Madison Street bars, restaurants thrilled for business to return

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Madison Street bars, restaurants thrilled for business to return

Westend Bar general manager Matt Doherty got everybody back into the hockey mood when he got to work this morning.

We were setting up this morning, the bartender getting glasses and ice ready. And first thing I played was the goal horn and Chelsea Dagger, Doherty said, referring to the Chicago Blackhawks goal celebration song. He just looked up and gave me a sly smile. I couldnt help it. Even the kitchen guys in back, I made them listen to it. They all started dancing and celebrating. So everybodys excited.

The end of a long, costly NHL lockout will get folks a little giddy.

Now that the NHL and NHLPA have agreed on how to split their hockey-related revenue, establishments along Madison can get back to acquiring theirs. Most of the bars and restaurants along the street, about a mile from the United Center, depended on revenue generated from Blackhawks home games. Now with 113 days of lockout essentially over, those businesses are looking forward to seeing their hockey crowds again.

I woke up and had about 15 texts on my phone and I thought, Oh my God! said George Lemperis, owner of Palace Grill. Lemperis always draws big Blackhawks crowds, and he estimates he lost a minimum of 75,000 during those lockout months. The only way you make it up is more games, which isnt going to happen. So we have to move forward from here.

So with that lockouts end, Lemperis said, Im beyond thrilled. Im ecstatic. The thing is, this is a destination restaurant. People come here, not just for games but after practices. Its just a win-win for everybody.

RELATED: Range of emotions emerge as NHL lockout ends

Madison Street bars and restaurants weathered the past few months as best they could. Most estimated that they were down about 20 percent of their normal revenue during a hockey season. So in hockeys absence, they improvised.

We were adventurous to meet our numbers in November and December. January was looking like a slow one, and with any luck the season will start before too long and get those calendar dates filled up, said Matthew Breen, manager at Crossroads Bar & Grill.

It was tough, but we did pretty well considering. We booked a lot more parties and had to be more creative than were used to, but definitely our numbers were down. Its nice to know well be back at our normal functioning (numbers).

Its been a tough go, and one that didnt look good at times, considering how negotiations were (or werent) going between the league and NHLPA. Even as talk of an impending agreement built this weekend, managers were skeptical.

You didnt want to get hopes up too high, Doherty said. But its going to be great now. Hockey was so down in this city for such a long time; and the way the franchise has turned around and become one of the top in the league again, Hawks fans have showed how loyal they are. The texts Im getting this morning, people are ready. That first home game, people are going to be excited.

And business is going to be getting back to normal. Its been a long wait of slow negotiations and false alarms for everyone associated with the NHL lockout, especially those whose businesses depended on it. Now the excitement can return well, maybe once its officially official.

Im waiting for the schedule to be released before I throw a party about it; Im always nervous when it says tentative agreement, Beer Bistro manager Chris Wortendyke said with a smile. We have a good following. But nothing really replaces that hockey crowd, so were happy to have it back. January and February are always the slowest months for Chicago restaurants anyway, so its coming back at the right time. Its very exciting.

Blackhawks notebook: A busy draft, free agency and RFAs

Blackhawks notebook: A busy draft, free agency and RFAs

Eight draft picks in about 3 ½ hours. It was a busy Saturday for the Blackhawks, and when general manager Stan Bowman talked that afternoon about the team’s Day 2 haul, he came prepared.

“I have my little cheat sheet,” Bowman said of the paper on which he had written the Blackhawks’ eight newest prospects.

After a few days’ worth of moves the Blackhawks focused on the future, taking nine players over two days at the NHL Draft. It was a successful weekend for the Blackhawks, who hosted the draft for the first time and built up assets, especially on the blue line. Five of the Blackhawks’ nine selections were defensemen.

“One of the things we talked about was looking at the market. There’s a high value on defensemen. We’re not necessarily looking at the draft but our team this year and over the next couple of years; those are the assets that are valuable around the league,” Bowman said. “Look at the trade Calgary made [for Travis Hamonic], defensemen are a valuable commodity. That was a priority coming in and we were able to accomplish it.”

What comes next

The Blackhawks got what they wanted at this weekend’s draft but the focus will soon shift, as free agency opens on July 1. It remains to be seen what the Blackhawks will have cap-wise come a week from now. Currently, according to CapFriendly.com, they’re $1.445 million over the $75 million cap. It’s doubtful the Blackhawks apply the long-term injured reserve tag on Marian Hossa during the offseason. It’s possible they could still trade Marcus Kruger to gain some space. Bowman said, one way or another, “there will be some movement.”

“We’ll bring some players in, I don’t know how many, what position or what level,” he said. “This is where there’s a lot of activity, the couple weeks in the middle of June until the middle of July. That’s when the most changes happen. We’ll go to work, now that we’re past this.”

Wait for it

The Blackhawks also have to decide whether or not to qualify restricted free agents Dennis Rasmussen and Tomas Jurco. Bowman said that’ll be decided by Monday.

“I’ve had discussions with both agents,” he said. “I don’t have an answer right now but we’ll have that worked out in the next day and a half.”

Niklas Hjalmarsson reflects on time with Blackhawks: 'I had the best time in Chicago'

Niklas Hjalmarsson reflects on time with Blackhawks: 'I had the best time in Chicago'

Niklas Hjalmarsson heard some of the rumors, but not to a large degree. The former Blackhawks defenseman wasn’t spending a lot of time on the internet reading up on his potential fate. He figured he’d still stay put in Chicago.

“But when my agent called me about the 10-team list, I understood it was serious. Stan [Bowman] wouldn’t ask for that unless they made up their mind already,” Hjalmarsson said via conference call on Saturday. “That’s when it hit me that I’m probably not going to put the Hawks jersey on anymore.”

Indeed, Hjalmarsson’s next jersey will be that of the Arizona Coyotes, who acquired him in exchange for defenseman Connor Murphy on Friday. Hjalmarsson’s departure marks the end of the line for another Blackhawks core player, and this one is jarring in how it will change the team’s defense.

Speaking of change, Hjalmarsson faces a lot of it himself now. Sure, there’s the obvious change for a guy who’s played his entire career in one place. It’s new surroundings and a new team, on which he knows former Blackhawks teammate Antti Raanta and fellow countryman Oliver Ekman-Larsson.

But the Coyotes have dealt with a lot of upheaval lately. Goaltender Mike Smith is gone. So is veteran Shane Doan. On Thursday, head coach Dave Tippett and the Coyotes parted ways.

“They’re on a rebuild, a lot of new faces, lot of changes,” Hjalmarsson said. “It’s tough to know what to expect but I think they’re a hungry organization that wants to win like other teams. I’m looking forward to try to contribute with playing my game, just try to get the organization back in the playoffs.”

Hjalmarsson should find chemistry with Ekman-Larsson – the two were teammates in the Winter Olympics in Sochi – and Hjalmarsson will likely play a bigger role with the Coyotes. Arizona will probably look to Hjalmarsson a lot during its rebuild, given his Cup-winning history.

The first 24 hours were full of mixed emotions of Hjalmarsson. With his limited no-move clause, he was always a likely candidate to be moved from a Blackhawks team laden will full no-move clauses. He’s turning a page, but he won’t forget his time in Chicago anytime soon.

“I’m trying to always be a positive guy,” Hjalmarsson said. “I spent my whole 20s in Chicago, 10 unbelievable years. I didn’t think I’d win three Cups. Hopefully I can get one more before my career is over. I had the best time in Chicago, enjoyed every single year, playing in front of the best fans in the league. I’ve been spoiled. Now it’s time for me and my family to move on and seize the opportunity in Arizona and create some new fond memories.”