As we settle into NHL All-Star weekend, it’s as good a time as any to take a brief look at a few topics as part of a new Screen Shots column. Let’s get right to it.
– I was far from the only one mortified by Chicago Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz’s meltdown during a Hawks town hall meeting Wednesday. And although Wirtz has apologized for lashing out against two reporters intent on following up on the team’s abuse scandal, there’s a residue that will remain.
Wirtz and the Blackhawks had been living off the goodwill created by winning three Stanley Cup championships in the past decade, but it wasn’t that long ago that Bill Wirtz, Rocky Wirtz’s father, had earned a horrible reputation as someone who regularly put his own interests ahead of those of Chicago fans. Now, in a different way, Rocky Wirtz has earned the wrath of Blackhawks fans by minimizing the damage done by the abuse scandal. It’s understandable that anyone in his predicament would want to redirect attention to the positive things his organization is doing, but he knows as well as anyone that the media's job is not to avoid focusing on the negatives.
It’s Public Relations 101 to not shoot the messenger, but that’s what Rocky Wirtz did, and his apology isn’t enough to get Hawks fans on his side here. Certainly, the Blackhawks’ struggles in the standings exacerbate matters, but the bottom line is that Wirtz has squandered any positivity in the short term, and he’s now got a group of fans and media skeptical he’s acting for his own well-being first–and–foremost. It’s going to take actions, not words, to undo this PR debacle, and that’s going to take time.
– TSN broke news earlier this week that the NHL and NHL Players’ Association have their sights set on bringing back the World Cup of Hockey, most likely midway through the 2023-24 season. That would be a departure from the normal practice of staging the event before the regular-season begins, and it’s a notion that undoubtedly create pushback from NHL team owners who don’t want to lose elite talent in the middle of jostling for playoff position.
That said, given the disappointment NHLers had this year when their participation in the 2022 Winter Olympic Games was waylaid by the COVID-19 virus pandemic, you can see why players would be intent on reviving this event. This would help the NHLPA offset the hockey-related revenues they currently owe owners in the midst of the current collective bargaining agreement, and that is no minor annoyance to the players. Yes, there’s going to be an element of risk involved in a new World Cup, but the reality is there is risk involved in playing each and every regular-season game.
If the NHL and NHLPA do find common ground on a new World Cup, don’t expect the next format to include a team comprised of stars under age 23. League sources confirm there would be a more traditional, nation-based group of teams, but that isn’t for sure. Besides, we should be commending the league and players for trying something new. They could try and break new ground again by, say, creating a group of players 30 years old or older, and that would give the World Cup a new wrinkle. It’s not inherently wrong to experiment and see what concepts can draw more interest and more money. The game doesn’t have to evolve in a straight line, hang on to longtime rules and regulations simply for tradition’s sake.
– Finally, and along those same lines, while the NHL should be commended for testing out some new ideas for this year’s All-Star Game, in a perfect, more honest world, they would also include competitions like “Longest Unbroken Stream of Mind-Numbing Cliches (Player and Management Divisions)” and “Snarkiest Comebacks From NHL On-Ice Officials”. Heck, you could even involve the media, and have a “Dumbest Question Showdown”. You have our contact info, NHL. Don’t be afraid to ask for our input.