One of the more confounding things about the Hawks, and there’s plenty, is not only that we can’t get a sense of what the plan is (especially when they tell you they don’t have one), but it’s hard to separate their marketing and promotions department from their actual hockey operations. John McDonough will tell you he doesn’t get involved in hockey decisions, but we all know that’s probably horseshit. The two are definitely jumbled.
We’ve discussed somewhat regularly on the podcast that the Hawks pretty much operate in terror of their fanbase, feeling that any half misstep will cause a return to the dark old days instantly. And it’s understandable in a way, because it really wasn’t that long ago. It’s only 12 years in the rearview. And all the people in charge now were either part of the organization when they drew 4,000 a game or were taking over right then. It’s not exactly in the deep recesses of their or our memories. And no one wants to go back to that.
Still, there’s a desperation that seems palpable with the announcement of a “One More Shift” for Kris Versteeg today for Sunday. Look, we all love Kris Versteeg around here. In his first stint as a Hawk, he was incredible if infuriating fun. His second stint was brutal for the most part, but that’s before we knew reacquiring old members of the band was going to be the extent of their pro scouting. And the whole “One More Shift” thing probably isn’t worth spilling that much ink over, but I don’t have much else to do.
But Kris Versteeg hasn’t been gone all that long. He played preseason games this year. He was playing games for the Flames less than two years ago. He hasn’t been “out of the scene” for very long, if at all. And it was the same when they did this for Brian Campbell or Patrick Sharp or whoever else of recent vintage.
When they’ve used it for other players from the 80s or early 90s who haven’t gotten their due, that was pretty cool. It’s part of the history, and guys like Steve Larmer, Eddie Belfour, Al Secord, they haven’t really gotten their due from the organization in the past for as important as they were to those teams. They’re not good enough to have their numbers retired (though Larmer might be) but certainly meant enough to the organization for recognition. Same goes for Roenick, who got his own night in 2010 and another shift.
But when you’re doing this for players who have been retired for like five minutes, it feels like a desperate attention-grab, a frantic clinging on to what came before that’s now gone. And it’s not about Versteeg on Sunday night. It’s about how the whole team is run on both sides of the coin.
The Hawks still think they can only sell tickets if they convince everyone that it’s the same era as when everything was so fun and perfect. They have to convince you that this is all just an extension of 2010-2015, a temporary blip before they return to that. It’s all one thing. But you know it’s not. And I know it’s not. And somewhere in those office, they know it’s not. And they have to start acting like it.
Because it’s hard to argue they haven’t managed the actual team like it’s still that time. Don’t tell me that their handling of Brent Seabrook has at least a little to do with clinging on to the past. Fear of a backlash. And perhaps their absolute refusal to kick tires on the market for Keith or Kane is the same. Or maybe those two have no interest in going, and that’s fine. We don’t really know, but it’s felt like they’ve felt that getting back to the mountain top is only a reach for them instead of a hefty climb.
But that’s gone now. It’s in the past, even if five of the major faces are still here and even if they remain the most recognizable players on the team. Some of that is marketing, and some of that is the front office’s failure to bring anyone in to join them and eventually usurp them at the top of the card. Maybe DeBrincat will soon, and Dach and Boqvist are supposed to.
Either way, the whole team needs a reboot. Drop the slogan, change the goal song, vary up your presentation. We all know that day is over, and maybe it would be refreshing for both customer and business to start over. Everyone could use an attitude reset on this team. And maybe with a fresh coat of paint and a new outlook, the organization could actually see itself for what it is and run accordingly. You can’t get that far forwards if you’re always looking backwards.
If McDonough is so talented of a marketer, and if you don’t believe he is just ask him, he can probably pay someone to come up with another motto/tag line that he can take credit for. The Hawks need to move into a new era in both their branding and how they’re run. Maybe if you change the labels, you can change the whole thing under them too.