Despite Stanley Cup championship, Blackhawks were a financial loser last year

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rockywirtz1.jpgPerhaps there was a method to old “Dollar” Bill Wirtz’s madness and Scrooge-like ways. A story out of the Chicago Tribune by Melissa Harris claims that even in spite of the Blackhawks selling out the United Center on a nightly basis, reaching the playoffs and ultimately winning the Stanley Cup the team finished the season, financially speaking, deep in the red. No truth to the rumor that the sound of late owner Bill Wirtz saying, “I told you so” have been heard coming from the halls of United Center.

Wirtz first revealed that the team was not profitable in private. “It’s going to take four (or) five years before we can actually get back in the black,” Wirtz said at an April 19 forum at the Economic Club of Chicago, according to a transcript. “And right now we’re still supporting the Blackhawks with our other Wirtz organizations.”

In a follow-up interview this week, Wirtz said that the Blackhawks ran out of cash several times last season. Each time, he received a memo, known as an internal capital call, in which the team requested money from Wirtz Corp., the Blackhawks’ parent company, to cover operating expenses. And at the end of the season, Wirtz said he double-checked that the playoffs did not cover those losses; the franchise remained in the red, the team’s accountant told him.

“We have multiple businesses and obviously we want every one to stand on its own,” Wirtz said. “And what you don’t want to do is manage one business from the profit of the other one.”

One of the things the team is doing to counter the financial shortfall is to raise season ticket prices. After all, a team’s gains and losses can pass down to the consumer, this time to the tune of an average 20% raise across the board. What once used to be a comparatively cheap ticket to buy in the NHL is now one of the priciest. If you’re worried that this will cause current owner Rocky Wirtz to start conducting business the way his old man did, however, fear not.

“We’re going to do everything we can to win,” team President John McDonough said. “We want this to be a destination for free agents. We want this to be a place where players want to play. … We’re going to charter our players (to away games) and we’re going to stay in hotels that are going to be synonymous with a first-class operation. When Rocky and I first met, we talked about this commitment.”

At least the Blackhawks no longer have to worry about home games being blacked out on local television. Progress finds its way into Chicago at long last. But why have costs gotten so out of control for the Blackhawks even in spite of success? Perhaps you might want to sit down for this one. Escalating salaries are to blame.

Compared with professional basketball, baseball and football, the economics of hockey are difficult.

The league operates under a 2005 revenue-sharing agreement. The way it works is that the teams that rake in the most income, generally regardless of expenses, subsidize the teams that generate the least.

A drawback is that it disqualified the Blackhawks, because of the size of the Chicago market, from receiving revenue sharing dollars.

The primary benefit is that it capped players’ salaries — an owner’s largest expense.

“The collective bargaining agreement has been a major help, but by no means did it create a league where all teams were going to be profitable from that point forward, or even most of them, quite frankly,” said Marc Ganis, president of SportsCorp, a Chicago-based sports consulting firm.

Under the agreement, the more the Blackhawks earn, the more they have to share.

For instance, the Blackhawks keep ticket revenue from their regular-season home games. But for every playoff home game last season, the Hawks had to give the NHL at least 50 percent of what their gate receipts would have been at a regular-season United Center sellout.

And gate receipts are everything in hockey. Ticket sales typically account for up to half of a team’s income.

“You can technically lose money during the playoffs if you don’t raise your ticket prices” for them, Wirtz said.

Obviously the league’s tough position with television contracts play into this as teams aren’t earning nearly as much as the other professional leagues but that’s something all the teams have to deal with. Forgive my cynicism here, but hearing from a team that has a license to print money with a reinvigorated fanbase that’s going crazy for their team (and all the merchandise and ticket sales that entails) makes me feel that this claim of losing so much money feels out of place.  The team is pushing the limits of the salary cap and spending money that they were more than happy to do in order to win it all.

Granted, Rocky Wirtz isn’t playing the “woe is us” card through all this and comes off more as explaining that all is not as rosy as it appears. But isn’t that the point here? It comes off as finding a subtle way to complain about the system in place but doing so in a way so as to not offend anyone in particular. They’ve accepted what they’re doing and their role in everything but don’t want to upset the fans when those costs get passed along to them. Thankfully for Rocky Wirtz, the easiest way to make sure complaints about higher ticket prices are kept to a minimum is to win it all. Mission accomplished.

With four vacancies, the NHL coaching carousel is ‘spinning out of control’

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Bob Hartley watched bosses come and go three times as coach of the Calgary Flames. He will need one more general manager to believe in him to stay in the NHL.

Fired Tuesday by the Flames, Hartley is itching to get back at it and he’s not alone. The Anaheim Ducks’ last two coaches, Bruce Boudreau and Randy Carlyle, are also in the mix for current vacancies.

“Right now, the coaching carousel is spinning out of control,” Hartley said. “It’s the time of the year. So obviously there’s lots of jobs, there’s lots of names and there’s going to be lots of speculations.”

The Flames, Ducks, Minnesota Wild and Ottawa Senators all have openings. All four teams have different expectations for next season and beyond, and different requirements for their next head coach.

Anaheim is perhaps in the middle of its Stanley Cup window after winning four consecutive Pacific Division titles but failing to reach the final under Boudreau. GM Bob Murray dismissed Boudreau, citing “the way” the Ducks have been eliminated.

A team with star forwards Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, a bright young blue line and goaltender John Gibson is an attractive destination. Winning in the playoffs is the expectation.

Paul MacLean, who coached the Senators to two playoff appearances during three-plus seasons in Ottawa, was on Boudreau’s staff this season, and former Edmonton Oilers coach Dallas Eakins took the American Hockey League’s Toronto Marlies to the Calder Cup final in 2012. Then there’s Carlyle, who won the Cup with the Ducks in 2007 and has been out of work since the Maple Leafs fired him in January 2015.

Minnesota has also made the playoffs four years in a row and is looking for more. GM Chuck Fletcher fired coach Mike Yeo and replaced him in February with interim John Torchetti, who is a candidate after a first-round exit.

Fletcher flew to California, reportedly to meet with Boudreau, and is looking for a strong hockey person behind the bench.

“I think it’s important that we find a coach that can hold the players accountable and put a system in place and get them to execute the system and hold them accountable to it,” Fletcher said.

In some places, just consistently making the playoffs is the standard.

The Flames missed the playoffs after a surprise postseason run a year ago, and problems that were there all along doomed Hartley. Calgary is the biggest wild card in the entire process because Boudreau knows how to get the most out of young talent, but GM Brad Treliving could think outside the box.

Calgary needs a coach who will improve its special teams. Hartley, who won the Jack Adams Award as coach of the year last season, knows his power-play and penalty-killing units weren’t good enough, but he sees the potential of forwards Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau, and knows his successor will have success.

“I really believe that this team is just a couple of players away from being a great hockey club despite the fact that they’re still a very young hockey team,” Hartley said Wednesday. “We have done lots of good things that maybe didn’t show in the standings but will show in the very near future.”

Like the Flames, the Senators made the playoffs against long odds in 2014-15 and fell backward in the standings this year, costing Dave Cameron his job. NHL head-coaching experience is a prerequisite, so Boudreau, Hartley, Yeo, Carlyle, Kevin Dineen, Marc Crawford and Guy Boucher are all legitimate candidates.

Senators owner Eugene Melnyk said on Toronto’s AM-590 that the team was down to its last couple of interviews.

“It’s gone well,” Melnyk said. “There’s some great talent (available).”

Hartley, Boudreau and MacLean have all been named coach of the year, Carlyle and Crawford have each won the Cup, and Dineen helped the Chicago Blackhawks win it as an assistant.

Then there are hot names like Washington Capitals assistant Todd Reirden and Philadelphia Flyers minor-league coach Scott Gordon, as well as college coaches like Providence’s Nate Leaman of and Denver’s Jim Montgomery.

Of course, Hartley and his counterparts won’t go quietly.

“Coaching is my passion, coaching is in my blood, there’s no doubt that I want to coach,” Hartley said. “I’m only 55 years old, and I believe that I’m in great shape and I love this game, I love teaching, I love competing to win hockey games.”

Related: Sens will interview Boudreau on Friday

Ribeiro likely scratched, again, as Preds look to even series with Sharks

Nashville Predators center Mike Ribeiro (63) celebrates after scoring a goal in the second period of an NHL hockey game against the St. Louis Blues Thursday, Dec. 4, 2014, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)
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If it ain’t broke…

We’ll spare you the rest, but the cliche does appear to be appropriate for the Predators — after getting their first series win against the Sharks with Mike Ribeiro healthy scratched two nights ago, the Preds look as though they’ll keep Ribeiro in the press box for tonight’s pivotal Game 4 at Bridgestone.

Rookie Pontus Aberg made both his NHL and Stanley Cup playoff debut in the Game 3 victory in place of Ribeiro, getting just under nine minutes of ice time.

Preds head coach Peter Laviolette has stressed that this Sharks series is much different from the opening round against the Ducks. Anaheim presented a “heavier” challenge, whereas San Jose’s speed has proven to be an issue.

Aberg is a young, strong skater and gives the Preds more speed — but the move wasn’t just about Aberg.

Ribeiro has been a disappointment this postseason, with no goals and just one assist through nine games, with a minus-3 rating. He’s taken some bad penalties and his Corsi has dropped form 58 percent during the regular season to just 47 in the playoffs.

Part of the disappointment stems from the fact that, last year, Ribeiro had a really effective playoff. He scored five points in six games in an opening-round loss to Chicago, while averaging a whopping 23:22 TOI per night (inflated due to the number of overtimes played, but still.)

Nothing’s official for tonight’s game, and Laviolette could still reverse course and opt to put Ribeiro back in.

But for now, the veteran looks as though he’ll be eating popcorn.

The Coyotes would be ‘shocked’ if there was no arena announcement by June 24

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Anthony LeBlanc doesn’t want to say the Coyotes are getting close to announcing some arena plans, because he’s already said that a few times and there’s been no announcement yet.

But according to LeBlanc, the Coyotes are, um, getting pretty close to announcing some arena plans.

“There’s been significant progress in the past couple of weeks,” the team’s co-owner/president said today after the club unveiled its new management structure.

“Maybe I should learn my lesson; I’ll give myself a longer time line. I’d be shocked if we get to the draft on June 24 without a significant announcement in regards to the new arena.”

Where might that new arena be built?

In what may have been a strong hint, LeBlanc said there had been “substantial discussions with the City of Phoenix over the past week to two weeks.”

And though he didn’t rule out striking a deal with another group, he did say that “we’ve been very impressed with the leadership” that Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton has shown on the matter.

Stanton called last month for the Coyotes and NBA’s Phoenix Suns to come together and make plans to share a new downtown arena.

“You can read into it what you want,” LeBlanc said of his praise for Stanton.

The Coyotes are going in a ‘new direction,’ and that’s an understatement

SCOTTSDALE, AZ - JULY 08:  (L-R) Head coach Dave Tippett and Assistant General Manager/Analytics John Chayka of the Arizona Coyotes watch the prospect development camp at the Ice Den on July 8, 2015 in Scottsdale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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At the very least, the Arizona Coyotes aren’t afraid to try new things.

Today, they officially named a 26-year-old, John Chayka, as their new general manager.

And that wasn’t all.

The Coyotes also unveiled a new, flatter management hierarchy that will see Chayka working alongside head coach Dave Tippett on player-personnel decisions. Tippett has added the title of Executive Vice President of Hockey Operations. He’s also agreed to a new, five-year contract.

In addition to those changes, one of the Coyotes’ co-owners, Gary Drummond, will now serve as Director of Hockey Operations.

It was reported yesterday that Chayka would replace Don Maloney as GM. The Coyotes fired Maloney in April, citing a desire to go in a “new direction.”

Chayka sure represents that.

“John is among the best and brightest minds in hockey,” Drummond said in a statement. “He is knowledgeable and driven and has an incredible passion for the game. He brings an innovative approach to assessing talent and looking at player development and combined with his strong analytics expertise, we feel that he’s the right choice for the direction we want to go with our franchise.”

Chayka told reporters today at a press conference that he’s open to using “any and all tools” to help turn the Coyotes into a sustainable winner, from traditional scouting methods to statistical analysis to psychological profiling.

And though some may be skeptical about his age, he insisted he won’t be going at it alone. 

“I’m excited to partner with Dave Tippett on this venture,” said Chayka. “I appreciate the experience and knowledge that he brings to the game.”

To aid Chayka and Tippett, the Coyotes intend to hire a “very seasoned” assistant general manager.

The way Chayka explains it, the idea is that all voices will be heard, and all opinions will be considered.

“At the end of the day, the buck stops with me in terms of player-personnel decisions,” he said. “But certainly I’m not someone who’s going to be authoritarian in my views. I’m going to be very open. … The key for me is the best idea wins.”

Suffice to say, it will be interesting to see how all this plays out. There’s always skepticism when a team tries something new, and this is definitely unique:

Chayka, however, believes the Coyotes’ future has never been brighter.

“The positives are endless with respect to the vision and direction of our ownership group, to the influx of young, talented players that are going to excite our fans for years to come, ” he said.

“We’ll have challenges along the way as we continue to grow, but we’ll rely on our increased communication, collaboration and innovation to overcome these issues and achieve our goals.”