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.

The Buzzer: Hart wins in debut, Bishop leaves, returns in shutout

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Three stars

1. Ben Bishop (and Anton Khudobin), Dallas Stars

Bishop and his backup edge Hart here due to the fact that Bishop got run over by Calgary Flames forward Garnet Hathaway, forcing him to leave the game in the second period with the Stars up 1-0.

Khudobin held down the fort while Bishop was getting checked out to close out the second period.

Bishop would only miss about six-and-a-half minutes as he led Dallas back onto the ice in the third and resumed where he left off. The duo combined for 24 saves for the shutout as Dallas won 2-0, making some history in the process.

2. Carter Hart, Philadelphia Flyers

Hart made history as he stepped onto the ice in his NHL debut, becoming the Flyers’ sixth goalie to appear in their first 35 games. That’s not a great record to hold, but he’ll be in the annals of hockey history for a while, I’d imagine.

History or not, Hart was solid in his inauguration. He turned aside 20 saves as he and newly-minted head coach Scott Gordon picked up their first wins at their respective positions.

Hart is facing a lot of pressure here. He’s dubbed as the future in Philly and for good reason. Some call the City of Brotherly Love a graveyard for goaltenders. Perhaps Hart can buck the trend. Who knows.

For now, he’s certainly earned another start.

3. Martin Jones, San Jose Sharks

An all-goalie lockout in the three stars tonight finishes with Jones.

The Sharks netminders earned his first shutout of the season, making 26 saves for career goose egg No. 20. Jones’ save percentage this season has left a bit more to be desired, so Tuesday’s effort was a good refresher for fans on what he’s capable of.

San Jose has now won five in a row as they continue their ascent to the top of the Pacific Division.

Other notable performances: 

Highlights of the night

As advertised, this is a nice goal:

Luuuuu:

Given how the Flyers crease situation has played out this season, Gritty may want to keep these goalies healthy:

Factoid

Scores

Panthers 5, Sabres 2

Maple Leafs 7, Devils 2

Rangers 3, Ducks 1

Flyers 3, Red Wings 2

Sharks 4, Wild 0

Blackhawks 2, Predators 1

Stars 2, Flames 0

Blues 4, Oilers 1

Islanders 3, Coyotes 1

Lightning 5, Canucks 2

Kings 4, Jets 1


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Tempers flare, penalty parade ensues between Lightning, Canucks

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Who knew the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Vancouver Canucks harbored so much hate for one another?

Wherever it came from, the apparent bad blood between the two teams was certainly flowing at a steady pace on Tuesday night in Vancouver.

Things were going well until around the 12-minute mark of the second period. It was then that Antoine Roussel landed a big hit on Lightning star Yanni Gourde.

Gourde, not impressed with being turnbuckled, took exception and the two squared off. He got five for fighting and a 10-minute misconduct. Roussel was assessed two for roughing and five for fighting.

From there, Canucks defenseman was forced out of the game after an apparent head shot from Lightning forward Danick Martel.

Martel was skating back through the neutral zone when he saw that Stecher had the puck near the boards. The hit looked innocuous at first, but replays showed that Martel seemed to extend his shoulder into Stecher’s head.

Stecher left the game and the Canucks said he wouldn’t return.

With tempers already boiling, things got completely out of hand with under a minute left in the period.

Lightning forward Cedric Paquette took a run at Canucks forward Elias Pettersson, a no-no, and all hell broke loose as the two lines on the ice brawled.

Paquette received two for roughing and five for fighting. Canucks d-man Ben Hutton, who can be seen below throwing bombs, also got a fighting major.

In total, 14 penalties were doled out, with those adding up to 48 minutes in the second period alone.

Quite the game, one that Tampa won 5-2 in the end.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Blackhawks put in complete performance in 2-1 win against Predators

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Nothing has really gone right for the Chicago Blackhawks as of late.

The firing of Joel Quenneville and hiring of Jeremy Colliton hasn’t done much to rekindle the club’s glory days.

They had actually won more games (six) under Quenneville than they have under the new guy (four) coming into Tuesday’s game.

Corey Crawford, perhaps their ray of hope if he could get it together between the pipes, suffered another concussion this week and is out indefinitely.

Even their mascot, Tommy Hawk, hasn’t been immune to the frustrations in the Windy City.

So Tuesday’s 2-1 win at home at United Center against the mighty Nashville Predators on NBCSN, however insignificant it ends up being at the end of the season, was a welcomed change.

If recent history is to be believed, the Blackhawks might have even been slight favorites heading into the game.

Nashville began the season a perfect 8-0-0 outside of Tennessee, but have now lost eight in a row (0-6-2) since. They’re also pretty banged up, so that helped, too.

Despite Nashville’s shortcomings on the road this as of late, it shouldn’t take away from Chicago’s performance.

They played a tight, offensive-minded game, outshooting the Predators 36-31, including 16-7 in the second period as they erased Nashville’s 1-0 lead and replaced it with a 2-1 advantage of their own.

Any hope of the Blackhawks not falling further from grace rests in the hands of Cam Ward at this point.

With Crawford out, Ward will be leaned on to provide the best netminding he can.

On Tuesday, he did just that, turning aside 30 shots. Ward was especially solid in the third, including the last two-and-a-half minutes of the third after the Preds pulled Pekka Rinne for the extra attacker.

Other things that went well: Chicago’s last-ranked power play was 1-for-3, producing five shots on goal. Their last-ranked penalty kill was 2-for-2, allowing just two shots on goal.

It all equates on some good stuff to build on. It’s been a while since Chicago produced an effort like that. The blueprint is there.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Stars’ Bishop returns to game after taking shoulder to the head

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Dallas Stars fans were able to breathe a sigh of relief as the team came out for the third period on Tuesday.

Nearing the mid-way point fo the second period, Calgary Flames forward Garnet Hathaway went to challenge Bishop, who was playing the puck behind the net.

Bishop was able to move the puck to his defenseman but the incoming Hathaway’s shoulder caught him in the mask. The impact knocked Bishop over and he was slow to get up before being pulled from the game.

Here’s the hit:

Hathaway was given a two-minute minor for goaltender interference. Stars defenseman Roman Polak got a roughing minor after going after Hathaway following the hit.

Bishop stopped all nine shots he faced in the 33:37 he played. Anton Khudobin logged 6:23 in relief before Bishop led the Stars out for the third period.

Bishiop had a 10-8-1 record coming into Tuesday with a .920 save percentage. The Stars were leading 2-0 in the third.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck