Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Bill Wirtz Dies

For the NHL to grow, they need some forward thinking owners who will have good ideas on how to position the game to maximize its potential into the future. One problem is that some of the more longstanding powerful owners are not looking forward. They are looking at trying to re-capture their successes of 30 and even 40 years ago when player salaries were much smaller than they are now and the cost of icing a good team was not as big. These owners have found that in solid markets they do not need to win. They can make a solid profit without winning. Having one of the more highly paid teams can interfere with this money making because if the team fails to win this higher payroll can cut into profits.

The owner who most stood in the way of NHL progress recently was probably Bill Wirtz in Chicago. Wirtz has made a huge profit over the years owning the Blackhawks. However, his profit seeking was killing the Chicago market. They do not broadcast any home games in the Chicago area. They average about 12,700 fans a game in the 20,500 United Center.

While it is a sad thing when people die, as Bill Wirtz has, it is a renewal process. It allows new young blood into the ranks of the NHL owners. With that young blood comes new ideas. With the loss of Wirtz, there is some loss of the desire to return the game to a past that no longer exists.

Bill Wirtz became Chicago team president in 1966. During his over 40 years running the Blackhawks, the team has never own the cup. He oversaw the departure of Bobby Hull, Chris Chelios, Denis Savard, Jeremy Roenick and other stars from the Chicago market during the primes of their careers. His team is now one of the weaker teams in the NHL. Most pundits pick them to miss the playoffs by a large margin. Their inept finishes have allowed the Hawks to draft young talent in Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. Now is a good opportunity for the Chicago market to turn itself around.

At this point, it is not clear if the Wirtz family will keep the ownership of the Hawks. Bill's son Peter Wirtz was the vice president of the Hawks under Bill and would be his natural successor. It's not clear how different his ownership would be from that of his father's but it is an opportunity for the team to turn over a new leaf. It is also a possibility for the Hawks to be sold to new owners. This could also lead to drastic change.

Chicago is an original six market. It is a potentially very strong hockey market. It has been a strong hockey market in the past. It would be very good for the NHL if Chicago became hockey mad again. The change in ownership may be a catalyst for this.

Chicago needs to get rid of its current management who were very good at making Bill Wirtz money at the expense of the product on the ice. Bob Pulford and Dale Tallon will have to go. A new talented hockey man will have to be brought in as general manager to lead this team to a resurgence. I hope it happens.

Here is TSN's story on Bill Wirtz's death.

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