Hockey

I suppose it will be a real sign of growth and maturity (or I’ve just gone on to do something real with my life instead of playing in this sandbox in adulthood) when I just let an interview with John McDonough slide by. But I’m not there yet, not by a damn sight. McDonough loves to talk, especially when the subject is himself, and these days he’s got a lot of figurative ass to cover. Especially if he’s going to survive a third-straight playoff-less season, or justify that season without the major changes the front office looks more and more like it needs. So he’s already starting, and as always we will stand as the gatekeeper. We can’t go through the whole thing, as his interview with The Athletic’s Scott Powers goes for two parts. But we’ll go through some of the “highlights.”

“We don’t compensate the players. The players come in. Because our players, like the Cubs’ players, they get it.”

Yes, well, I’m sure there’s no benefit to getting free suites in a five-star hotel for young men in their primes of their lives. Can’t imagine what it would be. Maybe it has to do with the reason Sox players used to call SoxFest “SexFest.”

Powers: Have you had a chance to reflect on that season, what that Cup team means to the city?

Well, I think that was kind of the lightning strike.

Yeah ok, there’s a lot to unpack here, or a lot to unpack to find all the ways McDonough is trying to give himself credit for when he was mostly along for the ride. I’ll do my best.

First off, the 2010 nostalgia tour that you’re going to see a ton of this season is understandable, but also extremely awkward. Because most of the core of that team is still here, and if you asked them they would tell you they’re not done trying to win Cups. If Marian Hossa didn’t have that skin condition, he would almost certainly be still playing as well. He probably isn’t comfy looking at his career in the past tense yet either. So it’s an odd celebration when in some ways, you’re still in that window.

I get it. 10 years is a nice round number. And it’s rare that the core of a championship team is so young (except the Penguins were too) so that they would still all be playing in the same place 10 years later. And hey, the Hawks very well might have to be selling something come February and March if this defense is as bad as it could very well be and the goaltending isn’t as good as we think it will be.

As for McDonough’s “lightning strike” comment, that’s a load of shit and he goes on to contradict himself like five sentences later. As McD points out literally in the next sentence, the Hawks did manage to go to the conference final the year before, were just about everyone’s pick to win, and even the year before that had barely missed out on the playoffs, which was the true lightning strike.

While it happened fast, the Hawks had sucked for six seasons or so and had accrued draft picks like Keith, Seabrook, Crawford, Bolland, Brouwer, Hjalmarsson, etc. Even before Toews and Kane capped it off, and they’re the most important picks no question, people were starting to notice the Hawks had a fair amount of prospects coming through.

And the regular season in our sport doesn’t even resemble the postseason.

This is a continuing theme throughout the interview, and it’s really frightening for what’s happening to the team now. Yes, the NHL playoffs are different, if only because of structure, but to say they have nothing to do with the regular season is false. Two of the three Cup wins for the Hawks were as division champs, one Presidents’ Trophy winners. The other they were a 100+ point team that watched Kane miss the last quarter of the season through injury in his first MVP-level performance. Generally, the best teams in the regular season kind of remain the best teams in June.

The Hawks seem to be banking on the notion that the Blues have somehow disproved all of this, because they keep saying it. Jonathan Toews gets it, because he’s the only one in the organization who has rightly pointed out that the Blues first half was nothing more than a massive underachievement. After their ’18 summer, the Blues were picked by many to be near or at the top of the Central, which they would have been had they gotten their head out of their ass before January. And thanks to the Jets and Predators, they were anyway.

The Hawks keep making it clear they’ve learned all the wrong lessons from what they think the Blues did or are, and this idea that they have to be heavy to get through the playoffs they very well might not make is going to take everyone down. Which it probably should.

I think one of the events that helped changed the course of the franchise was the outdoor game at Wrigley Field.

Oh do you now? You mean the event you strong-armed and pleaded with the commissioner to get?  You think getting that game had tangible, on-ice results later? Look, it was a fun day and a definite marker that the organization was finally taking itself seriously and the team was on the rise, but it’s a marker, not a direction-changer. How many ribs did you have removed for this one?

The importance of hiring Joel (Quenneville), how he was the perfect fit for all this. Bringing in Marian Hossa, that in my opinion, we don’t win three Stanley Cups without Marian Hossa. I don’t know if you win any. But you got Marian Hossa come in and Brian Campbell and other free agents that played a role, and other players that just emerged in the 2010 Cup team. It wasn’t just your primary players, you think back now and you had Andrew Ladd and you had Dustin Byfuglien and Colin Fraser and Adam Burish and all these guys who played a role, it was a significant role.

Funny how all the moves he was a part of are at the top here, where all the players that were drafted were here when he got here. And what did Fraser and Burish do again, exactly? I’ll hang up and listen for my answer.

That we’ve seen the game go in the last 10 years from being a heavier game, more physical game, fighting played a role in the game before, now it’s speed and skill, and it will probably at some point spin back again. 

No, it won’t, and you need to stop building a team that acts like it will.

So, you’ve got to make real good decisions, prudent decisions on the complimentary players, people that you know may not show up on the scoresheet every night, but they add a lot to your culture.

How’s that gone the past few years? The Russian judge just asphyxiated.

But we recognized, and we did recognize a few years ago, the conference is tougher.

You did? What have you done about it, then? You said a lot of things, we’re still waiting.

We talk about our process and our system every day, and I’m a real big believer that if you do have a good process and a good decision-making system, the wins are going to come, the results are going to come.

Here we go with this happy horseshit again…

It was difficult last year where obviously our penalty kill … we had a very poor season on the penalty kill. It was almost indescribable that we would be ahead in a game and relinquish that lead in many instances within 60-90 seconds or two minutes, and that kind of became a trend. And our penalty kill was just ineffective.

Y’know, all offseason the Hawks have addressed their problems on the kill as something that just happened to them, instead of rightly pinpointing that they had the worst defensive corps in the league and really haven’t improved it that much. Get better players, and you’d be amazed at how much better the kill would be. They think they can solve this systematically, and they can’t.

the St. Louis Blues had the worst record in the NHL on Jan. 1. That’s just the reality of our game. The L.A. Kings won the Stanley Cup a few years ago as the eighth seed in the conference. So, those things can happen.

Per my last email…

Over a period of time, he (Jeremy Collitoin  did a terrific job of earning the respect of our players.

Oh, I think I could find one that might disagree on that one…

I’m not even going to get into the soliloquy about the new scoreboard, but man is he taking credit for that like it’s a new signing.

The fact that we are able to tap into our season-ticket waiting list and they can fill that back up, I think that is remarkable and great credit to Jay Blunk and Chris Werner and their respective staffs to be able to come up with creative ways to do that.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret, folks. They didn’t just tap into it. They burned through almost all of it, and another season missing the playoffs and you’re going to see some shit.

I don’t want to emulate other franchises. I want us to be inventors. I want us to be trailblazers.

This might be my favorite part. He’s talking about game presentation here, the arena experience. And anyone who is even close to the Hawks knows that when McDonough took over, in order to improve the in-game experience at the United Center all he did was follow the Hawks on the road and lift what he liked from other arenas. Even the new scoreboard is following a trend, as Tampa, Denver, and a few other places have brought it the Tyrana-scoreboard years before. McD doesn’t have an original idea anywhere in his body nor within arm’s reach.

When I mentioned to you earlier, what I’m seeing now more than ever before and it’s been an eye opener I think for everyone in our sport, the regular season and the postseason, they don’t resemble each other. The Tampa Bay Lightning were tied for the best record in the history of the NHL. They were swept. There’s a cautionary tale there. You almost need to have two different teams, two different styles, and that’s not easy. 

Again with this. It’s simply not the case. Playoffs are different but they’re hardly uncoordinated to the team you’ve built to get through the 82. What you need is a flexible team, especially when you’re really good, because in a series teams are going to try specific things to beat you that they’re not concerned with in February. The Hawks didn’t fundamentally change their ways when they won in the playoffs, they just turned it up. They could wade through trapping teams because of their skill and they could out-run-n-gun anyone who tried that (except for the Kings that one time) They never out-heavy’d teams. If you tried to be the Blues against them, and the Blues tried it once in that run, they just skated around you, got the puck up the ice quicker, and took advantage of all the odd-man rushes they had.

It feels like this organization’s brain broke when it comes to building a team, and McDonough is all too happy to showcase that.

Ok I’m tired now. Enough.

 

 

 

Hockey

It’s that time of year again, when John McDonough tries to neuralize the past three or four seasons from Hawks fans’ brains and make them buy stuff! If you’re heading to the Convention, here’s our handy guide to what’s really going on downtown all weekend. 

Friday

5pm – Opening Ceremonies: Hey, do you love championship parades, but without the actual cathartic journey of a season, or actual success, or the actual parade, but just the rally at the end where players stand awkwardly in their jerseys in the heat? Well then this is for you! They’ll even sing the national anthem for no reason!

8pm – Blackhawks Variety Show: Do you like what the Cubs have done with Ryan Dempster, where middling comedians feed him lines he half-delivers (I can say that because I’m friends with them)? Well watch us try it with even dumber Canadians! Except Adam Burish, who is from Wisconsin, which is probably worse. Enjoy the journey of Burish and Dempster one day becoming Chicago’s Statler and Waldorf on all sports.

Saturday

8am – Blackhawks Fitness Presents Pure Barre: Wasn’t Barre like the trend five years ago? How hockey is this that even at a gimmick convention they’re still behind the times? What would be contemporary? OrangeTheory? That nutcase Mark Lazerus just went to work out with? Whatever.

9am – “On The Clock” With Kirby Dach: Follow Dach’s and the Hawks’ journey to what could be a franchise turning moment with the #3 pick…or all the ways he’s not Bowen Byram.

9:30 – Colliton’s Command: You’ll get the chance to make Colliton cry just like Chris Block did in Rockford. Don’t bother asking any questions, because every answer (including during the season) is just going to be…

10:30 – “My Next Guest Is…” with Patrick Kane: Can’t we give Bob Verdi something better to do? Can we get him writing for the Trib again? God knows they could fucking use it. I didn’t realize how good we had it with him and Bernie Lincicome as columnists when I was a kid. And then Bernie went off the goddamn deep end himself.

11:30 – Blackhawks Leadership: Do you want to see a bunch of entrenched white guys who’ll never lose their job but can’t afford to visit Congress? Well, here ya go. Come watch McDonough, Rocky, and Seabrook point at three banners the entire time.

12:30pm – Kids Only Press Conference: You can apparently ask Tommy Hawk a question, even though I’m fairly sure birds don’t talk. Why it’s called “birdwatching” not “bird discussion.” Some parent is going to try and get their child to ask Connor Murphy what it will be like to be traded to Vancouver because of cap concerns though, I’m sure.

2pm – Blackhawks Family Feud: By holding it this early the Hawks are hopeful, just, that Jeremy Roenick won’t be drunk enough to spout something stupid/racist. Why did we continue this show after Richard Dawson was pawing at everything on set before falling down in his own vomit? Have you ever watched Steve Harvey zombie his way through the real thing? The man almost literally cashes his check on camera. But hey, more power to him.

2pm – Hockey Operations: Is it a coincidence they’re having this panel directly opposite the fun and light gameshow one with Hawks legends? Of course it’s not fucko! How dare you think such a thing! Get a look inside the front office as they stare blankly at scouting reports before asking each other, “Hey who was that guy who played on our third line fiveyears ago? Let’s get him back. No way he’ll be worse because he’s older now.”

3:30 – Welcome Back Andrew Shaw: Do not be shocked if they have him come out and beat up one of those dolls the Hanson Brothers do when they make appearances. In fact, maybe Shaw will be dressed as a Hanson brother. I mean, that’s essentially what we’re doing here, right?

4pm – Blackhawks Top Prospects: After answering a fan’s question with, “Yeah, I think I should be on the team this year, I mean, have you seen this oil spill that wears #7? Boqvist is traded to Tampa on Sunday.

4:30 – Reliving The 2010 Stanley Cup: Hooo boy, get ready for this all the time. When you don’t have anything going on presently, nothing sates the people like pumping as many CCs of nostalgia straight into their veins, even if 10 years barely counts as nostalgia. The look on Duncan Keith’s face during all of this next season is going to be priceless. Come hear Adam Burish talk about the one thing that makes anyone know who he is, even though Chris Pronger should have rightly killed him directly afterward. And maybe Dave Bolland can get his wheelchair up the dais!

6:15 – Team Hochberg Shoot The Puck Challenge: Can we get this Hochberg guy to fight that Ankin guy to the death at an intermission some time?

6:30 – The Second City: It’s like the Variety Show but worse! I do this rant every year, but I can never say it enough. Second City is a goddamn scam. While it has produced some very talented people, it has used those names to create an assembly line of incomprehensibly mediocre talents who simply kept paying their money to the name and were moved along simply due to that. But hey, no better way to learn how to be funny to tourist and rubes!

Sunday

10am – “Blackhawks Talk” with Dylan Strome and Alex DeBrincat: Watch Pat Boyle (how is this guy still involved, really?) lob softballs at no-way hungover Strome and DeBrincat. They’ll talk about heading out of their entry-level deals, with Top Cat trying to refrain from yelling, “I’M RICH BIATCH!” and Strome trying to convince everyone he’s not Schmaltz II.

11am – Storytelling With Hockey Hall of Famers: Boy, you have to love a segment that’s called “storytelling” with a bunch of people who took blows to the head for a living. That’s it’s own storytelling right there, people.

Everything Else

It wasn’t that we were ever going to learn a whole lot from the Convention and when Corey Crawford appeared (forced to appear?). If anything it only added to the confusion, and pushed us to being more convinced that when he’s not ready for the camp, or even for the season, the Hawks are going to fully put the blame on him. And it sounds like that will be more and more unfair.

Let’s get the stuff on the ground first before we try and sift through the higher-concept stuff. After the season, both Stan Bowman and Joel Quenneville said that they fully expect Corey to be ready for training camp. Q referenced “reports” they get, though who these are from or what exactly they are, no one’s going to be able to tell you.  And if you’re even more confused as to why a coach would need a “report” on his own player you’d hope he had any kind of relationship with, I’m going to have to leave you in that body of water because I have no tow-rope of an answer for you. They’re might not even be any such reports. And what’s clear now is that neither individual actually spoke to Crawford himself. Which isn’t encouraging.

Because if either had spoken to Crow, they probably would echo what the man himself said. He said that it’s a possibility he could be ready for camp, he’s progressing, he hopes he is, but that he can’t promise that. He really has no idea. So why do the coach and GM? Why are they making pronouncements that clearly don’t line up with what the player himself is feeling? The only explanation is that so they can dump this on Crow when he’s not ready, except at no point did either Stan or Q say, “Corey has told us he’ll be ready for camp.” They just said it, based on these nebulous “reports.” And I guess they want us top believe either that they don’t have Corey’s phone number and can’t ask him themselves, they never called him, or he didn’t return their calls/texts. Quite frankly, it’s a load of shit and when the Hawks try and pin this on Crow you should be angry at them, not at the player.

It’s easy to understand the frustration of the ambiguity of this. But you also get the impression that Crawford and the Hawks are dealing with something not all that common, and that’s if we leave it as just head trauma. If he blows out a knee or requires rotator cuff surgery, we have some frame of reference for the recovery of that. What we clearly have entered into here is something that can’t be tracked or has little precedence.

It won’t do any good to dip more than a toe into the pool of simply wild rumors and innuendos about what’s going on with Crow (hmm, that’s a lot of water references. Doesn’t that mean death in dreams? I’m in some trouble here). Some of it is really out there. But if even a shred of them have some truth, then this is a deeply personal thing, and quite frankly we don’t have this right to know exactly what’s going on. Even just a head injury is personal in that A. recovery from it is completely dependent on the player B. the risks are so great. Perhaps some players can plow through the idea that their life will be forever changed after they’re done playing (and when you’re over 30 as Crow is that’s really not all that far away), but there shouldn’t be an derision of a player who is also considering that in their recovery to make sure they’re 100%. Considering all that Crow has already accomplished–two Cups, what should have been a Conn Smythe, a couple of Jennings’ trophies, a World Cup and representing his country–he could be forgiven if he spent a little time wondering if there was that much left for him to do and whether putting his long term health and happiness on the line was really worth it.

Quite simply, if Crow is dealing with more than that–and I have honestly no idea if he is and no one I know who is plugged is seems to either, but we all hear the same whispers from the hinterlands to the jackass at the rink bar–than the Hawks seemingly pinning this on him is wholly wrong. And it was wrong when they did it after the famous Rise Against show, though they might not have known everything they were dealing with then. If there is something personal at work here–and again, I have no idea if that’s the case–I don’t see how saying one thing about him and then having him to at least tamp that down himself so that he looks like he’s not living up to expectations helps him in any way. It shows a nearly unconscionable lack of understanding. And maybe from that Rise Against happening there’s always been a separation between Crow and the Hawks and a lack of trust from both sides.

And I don’t know what the point of having him at the Convention was, either. There isn’t anyone who is or isn’t going to buy a ticket to that museum of freaks based on whether Crawford is going to be there or not. Having him there means he’s going to have to talk, and this is a situation where more quotes really aren’t going to help. And if he wasn’t going to parrot the message the Hawks have been sending out all summer, why did they send out that message? At least Crow knows he’s important enough that he doesn’t have to go along with what they’ve said about him, but this is yet another thing the Hawks have completely borked and ended up with several substances on their hands and no handiwipes around.

Sure, Hawks fans are getting a bit riled because there’s so little information we can trust out there. But at the end of the day, is it really our business? Do we have that “right?” I don’t think we do, especially when it comes to certain ailments or problems. If the Hawks were going to be vague anyway, they could have protected Corey better by saying something more like, “He’s dealing with a serious injury/matter/issue/whatever, we and him both hope he’s ready for camp but the most important thing is that Corey takes care of himself, and we support him fully in whatever he feels he needs to do that.” Instead we get this, team and player saying different things and no one knows where to turn. How is this better?

-So this is the point where things will go a bit dark around here. August is clearly the dead month on the hockey calendar, and we could all use the a break. If something happens, we’ll of course write about it. If Hess wants to bitch about Colts training camp, and you know he does, he’ll write about it. If Pullega needs to put a curse on all of us, he’ll do that. If Rose finally wants to reveal she’s Chicago Party Aunt, she’ll do that. But for the next few weeks, let’s say things will be sporadic so that we feel a bit more freshened up for training camp and season previews and all that good stuff. But don’t you worry, our Bears Roundtable before the season starts will of course be done. Anyway, take care and we’ll talk soon.

 

Everything Else

-There seemed to have been a bit of furor–in that whenever anything happens in July you have to make something out of it to pretend anything is happening at all–that at the convention Patrick Kane and Artem Anisimov expressed disappointment that Artemi Panarin had been traded for Brandon Saad.

It’s clearly obvious why Kane would be. His numbers are going to suffer. And that doesn’t make Kane out to be selfish or uncaring about the team. Most if not all hockey players are acutely aware of their stats, just as any athlete is any other sport is as well. Believe me, Jimmy Butler knows exactly what his points and assists are per game and Kris Bryant knows what he’s hitting. It’s part of the job.

Everything Else

Every year we take you through the Convention schedule to give you the real low-down on what you’re in for if you’re headed downtown this weekend. For reasons we’ll never understand, but people do feel the need to be surrounded by sweaty people in Hawks jerseys in the middle of July. Also, it’s going to be stupid steam-bath hot this weekend, making it even more fun. The combination of Convention goers and Cardinals fans downtown… WOOF. 

Friday Night

5pm: Opening Ceremonies

Basically an excuse to defrost Jim Cornielson from whatever freezer they keep him in during the summer so he can for some strange reason sing the national anthem. Seriously, how many conventions do they sing the anthem at? I really don’t know, I’ve never been to a convention. I went to a ComiCon (ComicCon?) in Rosemont when I was a kid once. That’s it.

Then the players will be introduced and will come and give that awkward five from the stage, and in no way will be ogling a portion of the audience. They’ll also be in their jerseys, because we can’t recognize them without them. You’ll also get to see how awful the new collar on the new jerseys look in real life. Which won’t stop three-quarters of the fanbase running out to get one.

Everything Else

Well, at least the temperature is down this weekend, so the sweaty quotient of those piling into The Hilton should be lower than it has been in previous years. John McDonough’s lovechild of self promotion kicks off tonight and runs through the weekend. I used to do this in the Convention Issue of the Indian, but seeing as how I’m not doing summer issues this year I’ll take you through all the sessions all this weekend and get to the truth to what’s really going on.

Everything Else

I’ll admit it. I have no idea why people spend money to go to this Blackhawks Convention. I’ve always thought the Cubs Convention was creepy and weird, and I guess the Hawks version has less geriatric women from Iowa and Nebraska with really silly hats and jewelry and talking about just how much they love the “Hawkies.” Though I’m sure it comes with its own share of weirdo. Just a guess, but I bet he’s got a mustache. Though I suppose if you’ve ever dreamed about banging a Hawk, this is the best chance you’ll get. It’s in a hotel, after all.