The Chicago Blackhawks‘ teardown this summer hasn’t just been limited to the on-ice product. On Monday, the team lost one of its most beloved faces, as former player Eddie Olczyk stepped down from his role as TV game analyst. After 16 seasons in the booth, Olczyk and the Blackhawks couldn’t agree on a new contract, which expired on June 30. He is reportedly set to join the Seattle Kraken’s broadcast team, where his brother, Ricky Olczyk, is an assistant general manager (GM) (from ‘Eddie Olczyk joining Kraken’s TV broadcast team,’ The Seattle Times, 07/18/22).
This is a huge loss for the Blackhawks. Because of his credibility, you could argue that losing Olczyk is a bigger blow for the franchise than any player. A Chicago native, he played for the Blackhawks from 1984-87 and again from 1998-00. In 2006, he took on the TV color commentator role and later instantly developed chemistry with longtime play-by-play voice Pat Foley. While he normally kept an upbeat tone, Olczyk wasn’t afraid to call out or critique the team when necessary, which made him appreciated.
After Foley’s retirement this past April, Chicago broadcasts were already going to sound a lot different, with Chris Vosters taking over the full-time play-by-play duties. Now, fans are going to have to adapt to not just one but two new faces in the TV booth. Here are the four best candidates to replace Olczyk as color commentator, all of whom played for the Blackhawks during their NHL careers.
Compared to Olczyk, very few faces have become as well-liked among Blackhawks fans over the years, but Troy Murray might be one of the closest things. Murray, 59, began a 15-year NHL career with Chicago in 1981 before retiring from professional hockey in 1997. Since then, he’s had no shortage of broadcasting experience, as he served as both a studio and game analyst for Blackhawks TV broadcasts from 1998-2005 before joining radio play-by-play voice John Wiedeman in 2006. Like Foley and Olczyk, Wiedeman and Murray have been there ever since and were on the call for Chicago’s three Stanley Cups in the 2010s.
Because he’s already a part of the team, simply moving Murray to the TV booth would be a safe yet smart choice for the Blackhawks and their fans. It would also surely help Vosters, who is a talented announcer but is entering just his first full season calling NHL games. However, that would mean breaking up Murray and Wiedeman on the radio call, and the duo’s developed tremendous chemistry over the years. Murray’s also spent the last year battling cancer, which caused him to miss a majority of last season, but he did work more games toward season’s end.
If he’s comfortable moving back to TV and the Blackhawks want to play it safe, Murray would be the right choice. He might not have the same profile nationally as Olczyk, but he’s a fan favorite and knows the team just as well.
Along with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp was one of Chicago’s most iconic players of the “One Goal” era in the 2010s. Sharp, 40, was acquired by the Blackhawks from the Philadelphia Flyers in 2005 and played for the club from 2005-15. He then had a two-year stint with the Dallas Stars from 2015-17 and spent one last season with Chicago in 2017-18 before jumping right into broadcasting, serving as a studio analyst for the NHL on NBC from 2018-21.
Along with his national work, Sharp has also appeared on a handful of Blackhawks’ broadcasts over the last few years, serving as both a guest studio analyst and working between the benches. Though he’s still somewhat new to broadcasting, he’s a recognizable face and would probably be able to connect well with a younger audience.
While Mark Lazerus of The Athletic reported Sharp as a potential candidate to take over for Olczyk (from ‘Eddie Olczyk not returning as Blackhawks broadcaster, will join Kraken’s broadcast team,’ The Athletic, 07/18/22), there are a few hurdles I could see with this choice. First, he has limited experience calling games compared to working in-studio, and the team might want to find a veteran to pair with Vosters. Second, Sharp currently works for the University of Vermont Men’s Ice Hockey team, and there’s no indication he wants to give up his current role to focus on broadcasting. Yet, even with that in mind, he’d be a popular choice.
Brian Boucher, 45, may not be the most recognizable name among Blackhawks fans, but he’s had a tremendous broadcasting career since retiring from hockey in 2013. A former goaltender, Boucher began his NHL career with the Flyers in 1999 and had a stint with Chicago from 2006-07. After retiring, much like Sharp, he jumped right into broadcasting as a part-time game and studio analyst with the Flyers. He then served as a game analyst for the NHL on NBC from 2015-21 and just finished his first season in the same role for ESPN and ABC, most recently serving on their Stanley Cup Final coverage last month.
Personally, I believe Boucher is about as good as it gets when it comes to current NHL analysts. If the Blackhawks went this direction, he’d be a tremendous addition for the club. He has an insightful, down-to-earth personality, and much like Olczyk, he’d probably be able to continue his current responsibilities for ESPN, even if it means missing a handful of local broadcasts. It also doesn’t hurt that he played for Chicago, albeit briefly.
This would be a bold choice by the Blackhawks, but it’d be one I’d applaud. Just like Olczyk, Boucher brings national experience, and I feel like he’d work very effectively with Vosters.
Now, hear me out. If the Blackhawks want to find someone with just as much credibility as Olczyk, why not give Chris Chelios a call? Chelios, 60, is already a team ambassador and has become a prominent fixture throughout the Chicago community and sports media landscape. From 11 All-Star Game appearances to three Norris Trophies, he is one of the greatest American-born hockey players of all time, and his resumé speaks for itself.
While he retired from hockey in 2010, Chelios only just got into broadcasting regularly last year when ESPN hired him as a studio analyst. If this is a direction the Blackhawks want to go in, like Boucher, they’d probably have to work around his national duties. Yet, that likely wouldn’t be an issue as they did so successfully with Olczyk. Chelios hasn’t been in broadcasting for as long as Olczyk, but he’d surely be a popular choice and would get fans to tune in even if the on-ice product is a mess.
That said, given the Blackhawks weren’t willing to come to terms with Olczyk, it might be tough to land someone like Chelios. He certainly wouldn’t be a cheap addition. However, it would help Chicago regain some credibility, especially given that none of the NHL’s 32 teams have a Hall-of-Famer in the booth. Even if he isn’t the full-time replacement, he’s at least worth exploring.
Other Candidates & Final Thoughts
There are certainly other candidates the Blackhawks will pursue, and not all of them will likely be former players. Two in-house options the team could elevate to the role are Chelios’ daughter, Caley Chelios, and Colby Cohen. Both were hired by the club last offseason and served in a variety of roles throughout the year, from filling in for Murray on the radio call to working in-studio and between the benches.
While I think both have bright broadcasting futures, I’d like to see them get a little more experience in those roles, especially knowing that Vosters is still relatively new, too. With that said, it seems the Blackhawks are trying to get younger and more “hip,” if you will, so I wouldn’t be shocked if either landed the full-time position.
Regardless of who the Blackhawks choose, it would be in their best interests to find a consistent, full-time voice to partner with Vosters. This would be unlike last season, when Foley called approximately half of the local broadcasts, with the others being split up among a handful of announcers, including Vosters. Now, I think this strategy worked last season, given the team was auditioning potential replacements for Foley. However, fans deserve to have consistency in the booth, especially given how rough 2022-23 will probably be.
Ultimately, whoever gets this job will have major shoes to fill. As a Chicago fixture, seeing Olczyk announce his departure this past Monday was extremely jarring. It’s a shame the Blackhawks couldn’t come to a new contract with him, and Chicago broadcasts just aren’t going to sound the same moving forward. Whoever gets this role will most likely do a good job, but just like Foley, no one will ever be able to truly replace Olczyk.