The Chicago Blackhawks made a big deal of finally televising home games, beginning on Sunday night with their 3-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings. The package of seven games was the result of the team and Comcast coming to an accord after adamant resistance under late owner Bill Wirtz. With Wirtz's recent passing, so too has the home television blackout policy.
While touting the televising of local sporting events seems oh-so-quaint in this day and age of instantaneous access to all things extraneous, it is significant as it pertains to the Blackhawks franchise. It's not so much in the decision to finally do so as it is in the timing. It couldn't be better. For the first time in an awfully long period, the Blackhawks have the foundation to be a viable team for quite a while.
Fifteen years ago the Blackhawks assembled an exciting team that went to the Stanley Cup Finals. They were equal parts proven veterans and brash young talent led by Jeremy Roenick up front, Chris Chelios on the blueline, and Ed Belfour in goal. Slowly, those Blackhawks imploded, dismantled due to rising salary demands that led to the dealing of all the young, key foundation pieces. The Blackhawks never found traction after that, and they became the most indictable of descriptions: irrelevant.
Not so now. Chicago boasts two of the brightest teen-stars-in the-making in Patrick Kane and Johnny Toews. The two will battle one-two all season for the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie, much the way Atlanta's Dany Heatley -- the eventual winner -- and Ilya Kovalchuk did in 2001-02. Coach Denis Savard has his team playing an exciting brand of up-tempo hockey, utilizing the stretch pass more so than any team in the Western Conference.
Two more young players, Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith, lead the blueline. With the influx of young talent, the veteran free agents, including Nik Khabibulin in goal, Brent Sopel on defense, and Robert Lang up front can make a difference as well. If Martin Havlat can ever stay healthy, the Blackhawks might just have enough to enter the postseason derby come springtime.
Regardless, the journey is now one of excitement rather than embarrassment. That is a good thing for the Blackhawks and the NHL. To have an Original Six franchise marginalized for so long in one of the top U.S. markets hasn't helped the league. And as former Blackhawk, Chicago native son and current TV analyst Ed Olczyk put it, the televised games serve as a "three-hour commercial for the team." He's right, of course, but more pertinent is the fact that the Blackhawks now have something to sell.
Interestingly, Olczyk, Savard and GM Dale Tallon are all part of Blackhawks history. They each have separate and distinct but vitally important roles in defining the franchise's future. Hopefully, history has taught them the hard lessons of failure. The pieces are in place much like they were in the early 1990's ... and the home games are now on TV.
For the Blackhawks of today, the term "High Definition" truly takes on a dual meaning.
This is the week that the NHL acknowledges its rich tradition with the Hall of Fame induction ceremony on Nov. 12. Entering the Hall this year are players Ron Francis, Al MacInnis, Mark Messier and Scott Stevens, with Jim Gregory entering in the Builders category. It is an elite group, even among the elite, with Mr. Gregory being one of the finest men ever associated with the game, and the four superstars all having Stanley Cups on their resumes.
More than that, though, this class wasn't merely part of Cup-winning teams. This quartet led their respective clubs to titles. MacInnis (1989), Messier (1984) and Stevens (2002) all won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. Francis simply did everything he could throughout his career: quietly leading by example whether he was wearing the captain's 'C' or becoming one of the game's best two-way centermen, as he did behind Mario Lemieux in Pittsburgh when the Penguins won the Stanley Cup in 1991 and '92.
Speaking of Hall of Famers, future inductee Martin Brodeur tries for his 500th career victory this week, an achievement that will leave him only the second netminder to reach the mark. Still in the distance, another enshrinee: all-time victories leader Patrick Roy at 551.