Blackhawks owner dies and Guerin promoted

Marc Elliott

Chicago BlackHawks owner Rockwell "Rocky" Wirtz

SCANLON –  Chicago BlackHawks owner Rockwell "Rocky" Wirtz died suddenly on Tuesday the 25th after what the team called a "brief illness." No details were given. Wirtz was 70 years old.

As expected his passing has generated a positive outpouring of tributes and support for Wirtz and his family along with the derision you might expect on the heels of the Kyle Beach sexual assault incident that rocked the team and led to several personnel dismissals and changes within the organization.  

The incidents are said to have taken place in the 2009-10 season and came to light to team personnel during the club's 2010 Stanley Cup run. The assaults were lurid enough, and then a handful of upper-level management people decided to keep mum about it while the club was deep into playoff mode. Investigations have shown that Wirtz was not aware of what had taken place at the time. Nonetheless, as the owner of the franchise Wirtz has taken extensive heat over what transpired. The team has been in the Wirtz family since 1950 with Rocky's grandfather Arthur buying a share at that time.  

The family purchased the team outright in 1966 and was operated by Rocky's father Bill Wirtz for many years. Bill had quite a different view of running the team over the years which in turn alienated some of the team's big stars of the era as well as many of the fan base. When Bill died in 2007 the younger Wirtz took over the operation of the team. He made several player and fan-friendly moves aimed at revitalizing the team and his efforts culminated in a three Stanley Cup winning run with wins in 2010, 2013, and 2015.  

The team was the hottest ticket in the Windy City up until the roster quality had diminished and then the Beach incident came into the public domain, sparking an anti-Hawks sentiment in the city among its followers. In the quite recent past the team selected first overall in the NHL Entry Draft and took a player (Conor Bedard) that is thought to have the ability to bring the club back to its most recent glory days.   How does one analyze these situations when they occur? How do you look at an entire life and write the epitaph? Unlike his father, the younger Wirtz was a civically minded person who used both his business and personal resources to benefit the greater Chicago area. And under his leadership the team is now positioned to make another run at some upper-level success. The entries on the positive side of the ledger are many in Wirtz's case.  

But then, when the Beach incident and how it was handled enter into the conversation, Wirtz's legacy takes a major hit. Is that fair to Wirtz? From the standpoint that he, being at the top of the chain is responsible for everything that occurs within the organization you can only say that he is fair game and culpable.  

From the view that he had no personal awareness of what took place until after it happened and the subsequent issues of malfeasance were made public does he take more blame than he is due? Once the incident became known within the organization, was it made public and dealt with expediently? I have my own questions about that.  

Needless to say, it's a messy situation from all perspectives. When I was a kid and before the NHL and the NorthStars came to be in the Twin Cities, the Hawks were a team I pulled for a little bit. If you were a real fan how could you not enjoy watching Stan Mikita and Bobby Hull play? As the NorthStar-Hawks rivalry intensified I no longer possessed any positive "vibe" about the team and when I did watch them it was to keep my knowledge level up about them and their players.  

As I contemplate Wirtz's passing I find myself uninterested in praising him or putting the boots to him as others have done. His life can speak for itself. All of us have had triumphs in life and some things we aren't proud of. Rather, I'm reminded of this saying about the musician Brian Jones upon his passing at age 27, "When this you see, remember me and bear me in your mind. Let all the world say what they may speak of me as you find." Fair enough...  

THE MINNESOTA WILD aren't having a real busy summer thanks to an inability to play the free agent market due to a lack of salary cap space available. (player buyout cap penalties) But that doesn't mean they are sitting on their hands waiting for training camp either. This past Tuesday the organization added the title of "President of Hockey Operations'' to Bill Guerin's General Manager duties. There were a handful of other promotions and minor changes to the management team as well.   A

s for Guerin the added title simply verifies what has been known all along and that is Guerin has pretty much been performing most of those duties already. The added title makes it official and is thought to also be a preemptive strike at another team making a run at him and hiring him away from the WILD. With this promotion, Leipold appears to have a firm conviction that Guerin will get this club to the promised land at some point.  

That's fine but personally I'm not all that certain that Guerin is the hot commodity that team owner Craig Leipold thinks he might be. As far as GMs go around the league I have Guerin ranked in the middle of the pack for the position. He isn't at the top or the bottom. He is in the muddled middle from my perspective. In less than a month he will have been in his position for 4 years. There has been improvement in the club's regular season performance and there has been no improvement in its playoff outings.      

He bought out two highly-paid veteran players who allegedly had become a negative force in the locker room. While the team has a much-praised prospect pool, Guerin's first entry draft was at the 2020 event and none of those players have made the big roster yet. And from my view, until they do and show me something, they are still just prospects. He also places an overemphasis on "grit and toughness" on the roster. Don't get me wrong, you have to have some, just not to the degree that Guerin believes you do IMO. It seems as if it's a focus to an extent to distract from the other deficiencies the roster has.  

But Guerin is well thought of around the NHL and should be. He is outgoing, personable and engages the hockey media on a frequent basis. But then I start analyzing the team and with the cap penalties in place along with an unproven prospect pool, I, like many fans feel like we are perpetually stuck in this wait-and-see mode.    

The league now seems to pay both players and management based on potential and not actual performance or accomplishment. There is no Cup for having a good prospect roster. Show us something Billy. Congrats on your new title. PEACE