There’s a striking similarity to the Cubs approach for turning its franchise around to what the Blackhawks have done to right the ship in just a few short years on the city’s West Side.
I was reminded of this Tuesday night at the United Center, watching the Hawks win another thriller in front of a packed house.
The Hawks quick transition from forgotten franchise to Stanley Cup champions began with an abrupt change to upper management after the passing of long time owner Bill Wirtz in September of 2007.
Wirtz’s son, Rocky, grabbed the reins with a new vision for the club–once voted by ESPN as the worst professional sports franchise (2004)–building a winner.
He started by hiring marketing guru John McDonough away from the Cubs as team president.
McDonough aggressively marketed the club, campaigned heavily for the Winter Classic, brought back broadcaster Pat Foley and instituted the very first Blackhawks convention.
Then the tough decision was made the following year to replace head coach Denis Savard, a fan favorite, with a proven winner behind the bench, Joel Quenneville.
Legendary hockey coach Scotty Bowman was courted as a special advisor to the club as well. His son, Stan, under the watchful eye of dad, succeeded GM Dale Tallon who was demoted in July 2009.
In no time the Hawks had positioned itself to win its first Cup since 1961, and did just that defeating Philadelphia 4-2 in the Cup Finals.
However, Tallon’s loose purse strings forced the Hawks to disassemble the Cup winning team within a few weeks of having reached the pinnacle due to its crushing salary cap numbers.
But there lies the rub.
Having pieced together an All Star front office, Rocky’s Blackhawks wouldn’t be down for long.
A smart plan to keep core players in tack was complemented with smart trades and free agent signings to put the team right back in cup contention.
Additionally, the UC was renovated to better accommodate fans. The Mad House on Madison would return–in bright red lettering atop the 300-level.
Wirtz had turned his vision into reality: his franchise setting the gold standard of how to maintain a winning club and a rabid fan base.
Cubs chairman, Tom Ricketts, appears to be making the same moves: The hiring of Theo Epstein as team president, who wooed Padres GM Jed Hoyer for the same role, who will presumably replace the likeable Mike Quade at manager, and there’s the soon-to-be renovations of Wrigley Field.
Likewise, the Cubs face their own salary issues with several veterans signed to expensive back-loaded contracts that will hamstring the club’s flexibility in free agency.
But with a vision no different than Wirtz’s, and the first steps in place to retool the front office from the top down, the wins are sure to follow for the Cubs just as they did for the Hawks.
And perhaps like the Blackhawks, the winning may come even sooner to the North Side than expected.