After the disaster that was the comments made by Rocky Wirtz on Wednesday evening at a town hall meeting with Chicago Blackhawks fans to talk about the state of the franchise, the organization is much worse off than they were before that meeting began. In what was meant to be an effort to be engaging and transparent, the CEO did little more than attempt to shut down the negative narrative surrounding the Blackhawks’ organization, all while creating a more negative narrative than anything he could have possibly imagined.
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The reaction was swift and opinionated. Analysts, fans, and the media picked up the story and it quickly went viral, forcing Wirtz to issue a statement and an apology a couple of hours later. By then, the damage was done, and unfortunately, the Blackhawks’ organization will be cleaning this mess up for years.
The Blackhawks Situation Was Already Bad
While the image of the organization had taken a massive hit in light of the Kyle Beach statements and the NHL’s investigation in the allegations that took place back in 2010, for the most part, current players haven’t come out and shunned the franchise. Perhaps surprisingly, you didn’t hear much if anything about stars trying to avoid the team or current roster members asking to be traded.
Showcasing that it’s just one thing after another with this club, this Wirtz tirade could change all that.
On Wednesday evening, TNT Covered the town hall story and one of the most respected players in the history of the game showed serious concern for the hockey club; but more than that, a serious concern for future draft prospects the organization might be looking at. Suggesting parents might take issue with their sons joining a team that has little to no consideration for their safety, Wayne Gretzky made it clear, there’s a potential issue moving forward.
Related: Blackhawks Situation Goes From Bad to Wirtz
As fellow THW contributor, Greg Boysen pointed out in a very interesting read on the Rocky Wirtz comments:
“How many young players will be excited to play for an organization that clearly values its bottom line over their safety? How will you attract free agents to play for your team when they know that every decision will come down from the angry man in the executive suite?”
The answer is clearly, Chicago might not be able to. Draft prospects have more leverage and power than they’ve ever had before. More and more of them make the jump to the NHL right away. They’re smarter, more prepared, and are paying close attention to how the hockey world works. Their parents do too. There’s a sense of confidence about young players, many of whom know they have more say about where they go than NHL clubs and the league might care to admit. They also have options beyond the NHL.
This doesn’t even bring into consideration active players that are associated with the team and may no longer want to be.
Will Current Players Take Notice?
If someone actively on the Blackhawks’ roster was already thinking this organization is toxic and maybe it was time to get out, Wirtz’s comments on Wednesday gave them more ammunition to consider asking for a trade. If a free agent was on the fence and second-guessing the idea of joining the team, Wirtz’s tirade might have tipped the scales. If a player has the option of placing teams on his no-trade list, Rocky Wirtz ensured Chicago likely just upped their odds of being on it.
In one form or another, throughout this season, names like Marc-Andre Fleury, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Dylan Strome, Dominik Kubalik, and others have had their names talked about in trade rumors. In some cases, those rumors weren’t all that serious. Perhaps it’s time to take any rumor seriously now.
After what can only be an obvious display of at least one key decision-maker in the Blackhawks’ organization proving no lessons have been learned from past mistakes, if Wirtz remains at the helm of the franchise, there won’t be a single person in the hockey world that would blame a player for wanting out. No one will wonder why free agents don’t want to come to Chicago or why players would rather be drafted elsewhere. Those reactions will be natural and understandable.
The real question will be, how many of these situations will the Blackhawks face, and how many of them will become public knowledge? As is fairly evident now, there’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes, and behind the scenes, Chicago may have become one of the NHL’s least desirable places to play… at least for now.