Chicago Blackhawks: Rocky Wirtz
“I really don’t,” Wirtz said at a restaurant in downtown Chicago. “I’m only one of 30 (owners), and at this point I don’t have a vote.
“At this point, it’s early. The nice thing is we get to go right now to the Stanley Cup, and let’s focus on that. It’s going to be an exciting time. We have 22 games left, and let’s see what we can do.”
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman spoke just before Wirtz and had a similar response. Bettman said the NHL would address the topic in time. NHL players have been participating in the Olympics since 1998.
“Ultimately, we have to make a decision,” Bettman said. “It’s not something, despite all the speculation, it’s not something that has been discussed. It’s not something we’re ready to discuss. We’re more focused right now on the stretch run into the end of the regular season and into the playoffs and then we’ll deal with (whether) international events makes sense to us.
In November, DePaul was offered 10 years rent-free to play at the United Center, which is owned by Wirtz's Blackhawks and the Chicago Bulls. The school rejected that offer in March and on May 16 Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel announced plans for a $173 million, 10,000-seat arena across the street from McCormick Place. DePaul will pay rent at the building but will retain naming rights and permanent internal and external signage space.
"It's hard to go against public financing," Wirtz said Friday on "The Carmen & Jurko Show" on ESPN Chicago 1000. "We did it the old-fashioned way, Jerry Reinsdorf and our family, we used our own dough. What we were trying to do with DePaul, we thought it was a very fair deal. I don't know how you can get a better deal than free. We were certainly going to help them market their sport. We thought it would be great for recruiting on the West Side.
"We've spent over $2 million in wi-fi in the buiding and those are things you will not get in a publicly financed building. A building is generally never as good as the moment it's opened so over 10 years you're not going to put money back into it because that's not part of their budget. But with all due respect to DePaul, they knew what they wanted to do. They thought it was better for them to be in a building that they could have more events, more time even though they are going to be spending more in rent."
DePaul, which has been playing at Allstate Arena since 1980, will contribute $70 million toward the arena, scheduled to open in time for the 2016-17 season.
Wirtz said scheduling conflicts with the Bulls and Blackhawks were a concern for DePaul, but efforts were made to address them.
"The great thing about the United Center is it's a sports building that also can do concerts so it's a loud building," Wirtz said. "We can bring that building down to 7,500 seats, you can cover the seats, and still make it very loud. "
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CHICAGO -- Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz gets just as frustrated as fans do when the Hawks play up and down to their opponents. The recent roller-coaster ride has included wide-margin losses (Calgary, Edmonton, Phoenix), stellar wins (Anaheim, Los Angeles, St. Louis) and nail-biting defeats (San Jose, Phoenix again).
Wirtz isn’t worried, but he wouldn’t mind getting off the ride.
“You want consistency,” Wirtz said from the Board of Governors meetings in California. “Once you start falling into bad habits, you don’t want that to set in.”
Wirtz said he’s “glad” the Hawks have salary cap room this year if the team needs to make a move, but he believes in the players wearing the letters on their jerseys.
“The makeup and leadership we have in the locker room,” he said. “They’ll get these peaks and valleys evened out in the end.”
Wirtz was in meetings Monday night when the Hawks went down 3-0 to the Phoenix Coyotes early in the second period.
“Probably the best thing was I didn’t have to watch the first period last [Monday] night,” he quipped. “I got back to my hotel room and watched he comeback. From the outside looking in we were probably lucky to get a point.”
The Hawks scored three goals in the second period but lost in a shootout. They maintain a good record at 16-8-4.
“I have great faith in what’s going on in that locker room,” Wirtz said.
CHICAGO -- Count Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz among those who voted for the newly created four conference system the NHL will employ starting next season.
The Hawks' conference will add Winnipeg, Dallas and Minnesota to the four other teams Chicago already sees in divisional play. So Columbus, Detroit, Nashville and St. Louis remain, with the Hawks, to form the new 8-team conference.
“I think it’s good for the Hawks because I like the idea of building rivalries,” Wirtz said Tuesday as Board of Governors’ meetings wrapped up. “The more we build those rivalries up with other teams, we saw with St. Louis, how many fans we had there last game. The fans can start traveling to the away games. It can’t be anything but a plus.”
The biggest change to the new system involves the playoffs. The top four teams in each of the four conferences will make the postseason and then those four teams will face each other in the first two rounds. It means every year the Hawks will face their conference foes 5-6 times and then again in the playoffs, if they qualify.
Wirtz is right, the in-conference rivalries will grow but it probably means diminishing those with other teams. Under the new system, the Hawks will play a home and home series with every out of conference foe. It means facing Vancouver, for example, just twice a year and only in the postseason if both teams advance that far. Isn’t that a negative?
“No, because if we’re fortunate enough to advance through the playoffs we can’t wait to play them later,” Wirtz said.
The build-up would be great, but the payoff may never come. The bottom line is new rivalries are going to emerge but only with the teams in your conference.
It wasn’t lost on Wirtz the Hawks will only have to make one trip to Western cities where travel and late starting times have been an annoyance. He even indicated they would like to eliminate the annual November trip that forces the team out of the United Center to make way for the circus.
"If we can renegotiate the [circus] contract, I've talked to Jerry [Reinsdorf] about it, he'd be willing to do it, too," Wirtz said. "It's just getting the Ringling Bros. folks on board. It's something we were trying to do anyway."
Less travel out West was a good reason to vote for re-alignment but there was more to it for Wirtz.
“That was a plus but I like the idea of bringing in every other team in your building every year,” he said. “We’re guaranteed the other original six teams.”
Maybe the most interesting aspect of re-alignment is the difference in importance of conference games as opposed to the current divisional ones. Despite playing and competing with current central division foes, the Hawks were just as much in competition for a playoff spot with the other western conference teams. Currently, the top 8 in the conference make the playoffs. Under the new system, it’s the top four in each new conference. It’s going to make conference/divisional games that much more important. Games in conference, late in the year, will have plenty more meaning than out of conference affairs. The league should schedule late March and early April accordingly.
“You look at the teams and how close the parity is, it’s not a lay down who the top four teams are going to be,” Wirtz said.
At least every star in the NHL will make a trip to Chicago though diminishing the intensity of facing other opponents isn’t appealing. But there was no perfect solution.
Maybe the Hawks rivalry with the Canucks will come to a climax this season because it has a good chance of fizzling from here on out. So who will be the new most-hated-team? Then again, there’s always the Red Wings.
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Chicago Blackhawks chairman Rocky Wirtz talks to ESPNChicago's Jesse Rogers about how Patrick Sharp went from a golf tournament to needing an appendectomy later in the day, as addresses the changes the Blackhawks have made this offseason.
For Rocky Wirtz, the Stanley Cup's return to Chicago had been nearly five decades in the making.
"The weight of the world is off my shoulders," the Blackhawks' chairman said on ESPN 1000 after the Blackhawks cup. "And I'm so happy for the city of Chicago and our great fans."
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