Hockey

At last, the long national nightmare is over.

No, the pandemic is still running rampant, and the personal and economic devastation still remain to be dealt with, but after about 8 months of searching in total secrecy, the Hawks finally have their executive structure ironed out, and it’s basically what everyone speculated in the immediate aftermath of John McDonough’s ouster.

According to a press release from the team earlier today, as well as an exclusive interview granted to the Sun-Times’ Ben Pope, Stan Bowman has been promoted to President of Hockey Operations along with his General Manager responsibilities, with Rocky Wirtz’s son Danny remaining on as CEO of the organ-i-zation, but with the business responsibilities now siloed off and entrusted to Jaime Faulkner, who has an extensive resume in dealing with sports related business in her time with E15, a company she founded and was acquired by Chicago-based Levy Restaurants, who have extensive partnerships in arenas across the country including the United Center, and are the parent group of places like Spiaggia, Jake Melnick’s, and of course, Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse.

Based on the interview with Pope, it seems as though Danny Boy at least correctly recognized his limitations in this aspect of the Wirtz family’s multiple business ventures, and correctly decided to delegate the responsibilities into two areas that shouldn’t have much to do with one another. Based on Faulkner’s career to this point, there doesn’t seem to be much worry about her meddling much on the hockey side of things like it was often suspected that McDonough had done. Her background is strictly in business development as well as being somewhat of an outsider to what’s been an insular franchise before McDonough’s born-on-third arrival. It’s worth noting that Faulkner’s husband Colin is a Marketing & Sales VP for the Cubs, so of course there is brand synergy in their household given their current occupations, but neither seems to have delusions of grandeur with regard to crossing over to the sporting side. Faulkner also becomes the second woman in the NHL to be named President of a team, joining Kim Pegula of the Sabres.

It should be worth noting that Faulkner is coming into this role during a period where the calls to address the team name and logo have never been louder, and as many of the other offending pro franchises such as Washington and Cleveland have at least announced plans to abandon their Native name and iconography. It was a Wirtz family decision to publicly double-down on the name and toss a few placating initiatives and platitudes out to the masses with regard to donations, education, etc to Native causes, but this issue isn’t going away, and it will likely never be known how Faulkner would have handled that had she been hired only a few months ago. But calls like these are ultimately up to Rocky, and he’s made his stance pretty clear. And given the blowback from the logo issue, it’s easy to suspect the Wirtz family of cynicism when it comes to this hire along with last month’s hiring of Kendall Coyne-Schofield in player development if they (incorrectly) think that hiring a prominent woman on the hockey side and a woman for a prominent position on the business side lowers the temperature just a little bit. This is of course, to take nothing away from either Faulkner or Coyne-Schofield’s qualifications – they are both clearly immensely qualified, and their appointments are long overdue. But it’s fully reasonable to question the business practices  of an ownership family that backwardly believed until 12 years ago that NOT airing games on TV would be better for the bottom line. Just because Marian Hossa actually had a debilitating auto-immune skin disorder that caused him to need to effectively retire doesn’t mean that a critical eye couldn’t be turned at its timing. But make no mistake, this is a very positive thing.

All of this leaves Stan to his own devices on the hockey side of things, which isn’t necessarily the best thing based on the last 5 years and counting. But this is first real opportunity at having a direct and unobstructed line to his boss in Danny, as there were many rumblings over the spring and summer that McDonough’s right hand man Al MacIsaac may have had some differing hockey thoughts from Bowman, and steered McDonough in his direction. If nothing else now, Stan will sink or swim fully on his own merits as Danny appears to be going completely hands off, which is a bafflingly odd thing to say about the 4th longest currently tenured GM who has three Cups to his name and will certainly end up in the Hall of Fame, but these are strange times everywhere.

Hockey

Y’know, I thought we were done with this kind of story about the Hawks. It had at least been a while since the Hawks came out to proclaim they’re ahead of the curve when it comes to analytics, even though I’m fairly sure they can’t even spell “analytics.” And then everyone would lap that up while they continue to run their team in almost purposeful spite of what analytics would say. And then we would spend the season screaming until your eyes bled about how what they’re doing makes no sense. Then they would come out and say they’re ahead of the curve on analytics and just trust them, and the whole cycle would start again.

I guess I missed it.

First of all, if you were so “ahead of the curve,” you would boast about how big your analytics department is. That you had a team of people working on this and presenting it to the GM and coach. You would show off your computer room or something. Fuck, look at the Cubs and all the bleating and boasting they did about their “pitching lab,” which still has produced dick when it comes to pitchers but hey, they’re at least showing you they’re working on it.

The best part of this article, a deep focus on the Hawks trying to blow themselves, is that the counterpoint to it is right in the goddamn middle. The Hawks have one guy, ONE, listed under “Hockey Analytics” on their website. Their department that’s so fucking cutting edge has one dude, and like, maybe an intern or two. Al MacIsaac, who’s basically been a fucking plague in this front office for a decade, mentions “young people.” You know what that means, right? Kids they don’t pay who also get lunch and help the marketing people stuff the blimps that drop t-shirts or whatever. This is not a department. It’s a dude in a dark room with some students sentenced to go visit him once a week for credit.

“Everybody is at a certain place right now,” MacIsaac said, “but they don’t know if they’re in front or they’re way behind.”

They sure don’t, Al.

If the Hawks paid any attention to analytics, they wouldn’t have traded for Olli Maatta. They wouldn’t have thrown in Teuvo Teravainen merely to get Bryan Bickell off the books. They wouldn’t have traded for Andrew Ladd. As mentioned in the article, they wouldn’t have given Brent Seabrook a million years on a contract. They wouldn’t have spiked Q with Brandon Manning (well, knowing the dysfunction in this front office, that still might have happened). They wouldn’t have traded Henri Jokiharju. Good god do you know how long this list could go on? I’m not going to do that you with so little summer left.

Still, the Hawks were one of the worst expected goal teams in the league last year, and the year before that, and yet all they’ve tried to do to turn that around is acquire road-graters on the blue line to block more shots. They just traded one of their d-men who can, supposedly, transition the team from defense to offense, which is what they don’t do well at all and the analytics tell you that. Their hopes to turn that around are pinned to Adam Boqvist and basically Adam Boqvist alone. They will try and sell you that Duncan Keith can still do it, even though he has been declining in possession for a while now. And you expect us to believe they actually pay attention this?

Of course, all this is topped by MacIsaac pretty much dismissing player-tracking. Now, he can get away with this, barely, for now because no one is quite sure when player tracking is actually going to be ready. And when it does roll out, it of course will have some kinks.

But if you’re so far ahead of the game, as the Hawks want you to believe without actually doing anything to back it up, why wouldn’t you gobble up all the data you can? Try and get out ahead and figure out where the kinks are first, but more importantly glean what is viable from it before anyone else? Wouldn’t that be your attitude instead of waving your grandpappy hand and dismissing it at gobbledygook, as MacIsaac does here? How can you be that advanced when you’re not even paying attention?

Once again, the best thing the Hawks front office does is telling you how great they are at something, without actually doing it. They’ve been doing Trump’s act longer than he has. “Oh we’re the best at this, you can’t believe how good we are at it and we really are the envy of the league when it comes to this.” And then you don’t actually do that thing.

McDonough is going to be president in like 2024.