarding player personnel.  He should have been locked up in his little marketing office and not been seen nor heard from.  Let’s hope Rocky grows a pair soon and gets rid of them both sooner than later!


    All I want for Christmas for the Blackhawks:

    Dale Tallon GM

    Mike Dehaviland Head Coach

    John “the Torch” Assistant



    I love Dale and I liked Haviland a lot. But that’s the past. Learn the lessons and don’t look back. They have to move forward. And if they did so without a few people that might be a good thing.


    Great article JJ. Bob and Fatty, nice replies. JJ, my one issue with the article is this, where was Stan drafting during the Cup run? You failed to mention, that in the “10 years” Bowman had been drafting, the picks have been late in the first round. Not many home runs located where the Blackhawks were drafting. Every once in a while you’ll hit one, but more often it’s a swing and a miss.

    Believe me, I’m not a Bowman defender, but think he should be allowed to try and rebuild this thing. The sooner, the better.


    JJ thank you…Bowman was handed his key to the executive suite after he f=cked Dale on the qualifiers.  And then rode the coattails of those before him to three Cups all chipping away at the depth of this team.

    I’ve stated for some time that the Hawks are where they are now because of Stan, but we’ve known the problem lies higher as well with Mr. Hockey Ops John McDummy.

    The final straw for me was when they laid this all on Q with that ridiculous presser and handed the keys to a kid who’s coached what a couple years in Sweden and we know the Bowmans love Sweden…after that fine summer of UFA signings…and Stan’s work fixing the defense I’m shocked the Hawks didn’t come flying out of the gate.

    Some think Bowman should be allowed to try to build a new team – the guy who handed Seabrook that lodestone deal?  The guy that thought the 1st thing he needed to do after the Hawks won in 15 was resigning David Rundblad…Rutta another overpay just cleared waivers to go down to Rockford.

    I fear that Stan will be involved in trading some of the core pieces and the return will be the usual garbage he gets – see Philip Danault.   Bowman must go – the question is will Rocky actually come to his senses and do the right thing.

    I somehow doubt it.  I think the nuclear winter is here – the Hawks will be bad for a long time now…and while McD can certainly be credited with being an amazing PT barnum – selling the Hawks – like he did the Cubs – without the talent on the ice none of this happens.  And that talent was there before McD and Bowman showed up.  But don’t worry another Drew LeBlanc signing is just around the corner for McD and co. and we see how those have all worked out…



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