Cubs seek to follow Blackhawks road to success

Cubs seek to follow Blackhawks road to success

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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  • Nice analogy. Let's hope we are successful.

    btw, Happy Anniversary big guy!

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:


  • Great article, John. Excellent comparisons between the Bill Wirtz days, when the Blackhawks were terribly run, to the Cubs under the Trib ownership, which drove away the one decent GM in Dallas Green and Gordon Goldsberry. If Epstien/Hoyer/ McLeod turn this franchise around, there names will go down with Ditka, McMahon and Payton as icons.

  • In reply to mutant beast:

    Thanks MB!

  • Happy Anniversary Boss.

    Does this mean I don't need to send a WTWF?

    I was gonna expound on this for Sunday Brunch. But you pretty much nailed it on the head.

  • In reply to felzz:

    Ha! Thanks. No preview today unless Tom writes it. I may need you or Tom if some news breaks today, though. Anniversary-palooza is about to start.

  • Paul Sullivan ‏@PWSullivan 13s
    Marmol DFA. Stewart released.


  • In reply to North Side Irish:

    Chicago Cubs ‏@Cubs 2m
    #Cubs have designated RHP Carlos Marmol for assignment and selected the contract of OF Brian Bogusevic from @IowaCubs.

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    In reply to North Side Irish:

    Was just coming to post that.

    Took longer than I thought, but not really a surprise. Hope Marmol finds it again with a new start. Looking forward to seeing what Bogusevic can do in the majors.

  • If you told Hawks fans in 2005 that 5 years later they'd be the best team in hockey and on their way to a mini-dynasty, no one would have believed you.

  • In reply to Ike03:


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    All it took to get rid of Marmol was John taking a day off.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    They're going to sign Kris Bryant too.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    And flip Garza for Taveras and Martinez.

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    Don't forget, Stan Bowman was saddled with a lot of terrible contracts when he took over thanks to Dale Tallon. I give the 2010 Cup to Tallon - but this one has Bowman's stamp all over it.

    Similarly, Epstein has been handcuffed financially by a lot of bad Sam Zell contracts, a guy who really screwed over the Cubs and the Tribune Co.

    Also, let's not forget, Jim Hendry was 5 outs from a World Series in 2003. A lot of that team was comprised of home grown talent, shrewd trades and decent free agent signings. The trade for Aramas and Lofton was pure genius and is similar to the moves that brought Nick Leddy and Johnny Oduya to the Blackhawks.

  • Well Michael,

    I kind of bristle when I hear that Stan had a lot of awful contracts. I mean three of the players traded- Ladd, Byfuglien, and Versteeg- Had their contracts ripped up and given new ones at much higher rates. So how bad were they. Yes Campbell was overpaid, but he was the "McDonough overpay statement" contract that Soriano was.... The main problem was there was a salary cap and the Hawks had too much talent. They still do. You're gonna see probably Bolland, Bickell, and Stalberg gone from this year's team, maybe as soon as the weekend. ( hawks need draft picks....)

    And the Hawks are a lesson that it's not just about drafting and developing. Patrick Sharp for Matt Ellison might be one of the best trades in Chicago Sports history. And Hossa might be one of if not the Best F.A. signing. It's gotta be everything. And Hopefully with the Cubs it will.....

  • In reply to felzz:

    Huet contract was pretty bad. But overall, I'd agree not too many bad contracts. More about the cap.

  • In reply to felzz:

    Felzz, I love your brother, Fifth Feather and the others at Committed Indian. Because I love the Blackhawks. The 2010 Cup was for us long suffering fans and while it would have been nice to be able to keep that team together, I didn't care that it was partially dismantled because we finally, finally, finally WON THE STANLEY CUP!!!!!!

    This second Cup is for the players, especially Toews and Kane. Yes, both the times there were plenty of others who played huge roles, but the franchise was reborn in October 2007, when Toews and Kane came in as highly touted promising rookies. And this run and this last series showed that Toews in particular is the greatest leader this franchise has ever had. He has been heroic. The beating and pounding he took would have destroyed so many others, but he truly has the heart of a champion. He exemplifies "leadership." And, for me,the iconic image that will forward reside in my mind's eye is Jonathan Toews giving his last full measure of effort and resolve, striding, staggering, stumbling to get to that puck, finally shoving it forward as the clock ticked down to ensure there would be no miracle comeback by the Bruins. And people will be talking about last night's game for decades to come.

    No slight at any of the other terrific Blackhawks on these two Cup winners, but Toews and Kane have cemented their place in the pantheon of Chicago's All Time Greats. And speaking of sustained success, barring injury I really believe Toews and Kaner, like Jordan and Pippen, will win a few more Cups by the time it's all done and said.

    Oh, what a glorious happy happy day!

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    In reply to felzz:

    It's fair to say that it has to be everything, but there is a difference between baseball and hockey. That difference, as you mention, is the salary cap. Because of the cap, guys like Bolland, Bickell, and Stalberg will be available to other teams. Moreover, top talent will hit the FA market because their current team can't afford to sign them.

    That just doesn't hold with baseball as its played today. Good young talent is locked up for the long term. Most trades are a case of short-term veteran talent being given up for prospects. The free agency market is increasingly filled with guys who are aging and unlikely to be worth their contracts (Pujols, Crawford, Hamilton) or who have significant red flags (Greinke, Garza). Even teams that have resigned youngish guys are having reason to regret it (the Tigers and Verlander).

    Increasingly, the game is about getting a core of home-grown young players and signing them to team-friendly extensions, and then building around that with one or two free agents and a key deal at the deadline. There simply isn't enough talent available in the trade (because the cost in prospects is prohibitive to any team, even the Cardinals) or FA markets to build more than a small fraction of a team through it. In that way, baseball is very different from hockey and, as such, putting a team together is much more about getting a solid and productive minor league system.

  • In reply to felzz:

    Emery will be gone also. Hawks are signing the top goalie for Finlands national team, who has been compared with former Flyer goalie Pelle Lindbergh.

  • Nice observations on the Hawks, Felzz (I am an avid follower of your brother's blog btw. Do you ever post there? My handle there is VanDorpsMullet).

    Happy anniversary, John.

  • In reply to Pura Vida:

    I read the comments, and I write for the magazine. But I try and keep his thing his thing. Any comments I make might be seen with Bias.

    Love the handle by the way.

  • Happy anniversary, JA! Just maybe Almora and Bryant can be the Toews and Kane of the Cubs, while Pierce and Blackburn become the Dunc and Seabrook. Wouldn't that be awesome!?!

    Congrats Blackhawks! I'll never forget this series. I lived in the Boston area for 10 years, so it's a bit sweet to see the Hawks knock them off.

  • Hope the Cubs can find their Toews and Kane among Bryant/Baez/Almora/Soler...

  • So, is Sveum going to be Quenneville, or more like Savard?

  • In reply to DemonBerryhill:

    Savard IMO, or Doug Collins for the bulls. Point B to A. I think it's time to pluck Ryno from the Philly's a second time; and the time is now. Dale seems like kind of a prick. He is no Ozzie, who at least was obnoxious at times to deflect criticism from the players; trust me I am no Ozzie fan, but he put butts in the seats and protected his players until the end. Dale just seems to want to deflect criticism off himself and through the players under the bus.

  • From :
    The person who puts together the montage of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for Hockey Night in Canada…I want to have their baby. This year’s; there are simply no words to describe how much I loved it.

    Great link and coverage. And can't beat Gimme Shelter as the soundtrack to the Best of the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs on Hockey Night in Canada:

    Kaner's press conference; Awesome:

    Also, Can't beat Bob Verdi; The Sam Smith of Hawks Hockey:

  • I would say Sveum is more Savard than Q. Actually I might say more Trent Yawney. Yawney was very fundamentally sound like Yawney. Savard gets a lot of criticism because his X's and O's were lousy, but he got all those kids, Toews, Kane, Keith, etc. how to give it 110%. Those teams were like pure energy.. Just needed to be channeled into a winning system. Enter Q.

    Someone proposed a theory where Girardi escapes Yankee land and eventually takes the Cubs reigns and leads them to glory. I could see something like that.

    You're right. the Hockey Night in Canada closing anthem was amazing. I wanna say the guy who does them is named Tim Thompson. Great stuff. He did one to open the playoffs with Baba O'reilly that just gave me chills. That closing one was just as killer.

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    In reply to felzz:

    Would like to see Girardi, a true Cub, manage the team some day. The Cubs had a couple of chances to hire him previously.

  • "McDonough brought the buzz back to the franchise but it was Bowman that gave the team an identity" No offense John but this is malarkey. Bowman stepped into a loaded team that already had an identity. Dale Tallon (with some nice picks by Mike Smith before him) built up this team which Bowman inherited after Tallon made some major contract snafus that cost him his job. And Rocky WIrtz made the changes that brought the buzz back and then hired McDonough to run things. You give those two far two much credit for the Hawks resurgence. But they have done a nice job maintaining it since they took over & Bowman did a fantastic job retooling a team weakened heavily from cap casualties. But those two were not who resurrected the franchise. That would be Toews and Kane (Seabrook & Kane before them) all drafted y the old regime and then Rocky doing away with his father's archaic practices.

  • In reply to Behn Wilson:

    Lets give most of the credit to Rocky Wirtz, just like Ricketts will be looked upon if the Cubs pan out with Epstien and the exBosox brigade. Your right, Bill Wirtz Sr didn't want to win, was afraid it would cost him too much $. Rocky had an entirely different approach, which was the Al Davis "just win, baby" approach.

  • In reply to mutant beast:

    Toally agree with you that its Rocky's doing. I laugh when I hear people giving McDonough credit for the Hawks resurgence. Everything was already in motion when he was hired. People who dont follow the team give him far to much credence for what has happended. Its all Rocky.

  • I meant Seabrook & Keith, not Seabrook & Kane

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