The Blackhawks’ rebuild and those innocent times when being bad was considered a bad thing
The team sure asks a lot from its fans. Patience. A high pain threshold. Amnesia. And money.
Remember the good old days, when professional teams didn’t try to lose? When they came by their high draft picks as a result of poor decisions, general incompetence and disappointing players? When being bad wasn’t a strategy but a curse?
The Blackhawks recently shifted into the top gear of their rebuild, shipping talented young players out of town and gathering in a boatload of high draft picks that one day will make everything better again. That’s the plan, at least. For now, they’re hanging on to Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, the most important Hawks of the last 40 years.
The veterans’ presence amid a rebuild serves as a nice reminder of how they got to Chicago — the traditional way, when a team was awful for no other reason than it couldn’t help being awful. The Hawks were able to take Toews with the third overall pick in the 2006 draft because they had just finished 26-43-13 while actually trying to win games. Then-general manager Dale Tallon was able to take Kane first overall the next year because the team had just finished 31-42-9. Three Stanley Cups followed.
Besides being a way to save an owner a ton of money, a rebuild takes some of the guesswork out of the draft. It’s a way of amassing a raft of high picks with the idea that some of them surely will turn into stars. It’s hard for a GM to be wrong with so many horses in the race. In the old days — oh, 15 years ago — a GM would cross all of his fingers and hope he would hit on his one first-round pick.
But look at the pile of picks the Hawks received when they traded Alex DeBrincat to the Senators and Kirby Dach to the Canadiens last week. DeBrincat brought three picks, including the seventh overall in the 2022 draft, and Dach brought the 13th overall pick. An earlier trade sent Brandon Hagel to the Lightning for first-round picks in 2023 and 2024. It’s going to be hard for GM Kyle Davidson to be wrong with so many picks. That’s the thought, along with saving a lot of money for the owner. Did I mention a rebuild saves money for the owner? I think I did, the part about saving money for the owner.
Rebuilds are all the rage now in professional sports, with lots of fans backing lots of teams in the decision to reduce everything to rubble and start from scratch. Even though the strategy has worked (the 2016 Cubs being the best example), it’s hard to shake the feeling that we’ve all been had, that owners of sports franchises — on a yacht somewhere — are cackling in unison over the gullibility of the masses. They can win financially by losing games! Who knew? Hahahahaha!
Rebuilding often is considered cool by the media cognoscenti, and anyone who doesn’t go along with the concept is considered seriously out of touch. But not with this rebuild. This one feels like a betrayal, especially after what the Hawks have put their fan base through.
News surfaced last year that the Hawks had brushed aside a staff member’s alleged sexual assault of a prospect, Kyle Beach, while the team was chasing the 2010 Stanley Cup. It eventually led to lawsuits and the departures of team president John McDonough and general manager Stan Bowman. It also led to apologies from chairman Rocky Wirtz. But Wirtz’s sincerity came into question in February, when a reporter asked him at a town-hall meeting what the Hawks were doing to ensure that another sexual assault wouldn’t happen.
‘‘We’re not going to talk about Kyle Beach,’’ he said angrily. ‘‘We’re not going to talk about anything that happened. We’re moving on. What we’re going to do today is our business. I don’t think it’s any of your business. You don’t work for the company. If somebody in the company asks that question, we’ll answer it.’’
Public outrage was immediate.
How do you move on from the sexual assault of a 20-year-old? By rebuilding, apparently. With all that busyness, who has time to count the skeletons in the closet? Even though the Hawks were in the midst of a rebuild before the DeBrincat and Dach trades, those moves feel like a one-two punch for fans who think the franchise has a one-two punch for them on a continuous loop.
The Hawks sure do ask a lot of the faithful. Amnesia. Patience. A high pain threshold. And money.
It’s going to be a very odd look if the team keeps the 34-year-old Toews and the 33-year-old Kane while going through a rebuild, even if it’s the players’ decision to stay with the only franchise they’ve known. It will look like a way to get sentimental fans into United Center seats while offering up what figures to be some really bad hockey.
I miss the good old days of bad.