Wirtz, McDonough proud lockout decisions paid off

Wirtz, McDonough proud lockout decisions paid off
March 19, 2013, 5:15 pm
Share This Post
Nina Falcone
We knew ‘this too would end... and when it ended, we were gonna hit the ground running.’
—Rocky Wirtz on deciding pay cuts and layoffs weren't an option during NHL lockout
I believe six years ago, we were irrelevant, so this is a nice problem to have.
—Wirtz on Blackhawks having a target on their back

With all the success the Blackhawks have seen this year, it's easy to forget that just months ago, it looked like the entire 2012-13 season could be wiped out.

From late June to early January, it was a lot of the same -- proposals, rejections, counter-proposals; one step forward, two steps back. Finally once all was said and done, the NHL would play a 48-game season; a season the Blackhawks would kick off with a record-breaking a 24-game point streak. A streak that would allow fans to just think about the good times since Jan. 19.

But for the Blackhawks organization, it hasn't been all fun and games. Sure, we've all been on the win-streak high since the season began, but during the lockout, the team had some very tough decisions to make.

With a non-existant income and no clear vision of when a season would return, layoffs and paycuts seemed inevitable. But Blackhawks chairman Rocky Wirtz and president John McDonough decided those financial burdens were "absolutely not" going to be placed on any of their employees.

The blood, sweat and tears put into this team over the last five and a half years wasn't about to go down the tubes. The Blackhawks survived the 119-day lockout without one employee suffering financially.

"We made a hard decision, but one I’m happy we made because we knew ‘this too would end... and when it ended, we were gonna hit the ground running,’" Wirtz explained at Tuesday's City Club of Chicago luncheon.

That decision has clearly payed off for the Blackhawks, who sit atop the NHL standings with a 24-2-3 record.

"Now hindsight’s 40/40. We’re sitting here with only two losses in regulation, but the way the organization responded both on the ice and off the ice is part of what we’ve seen Sports Illustrated talk about, the resurgence, and what it’s done for hockey."

[MORE: Blackhawks make a return to the cover of SI]

The fact that the season was on hiatus makes the Blackhawks' run all the more impressive. With very little time to prepare, the team still took the league by storm, despite facing such a hefty road schedule right from the start.

"The players have really come together, and we didn’t have a training camp, we had 10 of the first 12 games on the road," Wirtz added. "Joel Quenneville and his coaching staff have been giving (the players) time off from practices, and you can tell they like each other and don’t want to let each other down, and that shows on the ice, and it shows off the ice."

It sure does. So much so that the Blackhawks have become the most highly-targeted team in the NHL. But hey, when you're No. 1, that tends to happen, and Wirtz sure doesn't seem to mind.

"I’d rather have a target on our back than being irrelevant," he said. "And I believe six years ago, we were irrelevant, so this is a nice problem to have and we’ll take it every year."

McDonough agrees. Sure, the Blackhawks' roster looked strong heading into the season, but to dominate the way they have -- especially during a shortened season -- has been a remarkable sight to see unfold.

"I don’t think anybody would’ve been able to forecast 24-2-3, those are grandiose, lofty expectations, but we think we have a very good hockey club," he said. "I’m very proud of the job (general manager) Stan Bowman has done accumulating the talent, and obviously Joel Quenneville and the players have done an amazing job."

But in the grand scheme of things, the Blackhawks view their successes as just the beginning. The team knows it's not how you start a season, it's how you end it. And Chicago has its sights set on making it to the end not only this year, but also in years to come.

"There’s always things wrong we need to address, there’s always things we need to improve on, we’re never gonna stand still, we’re never gonna be stagnant," McDonough added. "This is the nature of the business that we’re in, and that’s felt in every part of the Blackhawks organization."