We've made the comparison before but it bears repeating now. The Blackhawks are where the Cubs want to be as an organization and I'm not just talking about winning titles -- thought that is the ultimate goal.
I consider myself a casual Blackhawks fan, though it is a lifetime casual fan, and so I've followed them throughout the years. My wife is a big fan of hockey, and now I find myself watching it more since we've been married (which, by the way, is 8 years ago today. Yes, it's my anniversary and this will likely be my only article of the day).
Anyway, back to the subject at hand. I've followed the Blackhawks my whole life and I've seen them go from a storied but aging franchise to one that re-captured some glimpses of glory in the 80s and early 90s, culminating with a Stanley Cup Finals appearance in 1991-92, to one that stumbled out of playoff contention in the early part of this decade and had to rebuild again. They hit rock bottom, landing themselves a couple of top 3 draft picks in Jonathan Toews (2006) and Patrick Kane (2007). Both would become an essential part of the core of the franchise.
It was also then when notoriously frugal owner Bill Wirtz passed on and the rebuild began in earnest with son Rocky Wirtz, who immediately started undoing some of his father's short-sighted policies. The most important of which was to hire front office personnel, including John McDonough from the Cubs and then naming the shrewd Stan Bowman as GM in 2009. The plan was to not just take the team to the next level, but to build a team that would sustain that success.
McDonough brought the buzz back to the franchise but it was Bowman that gave the team an identity. They know who they are. They know what players best fit their philosophy, so that it seems like every player they pick up, whether it's a star like Marian Hossa or minor acquisitions, they invariably wind up finding important roles. Prospects like Brandon Saad and Andrew Shaw come up from the minors and succeed because there is a consistent way of doing things within the organization. And it helps that who ever is added to this team, be it star, role player, or rookie already have a young, talented core in place to lead them. They are only asked to contribute, not save the franchise.
The Cubs have had some parallels with the Blackhawks. They've had the storied franchise, they've had their near misses despite years of tight-fisted ownership. They've had glimpses of success but a lack of a coherent plan has prevented the team from building sustainable success.
The Cubs too have had an important change in ownership. Tom Ricketts has taken over the team during this rebuilding phase and quickly hired some of the best in the business -- from Theo Epstein to Jed Hoyer to Jason McLeod and all the way down to the scouting department -- to guide the process. The buzz is coming back to the franchise -- but that buzz isn't about results. It's been about process.
The Cubs are in the midst of trying to build that Blackhawks-like core. Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo have had their growing pains but the talent is still there, along with Jeff Samardzija and perhaps a few other players looking to join them. They've added potential future pieces in Javier Baez, Albert Almora, Jorge Soler, Pierce Johnson and Kris Bryant over the past 3 years.
It takes longer on average for that amateur talent to reach the parent club in baseball than it does in hockey, so Cubs fans won't see as quick a rebound. But once they do rebound, the Cubs hope to operate -- with that young core mixed with interchangeable role players, as a team that will sustain success and only need some minor tweaks from year to year -- with maybe an occasional big money star added in. They have the Cubs Way, which sets individualized, but consistent goals and expectations for every player that joins the franchise, whether they come from the outside or within the organization.
Good results start with good process. We've seen this happen with the Blackhawks and we will soon see it with the Cubs as well.
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