Friday, September 08, 2006

How to Kill a Franchise

In a true Hall of Fame, a collection of the truly elite, Steve Larmer would not belong but when you look at some of the latest inductees, then this guy, one of the most complete players of his era or any era, should be there.

He played at a high level at both ends of the rink, came up big in big games, was a big contibutor to a Canada Cup victory in 1991 and a Stanley Cup in 1994. He was a consistent player who came to play every night, literally, as he had an ironman streak of @ 800 games at one point iirc.

The reason I am talking about Larmer is that he is everything that is good about hockey.

And his former franchise, where he played most of his career, and his former boss, one of those ex-Leafs who is in the HHOF because he is an ex-Leaf (hello Dick Duff), are everything that is rotten about it.

As a Blackhawks fan since I was @ 3 until I was @ 33, I can tell you that any complaint you have about your team can be trumped by how Bob Pulford and Bill Wirtz have destroyed a once great franchise.

Bob Pulford is Mike Milbury but he has been there for 30 years.

The Hawks' record of drafting from the early 80s when they had a nice run until the late 90s was so bad that they had a stretch of @ 15 years where after Larmer, Savard, Secord et al they had but one player who scored over 20 goals for them until Eric Daze turned the trick. Indeed other then Roenick and Belfour, the Hawks drafted so poorly that, well, they drafted nobody. So bad indeed that the Oilers' drafts of the 90s look positively New Jersey like by comparison.

And on top of that the refusal to pay guys like Belfour, Larmer and Roenick and the failure to get anything in return for them of any value. While having the money to be able to retain the top players in the first place.

A fan can forgive mistakes. Bad drafts happens. The wrong youngster gets thrown in on a deal for a bigname player. A fan can forgive moving players near the end for value (Denis Savard) or just because its time (Doug Wilson).

But wilful neglect. No sir.

Friends ask me when it happened - the change of allegiance. I had always been a fan of the Oilers - loved their flair - and was living in the States when it looked like they would not survive long. I had adopted them as a second team, cheering for a true underdog in those series against Dallas where they always fell short. And one day watching the Hawks/Oilers on ESPN I realized I was cheering for Edmonton. It was as simple as that. All of those years of fandom, through years of mediocrity in the 70s, that exciting go-go team of the 80s, the near miss in 92 and the years after that. Killed dead by two old men.

Seeing Keenan forced out by old Bob after finally reviving the franchise after years of neglect. Seeing Larmer leave. Belfour. Roenick.

Wirtz and Pulford didn't care and so neither did I.

The ironic thing is that years later with empty seats by the thousands and hockey dead in Chicago Wirtz is spending money. And they can't even do that right.

Havlat is a real sweetheart and scored a lot of goals playing behind Alfie and Hossa in Ottawa. We'll see how he handles facing the Prongers and Pahlsons, the Hannans, Reghyrs and Horcoffs rather then the softies he's used to.

Some nice young D and I like Aucoin, though not for that contract. But goaltending is a black hole and up front ...

Daze is done and it appears Ruutu may be too - even when the Hawks do something right it turns to shit.


And as Vic said recently there seems to be a disconnect between the front office and what is happening on the ice.

You have two good players in Calder and Bell and trade them for Havlat and Handzus - so you are getting less but paying more.

Stupid stupid stupid.

The Blackhawk way.


hockeygirl said...

I see you are in an Oiler fan in Toronto. I just want to say, I support you in the long distance love to Albertan hockey teams.

lowetide said...

For guy's my age, the Blackhawks are a tragedy. Those uniforms are majestic and when I was young so was the team. The '71 final was epic and that club had some stunning players.

Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita, Cliff Koroll, Keith Magnuson, Dennis Hull, Keith Magnuson, Pat Stapleton, Bill White, Tony Esposito, Pit Martin, Jim Pappin.

That's some monster talent right there folks. Monster.

Anonymous said...

The Oilers became my second team right after Joseph left them for the Leafs. Those Dallas series cemented it. Bunch of young guys that played with tempo and speed. Always broke my heart when they lost, and had to trade away Weight, Guerin etc., Smyth stayed though, if they ever traded him I don't think I would have been able to keep being roped in by them year after year. And I loved the way they never gave up and became sellers, they were always fighting for a playoff spot and always made moves to try to make it.

Living in the GTA though and hating the Sens I was a default Leaf first fan.

Only now...after years of watching the Leafs mismanage (the wonderful turn around of sorts from 98 onwards was heartening though) and finally the JFJ nail in the coffin, whenever I watch the Leafs my heart just isn't in it anymore...I watched all of 2 Leaf games last season. Still listen to games on the radio though.

When the Oil play the Leafs I can't quite bring myself to cheer against them...but I really don't care if they win or lose...I just don't care about the Leafs anymore. Not nearly as bad as what Chicago, Boston, and NYI fans have had to endure by a long shot though. It's the apathy that I find strange, I never thought the day would come when I just didn't care about the Leafs anymore.

Vic Ferrari said...

I feel for ya Pat.

I heard an interview with a media guy from Chicago about a month ago, on local radio here. Poor bastard was beside himself. A real "It's hopeless, why do I even care?" thing going there. Not holding back with the shots against ownership and management either (people with sharp memories will remember Jones and Matheson toading along with a tongue up Pocklington's *** even through the dark years) ... this cat didn't show Wirtz the same thing. In fact the opposite.

I know it's just sports. Still, the whole thing is a terrible shame.