Tag Archives: Blackhawks

Can Cubs Be Next Blackhawks?

An iconic franchise with a passionate fan base falls on very hard times, has a change in ownership and front office leadership and tries to lure back fans, gets some luck in the draft and then build around a couple of stars. The result? A string of championships.

It’s the blueprint that every Cubs fan hopes the team is following. But it’s one that the Blackhawks have already accomplished.

Wasn’t that long ago that “Dollar Bill” Wirtz wouldn’t show Hawks home games on TV, wouldn’t pay for talent and traded away budding stars. An Original Six NHL team became a laughingstock, making the playoffs once in 10 years between 1997-98 and 2007-08 and getting further and further away from winning the franchise’s first Stanley Cup since 1961. In fact, ESPN named the Blackhawks the worst franchise in sports in 2004.

Then things started to change. General manager Dale Tallon drafted Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane and was even allowed to dangle some big money to free agents. But it seemed that no real stars wanted to play for the Hawks, who had developed a well-founded reputation for not doing what it took to win.

But Bill Wirtz died. You hate to say that the team started to live again after the owner died, but there’s a lot of truth to it this time. Wirtz’s son Rocky took over and started to right the wrongs of his father. He put home games on TV, he brought back exiled stars Bobby Hull, Tony Esposito and Stan Mikita as ambassadors, and he oversaw some bold moves in the front office and behind the bench. In the span of a few years, the stigma of the Bill Wirtz era was long gone. Casualties of the housecleaning were Tallon and coach Denis Savard. There was an uproar at the time but also a burgeoning trust in the new administration. Instead of saying “Damn Hawks, screwing things up again,” fans said “I feel bad for those guys, but let’s give it some time. Rocky and Co. have been doing some good things.”

The rest of the NHL must have noticed. All-Stars Cristobal Huet and Brian Campbell accepted fat contracts from the Hawks, who were now featured on national TV playing in the NHL’s marquee Winter Classic at Wrigley Field. Playoff appearances followed, along with another big star in Marian Hossa. The Hawks rewarded their own homegrown stars with long-term contracts. Ask Tony Amonte if that happened back in the day.

And the rest, as they say is history – two Stanley Cups and a perennial NHL threat in the playoffs. Man oh man, it feels good to write that.

Oh yeah, but how does this Hawks history apply to the Cubs? The parallels up to a point are pretty clear.

The Ricketts family bought the team from the Tribune Company and promised a less corporate, more fan friendly approach and smart approach to finally doing something that hadn’t happened in over 100 years, winning the World Series. Man, it feels crappy to write that.

The Ricketts’ started boldly, luring young genius Theo Epstein from the Red Sox in 2011 after he ended the Red Sox’s World Series drought. The new Cubs prez of baseball laid out a five-year plan that featured building the base of the team through the draft, international signings and shrew trades for young talent, making improvements to Wrigley Field to make the team more appealing to free agents, maximize earnings and improve the fan experience, and then spending on proven stars once a strong nucleus of talent had been developed.

So how’s Theo doing? Right on target.

How can you not think of Toews and Kane when looking at Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo? They look like cornerstones, guys that might actually be able to lead the Cubs to pinnacle. But the Hawks aren’t a two-man show. They’re in the Cup finals because of Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and others. Well, the Cubs are also trying to build a deep young nucleus. Couldn’t those secondary stars come from the likes of Addison Russell, Starlin Castro, Jorge Soler and Javier Baez?

And was Epstein true to his word on acquiring established veterans to complement the youngsters? I’d say Jon Lester more than answers that question. Theo didn’t just dip his toes into the free-agent waters, he dove in headfirst.

As the Blackhawks try to win their third Stanley Cup in six years, the Cubs’ plan is finally coming together. The team is extremely young, so this won’t be a meteoric rise. But a playoff appearance this season is not out of the question. And then what?

Could we be watching the first steps of a Cubs march to dynasty status, just like we saw with the Hawks in 2007-08? It sure feels that way.

You can reach me at Patrick@CubsFanTherapy.com.

Taking stock of my fan portfolio

Every once in a while I like to take a look at my fan portfolio. What’s that, you say? It’s the teams that I’m invested in, and their stock goes up and down just like the market.

The big difference between my fan portfolio and my meager investments in the stock market is that I won’t sell my allegiance to my teams. Once I bought in I was stuck with them — for mostly good, but sometimes bad.

So let’s take stock of my teams and how I’m handling my investment:

Cubs: Bull market. Everyone is buying on the Cubs after they signed Jon Lester. The Cubs are obviously my single greatest emotional investment as a fan, and I’d love to agree with some publications that pick the Cubbies to go to the World Series, but I’m afraid that too many people are overvaluing their stock at this point.

I’m taking a cautiously optimistic approach. To be honest, my portfolio lives and dies with my gigantic investment in the Cubs, but I’m not going to max out my contribution at this point. I want to see how the kids play, how the rotation comes together before I start recommending the Cubbies to everyone and anyone.

Bulls: Bear market. What is going on with the Bulls? A team that has lived in the top 3 in defense during the Tom Thibodeau years is now around 19th. What? I was so fired up early in the season when the offense appeared to be worthy of their defensive prowess. I bought in big time that the Bulls could cruise to the Finals out of the East.

Now I’m not so sure. The sample size of defensive struggle is now significant. Derrick Rose looks like the D-Rose in stretches and then settles for 3 after missed 3.

This season has really become disappointing. So I’ve been quietly redistributing my emotional assets, hedging a little on the Bulls’ success this season.

Blackhawks: Bull market. Where has a chunk of my Bulls investment gone? To Kane-Toews and Co. Now, they aren’t exactly the Apple of fan investments right now. A 6-8 stretch doesn’t scream “all in,” but I feel like confident in upping my investment while they’re stock is down because I think they have a better chance of paying dividends later than the Bulls do.

The Blackhawks this season look like a veteran team doing just enough in the regular season to secure a good playoff position. Then they’ll turn it up a gear in the playoffs — a San Antonio Spurs model.

Maybe I’m being overly optimistic, but if my fan portfolio is going to flourish I’ve got to look for deals. I think the stumbling Blackhawks are a good buy right now.

Bears: Not just a Bear market, but a 10-foot ferocious grizzly Bear market. The Bears’ stock has fallen so far that a change of management was necessary.

Heading into last season the parts appeared to be there — especially on offense — that most Bears fans upped their investment significantly. The Bears might have some issues on defense, but they could outscore anyone. They would be entertaining and successful. It felt like investing in the new Star Wars movie.

And we all took a bath. Last season’s Bears were the 1929 stock market crash for fan portfolios. The collapse came out of nowhere and hit very, very hard.

Like all my teams, I’ll always hold a significant stake in the Bears, but I’m not buying right now — not until I see if John Fox is the man to turn around the once blue-chip investment.

In summary, my portfolio is looking pretty good. The Cubs could blow up into something really big, and the Blackhawks can pay off big every year. The Bulls are down, but that doesn’t mean they’re out. And the Bears are at least taking significant steps to right the ship.

It’s a good time to be emotionally invested in the Chicago sports scene.

You can reach me at Patrick@CubsFanTherapy.com.

New Year’s reflection, resolution — sports style

The end of one year and the beginning of another really do stir reflection and resolution. And sports really don’t matter in the scheme of life. Really. I swear.

newyear

All right, who am I kidding? Sports do matter to me and a millions of others. Life is sports and sports are life. It’s not like when a player steps between the lines he or she enters virtually reality and the rules of life are suspended. Or that when we go to work the lessons we learned from sports about teamwork and commitment are thrown out the window. But we do need to have our priorities straight. Sports get a bad name when a dad sits on his ass alone in the basement watching his team lose its 60th game of the year when his kid has been asking him for hours to have a game of catch in the backyard.

In fact, I’d argue that having your priorities straight makes watching sports more enjoyable and participating in sports more successful.

So as I reflect on 2014 and resolve to do some stuff in 2015, here’s a mix of what people call “real life” and “sports,” though we know it’s all mixed up together.

Reflection: Our family welcomed our third child to the world this year. This was by far the biggest event, ahead of even the Jon Lester signing (crazy, I know). She’s smart and funny. After going through the infant-to-toddler stage — which is not easy — with two other kids not that long ago, I find that I’m enjoying this one a lot more. Maybe I’m just used to never sleeping.

baby

Resolution: I’d like to be a better father to all the kids. The way I look at it, I’m the manager of the team (or my wife is the manager and I’m the third-base coach, something like that). Unlike many pro teams, we don’t get a chance at rebuilding. We have to win now AND devote our resources to player development. There’s no tanking for a higher draft choice. This is the team we’ve got and we’re going to kick some ass. I’m not bad at being a dad now, but we can all always get better. When three kids are screaming for something all at the same time and what they want is the most important thing they’ve ever wanted ever (like a glass of milk), and I have slept four hours every night for a week, what am I going to do? Can I find the patience to meet their needs while teaching them valuable lessons about teamwork and caring for others? I’m gonna try.

Reflection: I figured out that as a little bit older dad for the age of my kids, I’ve got to be in decent shape to keep up with them. I want to be able to really take it to the hoop when my 4-year-old gets old enough and big enough to square me up and take me on. So I’ve been working out like I haven’t since freshman football at Fenwick High School. And it seems to be working.

Resolution: Keep it up. Dragging my ass out of bed in the morning to go to the basement and sweat ain’t easy most days, but it feels good afterward. So I need to just do it — or whatever other dumb cliche I can think of.

Reflection: My wife had a tough year. She had her third child in four years — making her the best Director of Player Personnel anywhere. As she points out, she’s been pregnant FOREVER. And she kept her high-stress job despite wanting to leave many times. She’s exhausted physically and mentally. Dick Vermeil had nothing on her.

Resolution: To be a better husband, I need to help my wife get to a better place. She’s smart and driven, so I know she’ll get there more than she even believes she’ll do it. I want to help. I need to be a trainer, a co-owner, a cheerleader, a maintenance man — definitely the grounds crew. I want to be there and do that, even if I’m beat or frustrated or distracted. This is another “just do it.”

Now let’s talk Chicago sports.

Reflection: The Cubs turned a corner. Young talent started to arrive and the kids looked GOOOOOOOD. Then the Cubs went out and got a legit manager in Joe Maddon and a frontline starter in Lester. As Theo Epstein pointed out, the Cubs are leaving the rebuilding phase and entering the competing phase.

maddon

Resolution: Keep my shit together. Imagining the Cubs being good, really good, contender good, gets me a little nutty. Don’t get me wrong, I’m going to enjoy the ride — pitch by pitch — but I don’t want to keep one eye on the big picture. “It” (and you know what I mean) might not happen this year. Might not happen next year. But “it” is going to happen.

Reflection: Carmelo Anthony choosing the Knicks over the Bulls was great for Chicago. Not having Melo hogging the ball allowed Jimmy Butler to become one of the best two-way guards in the league right now. If the Bulls had to pay Anthony, they wouldn’t have brought over Nikola Mirotic, who looks like a super sub. They might have had to trade Taj Gibson, who is in many ways the motor of this Bulls team.

Resolution: Don’t get too impatient with Derrick Rose. He doesn’t have to be who he was for this team to succeed. What he does need to do is cut down on shooting 3-pointers. Derrick, they’re giving you that shot for a reason. You kind of stink at it. You don’t have to drive every time, but step up and take the mid-range J. You’re really good at that. See, I’m lecturing. I need to let this season play out, let Rose find his way after missing so much time due to injuries.

rose

Reflection: The Blackhawks are the most consistent winning team we’ve had in Chicago since the Jordan Bulls. They can be counted on year after year to compete for a title. They are fun to watch, and the players are easy to root for.

Resolution: Just enjoy it. This is the easiest Chicago sports situation I have. I’m virtually assured of experiencing the nailbiting, screaming joy of playoff hockey. The West is loaded, so winning the Cup will be far from easy, but I know that these Hawks will give it their all. That’s a rare and beautiful thing in sports.

Reflection: This is the worst, most unlikable Bears team in my lifetime. I know that’s a bold statement, but c’mon. The defense is putrid. The offense has plenty of big names and virtually no big plays. I’m sorry, but I’m convinced that Jay Cutler can’t play a starring role in a Bears Super Bowl run. He’s not that kind of leader. Now, I’m not saying to get rid of him because NFL QB is the hardest spot in professional sports to fill successfully. But I am saying that the defense has to be a Bears defense again — i.e. dominant. That also means they need some strong leaders on that side of the ball. And the Bears have to be able to run the football. Then and only then can I live with pouty Cutler throwing for 270 yards with two TDs and an interception in Bears wins.

Resolution: Get used to the Bears not being THE BEARS for a while. When you say “the Bears” or “Da Bears” images of Ditka, Payton, Butkus, Sayers, McMahon, Hampton and other greats pop into your head. You think hardnose football on frigid days. You think Chicago pride. All of that is besmirched these days. The coach was an offensive guru from Canada. The QB is sullen. The top WR is kind of nutty (and not in a McMahon good way). The defense is statistically the worst in franchise history. It’s like we traded in a 1969 Pontiac GTO muscle car for a Yugo. We’re going to sputter along in the slow lane for a while.

Reflecting on it all, 2014 was a good year. Added one beautiful baby, subtracted 10 pounds of beer gut, added proven stars to Cubs potential greatness, added Derrick Rose back to the Bulls mix, subtracted one Bears coach who didn’t cut it.

One thing 2014 didn’t have … a championship. No doubt that’s on the Cubs’, Bulls’ and Blackhawks’ 2015 resolution list.

You can reach Patrick at Cubs Fan Therapy.

Thanksgiving sports column: I say ‘Stuff It!’

My old boss at ESPN, who is a golfing buddy and all-around good guy, loves to rant about the idiocy and laziness of Thanksgiving sports columns. You know the ones: “In the spirit of the day, I’m thankful for our great pitcher/quarterback/power forward/blah, blah, blah.”

Nobody is ever thankful for the poor pig who gave his life to make your football. Or the jock strap and cup — very useful sports items.

My old boss says that the Thanksgiving column “is a shitty device for lazy writers who can’t actually write a column.” He’s got a point. So how about a Thanksgiving themed, anti-Thanksgiving column?

The holiday is about food, specifically the turkey. All the beautiful Thanksgiving pictures you see show the golden brown bird sitting on a table surrounded by delicious side dishes. So American. Norman Rockwell did not paint the pregame, which is a dirty mess: Husbands and wives bickering over who’s going to pull the innards out of the uncooked turkey and who’s going to stuff the poor bastard. It ends up being my job.

So … in the spirit of the day, here’s my list of Chicago sports people/things/whatever that can just go Stuff It.

1. Jay Cutler: There is a very good chance that I will have indigestion well before eating my Thanksgiving feast this year. Cutler will do something stupendously stupid against the Lions, I’ll rant about how we’ll never win a Super Bowl with this clown and then say screw it and get another beer. So Happy Thanksgiving Jay, and Stuff It!

2. Derrick Rose’s body: Or maybe it’s his mind. Is he physically or mentally weak? I don’t really know and that bugs me. I’m going to assume he really wants to play and his body keeps letting him down. For that reason, I say “Hey Derrick’s knees, hamstring, ankles, Stuff It!”

3. Wrigley rooftop owners: Hope you like your turkey dry because the gravy train is going away. I’d feel bad about siding with a corporation over the little man, except that the rooftop owners are more corporate than the Cubs. Contract or no contract, there’s something fundamentally wrong about being able to sell the right to peer over the wall and watch someone else’s production. When I was a kid I stood on those rooftops and watched some baseball, and it was cool. I didn’t nurse a martini at the second-floor bar before heading out to the rooftop grandstands to catch a few innings of the game before making my pitch to the client I brought to impress. C’mon man. I’m happy the city sided with the team and they can do whatever the hell they want to improve Wrigley and maximize profits. So Stuff It rooftop owners!

4. The Red Sox: I’m going to proactively condemn Boston for stealing Jon Lester out from under the Cubs. It would be one thing if he was the only big signing the Red Sox made this offseason. But Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval and Jon Lester. Why don’t you just go and trade for Cole Hamels while you’re at it? Oh yeah, they might do that too. I’m still hopeful that the Cubs will get Lester. This is the new and improved Cubs after all, but the old and shitty Cubs part of me is still fearful. In the spirit of that fear, and Thanksgiving, I say “Stuff It, Red Sox!”

5. The NHL’s Western Conference: Why couldn’t the Blackhawks have been switched to the East instead of the Red Wings? They’d be happily skipping into the Stanley Cup finals for the next five years. The West is brutal and appears to be more brutal every year. In spite of that, the Hawks were a few plays away from making the finals last year, where they would have dispatched the Rangers as quickly as the Kings did. So Western Conference, Stuff It!

6. Everyone associated with the Bears defense: We can start with GM Phil Emery for putting this mess together. Mel Gibson would do as well as defensive coordinator Mel Tucker. Lance Briggs is talking about leaving after this year when most of us don’t even know he’s on the field this year since they rarely call his name. Jared Allen’s picture is on milk cartons. They suck, and it’s not real clear how they get better anytime soon. So Stuff It!

In true Thanksgiving fashion, I’m going to push back my chair and end this feast. I’m sure I could go on, but that’s the big stuff. I’ve successfully avoided the lame Thanksgiving column in which I say I’m SO thankful for Anthony Rizzo and all the Cubs young talent, Jimmy Butler, Pau Gasol, almost all the Blackhawks, Theo Epstein’s plan … oh wait, sorry.

I’ll leave you with the words of wisdom from my 4-year-old son that his teacher put on a card for me and his mom:

“I’m thankful for the whole world — except for the bad guys.”

You can reach me at Patrick@CubsFanTherapy.com.

Are Bears losing grip on city?

Chicago is a Bears town, right?

If we judge by TV viewers, the answer is “absolutely.” NFL is still king, and the Bears are an iconic franchise. But these ain’t Mike Ditka’s Bears.

Sadly, the current Bears are historically bad. They are the first real NFL team to give up 50 points in back-to-back games. Technically, the 1923 Rochester Jeffersons also did it, but since nobody had ever heard of them until the Bears’ debacle, I’m not counting them.

More Chicagoans may watch the Bears than the other sports teams, but that doesn’t mean that they have the same hold on the hearts and minds of fans that they did in years past. In part, that’s because we have some pretty good alternatives on which to focus our fanaticism. The Bulls look like a possible NBA Finals team … if Derrick Rose stays healthy (and that’s a big if). The Blackhawks are one of the favorites to win the Stanley Cup for the third time in six seasons.

The White Sox struggled last season, but hey, they’ve got the Rookie of the Year in Jose Abreu. And the Cubs, ahhhh, the Cubs. For the first time in years, the hot stove is burning bright. The rebuilding process is coming to an end, and Theo Epstein promises to be a player in free agency. Dynamic new manager Joe Maddon is talking playoffs. There is a serious buzz around these Cubbies.

The Bulls, Blackhawks and up-and-coming Cubs are helping to ease the sting of a very, very disappointing Bears season. They might have to do that for the foreseeable future since the Bears are loaded with question marks. Do Marc Trestman or Phil Emery get canned? Will Jay Cutler ever live up to his franchise QB salary? This is his sixth, yes sixth, season in Chicago, after all.

So you make the call. Which Chicago team has the brightest future?

Which Chicago team wins a title first?

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You can reach me at Patrick@CubsFanTherapy.com.

Want to ride Bears wave but boat sinking

There is a rhythm to being a sports fan. The man cave is a dinghy on the sea of our teams’ fortunes and we ride the waves of wins and losses, sports and seasons.

Right now, my dinghy sits in still waters slowly taking on water. I have the Bears to thank.

This year’s sports journey started with limited expectations. I launched my little boat during Spring Training, knowing the Cubs wouldn’t win much, but hoping that I’d eventually at least catch a glimpse of hope on the horizon. And I did. Youngsters came up and showed enough that I feel confident that Theo Epstein and Co. can captain this ship to the promised land.

With the Cubs season ending, I turned my attention to the Bears. An offense featuring Jay Cutler, Matt Forte, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jefferey and Martellus Bennett had me thinking we were in for a wild ride. The defense was suspect, I knew, so we might ride some big waves and crash into some serious troughs. If everything held together, however, the journey could end at the Super Bowl.

While I was riding that wave, I’d also be propelled along by the return of Derrick Rose and a promising Bulls squad and the consistent winning of the Blackhawks. The convergence of success could result in a perfect storm of fandom — the Bears looking like Super Bowl contenders, the Bulls regaining the top spot in the East and the Blackhawks serving notice that the Stanley Cup belongs in Chicago once again. All of this would be happening as we’d tick down the days to the launch of one of the most hopeful seasons in recent Cubs history.

Ahh, the dream of the perfect sports voyage. Success, playoffs and one or more pots of gold at the end of the rainbow.

But now I’m just sitting here in still waters, drinking a warm beer as the weather turns cold and wondering what the hell is wrong with Cutler. It feels like every time the boat is headed in the right direction he doesn’t just throw the anchor overboard, he drops it through the hull. I’m starting to feel that he isn’t the guy to captain a team to the Super Bowl.

I’d argue that he has more talent than Jim McMahon, but he has 1/100th of his leadership ability. Leaders take chances, but they calculate the risks — faster than anyone else — and win way more gambles than they lose. Cutler pushes all in on a whim and too often loses the bankroll needed to win a game, a division, a long journey into the playoffs.

So I sit and wait for one of my other teams to make some waves. I like the Bulls chances, even without Carmelo Anthony or Kevin Love. Like the Cubs, I want to see what they have play together before deciding if a trade is necessary. Rose is back. Nikola Mirotic is intriguing. Pau Gasol is a solid addition. Doug McDermott addresses the need for a shooter. Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson are great glue guys. This team could easily be good enough to make the conference finals.

And then there’s the Blackhawks. They have become the luxury cruise line of Chicago teams. Our expectations for quality have been raised to levels not seen since the Jordan-era Bulls. When the Hawks set sail, it’s championship or bust. The journey, I’m sure, will be thrilling.

Just as those waves start to crest, the Cubs will begin Spring Training again. Unlike last year, the Cubs have a solid crew in Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro, Jorge Soler, Jake Arrieta, Javier Baez and, soon, Kris Bryant. It won’t be smooth sailing all the way, but the Cubs season should be, well … to keep the boat metaphors going, way less Titanic, not so much Gilligans Island, but maybe a heavy dose of the Love Boat. Oh yeah. Margaritas for everyone, Issac!

Will the Bears make the playoffs?

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You can reach us at Patrick@CubsFanTherapy.com.