CHICAGO | Rocky Wirtz is no George Steinbrenner, save for one commonality.
Their bottom line is winning.
Blackhawks owner Wirtz believes in spending money to make money, like late Yankees owner Steinbrenner. He has repeatedly admitted his team runs in the red – the losses absorbed by parent Wirtz Corp. – as former general manager Dale Tallon built one Stanley Cup champion and successor Stan Bowman re-tooled for another.
Wirtz has thus earned the admiration of an entire city of semi-title-starved fans, but also has won friends and influenced people to make the Blackhawks probably the No. 2 franchise in town in popularity. With two Stanley Cup championships in the last four years, the Hawks are certainly No. 1 in quality over the Bears, who inspire wall-to-wall media coverage and massive TV ratings every Sunday.
Under Wirtz, team president John McDonough and general manager Stan Bowman have assembled a confluence of riches. Their team is both talented and telegenic. And built to last. The Hawks should serve as a model for the other under-performing, under-managed local franchises.
Beyond the glitz and glitter, of Patrick Kane appearing with David Letterman tonight and the Stanley Cup going on bar-hopping and parade duty this week, are sound talent judgments. Even McDonough, the ultimate salesman, admits winning is the best marketing tool. And in the NHL, you don’t win without an elite goalie.
The Hawks have found that man in Corey Crawford. Despite second-guessing of Crawford’s inconsistent play in 2011-12 that featured no shutouts and two soft playoff game-winning goals allowed against the Coyotes, Bowman firmly supported the netminder.
Crawford out-played Jonathan Quick and Tuukka Rask, two goalies with bigger reputations. The Hawks would not have won the Stanley Cup without him keeping the team in every game.
He should have won the Conn Smyth Award as the playoffs MVP. Out-of-town writers outpolled Chicago scribes to grant the honor to Patrick Kane instead. Low-key and introspective, Crawford is the most indispensable Hawks player going forward.
Kane and Jonathan Toews are obvious absorbing personalities. Patrick Sharp has long been male-model handsome. Yet the appeal of the team extends in many different directions, ensnaring casual fans who don’t know a forecheck from a checkmate.
Andrew Shaw is now the devilish rascal that many folks love. The smallest Hawk, who just can’t keep from uttering the f-bomb on network TV, is a personality around which blue-collar types can rally.
There are no bad guys on the Hawks, no Milton Bradleys or even moderately prickly types like A.J. Pierzynski. Not a Jay Cutler in sight.
Defenseman Duncan Keith can be grumpy – especially to a female radio reporter in Vancouver – and yet he spent plenty of time handling the mobs of media during the Stanley Cup Final.
McDonough has a dress code for male employees – suits and ties. And yet even he could laugh at himself minutes after the Cup was won, declaring a Tuesday holiday from neckwear. His media relations staff actually thanks reporters for their coverage, and showing up for games.
Wirtz has conjured up the total package for the fan. That might include price increases. And yet unlike his Chicago sports competition, the owner will be charging for the best quality in his game.