- Jesse Rogers, ESPN Staff Writer
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CHICAGO -- He knew in sixth grade that he would someday run the Chicago Blackhawks, and now Rocky Wirtz is arguably the city’s most popular owner. The Hawks boss was the featured guest on the “Waddle & Silvy” Lunch with a Legend series Thursday on ESPN 1000, and his honesty as an owner is refreshing.
Wirtz held court on a myriad of topics from the trade deadline to his business strategies. He may have been most blunt about the NHL stopping play for two weeks in February, so its players, including six Hawks, can participate in the Olympics.
“Of course it’s a great honor [for the players],” Wirtz said. “From an ownership standpoint, in the middle of the season, we just as soon skip it. It doesn’t add any more to our sport. I hate to see two weeks in February [without hockey]. It tears down the sport more than builds it up.”
The NHL trading deadline comes this season just a few days after the Olympics. The Hawks have been near the top of the standings all season and Wirtz doesn’t see “wholesale changes” or doing anything to “rock the boat.” As for those impending salary cap issues, the Hawks owner echoes most fans: let’s wait.
“You’re not looking at doing stuff with the cap just for the sake of doing it for the cap,” Wirtz said. “I think what you want to do is see if you can win something and then you worry about it at the end of the year.”
And that includes, apparently, a new goaltender. Wirtz indicated he likes the netminders the team has, despite what former Hawk Jeremy Roenick recently said on ESPN 1000.
“That’s what’s nice about living in the United States, you can voice your opinion,” Wirtz joked. “Jeremy was a great forward but he wasn’t a goaltender.”
Like most fans, players, and coaches, Wirtz wasn’t thrilled with the league scheduling regarding the recently completed eight-game, near coast-to-coast road trip.
“You would think with computerized scheduling you could find another way to do that,” Wirtz said.
On that trip, three Hawk players were photographed partying with their shirts off in a limousine. Wirtz found out about it when his wife brought him the newspaper at six in the morning. He reiterated the team stance that the issue was handled internally, but he thinks lessons can be learned.
“Twenty nine other teams are looking for excuses and reasons to tear down the Blackhawks and their players and I think it’s important not to give them any fodder,” Wirtz explained. “In the long run, as unfortunate as it was, to be embarrassing to the players and the rest of the team, it will make a much stronger team because of it and we’ll become closer.”
He also said it’s over and done with.
“Today’s news is tomorrow’s bottom of the parakeet cage,” Wirtz said.
Wirtz, like all NHL owners, is well aware of the dispute between the Versus network and DirecTV. He thinks the league has quietly been working on the problem behind the scenes, but admits there’s not much he or the Hawks can do about it.
“It’s a league issue and there’s nothing we can do about it from a Blackhawks standpoint except voice our displeasure,” Wirtz said.
Wirtz has been asked many times what kind of influence Scotty Bowman has in the organization as senior adviser of hockey operations. Wirtz indicated that Bowman, the winningest coach in NHL history, is available to anyone that needs advice in any department.
“You value his counsel and his wisdom,” Wirtz said. “He’s there for advice, but he’s not going to force it down anyone’s throat. He’s there to help out.”
Wirtz doesn’t like to “micromanage” but is informed, obviously, of big decisions like the signing of Marian Hossa.
“If it’s a major trade or we’re going to sign someone for 12 or 13 years, I want to at least know about it before I read it in the newspaper,” Wirtz said.
His first reaction when he heard the Hawks might sign Hossa was surprise.
“You mean he sought us out? He really wants to play with us? Because that’s the first time, to my knowledge, that we’ve had a world-class player that looked to play with us, that his agent contacted Dale and said, ‘Marian wants to play with the Blackhawks and he’s very serious about doing it,” Wirtz said.
Wirtz thinks the league is headed toward every team playing against every other team both at home and on the road. And while he can live with the shootout, he wouldn’t mind a couple other rule changes.
“When you miss a penalty shot it should be a two minute power play [as well],” Wirtz said. “I also don’t like having to touch up for icing. They should just blow the whistle.”
Wirtz might just get whatever he wants considering the roll he’s been on. With a long sellout streak, a team at the top of the league standings, and a core of players signed for many years, the only thing he’s missing is a Stanley Cup. He might get it this year -- and then he wants one more thing.
“I want the Hawks to competitive for many years,” Wirtz said. “You look at Carolina. They won the Cup four years ago and now they are at the bottom of the standings. I don’t want that for the Hawks.”
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