A lot can happen in nine years. For the Chicago Blackhawks, rewind the clock nine years to 2013, when Sports Illustrated dubbed them “The Franchise That Brought Hockey Back.” The Blackhawks were the gold standard in the NHL.
Nine short years later, they are the laughing stock of the league. The blows kept coming Monday, as the team has announced that longtime broadcaster Eddie Olczyk will not be returning to the Blackhawks television booth.
Olczyk will reportedly be joining the Seattle Kraken as their color commentator. In a phone call with NBC Sports insider Charlie Roumeliotis, Olczyk stated "There was a contract on the table, but we just couldn't come to an agreement."
Reports indicate the Blackhawks offered Olczyk a two-year deal, but the two sides ultimately could not make it work. Those reports also stated the Blackhawks wanted Olczyk back and were shocked to learn he was not accepting their offer and moving in another direction.
Another Bad Look for the Blackhawks
Let’s sift through the rubble here. First and foremost, the Blackhawks need to cut the shit. If they truly wanted Olczyk back, he would be back. They low-balled him on their offer. If they were truly surprised that he was not accepting that low-ball offer, they need to dig their heads out of the sand and get a clue. Olczyk is universally regarded as one of, if not the best, color commentators in all of hockey. You have to pay him what he is worth, or someone else will.
Now, let’s dig into the team’s statement. “We’re disappointed to learn today that he has decided to go in another direction.” Is that even true? There are few people out there who love the Blackhawks more than Eddie Olczyk. He wanted to be here. The Blackhawks disrespected him, so he walked. Frankly, good for him, but don’t let Blackhawks' leadership lead you to believe something that isn’t true.
It became clear last year that the Blackhawks wanted to change nearly everything about their franchise. On the surface, that was a great idea. In some areas, specifically the Stan Bowman area, those changes came years too late. However, there were certain areas of the team that were still world-class. They still have the greatest American-born hockey player to ever live on the roster. They also had two of the best broadcast duos in the sport on both TV and radio.
None of that mattered though. CEO Danny Wirtz and President of Business Operations Jamie Faulkner want to do a full overhaul of the franchise. They want “new” and “young” fans. Part of that was bringing youth into the broadcast booth. Pat Foley retired at last season’s end, but it has been whispered that Foley was pushed out by the Blackhawks. The team brought out numerous new candidates into the booth. None of them could hold a candle to Foley.
First and foremost, it does not matter who they put in the booth, if the product on the ice is terrible, you aren’t going to draw in new fans. Fancy voices in the booth don’t attract new and young fans, winning does. The only thing the Blackhawks will be competing for next season is ping pong balls at the NHL Draft Lottery.
Lastly and more importantly, sure the Blackhawks want new and younger fans. Every organization in sports does. But what are the Blackhawks doing to keep their old and dedicated fans? Frankly, this feels like a slap in the face to all the fans who have been here all along. Fans had zero interest in changing the broadcast booth. They wanted a better product on the ice.
You would be hard-pressed to find any Blackhawks fan out there who had anything bad to say about the Blackhawks' television broadcast over the last decade. Foley and Olczyk were phenomenal. Now, fans will have two new faces next season, if they even turn the games on.
General Manager Kyle Davidson expressed the benefit of keeping Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane around through the rebuild so they could guide young players along the way. The fact is that the Blackhawks also need a face on television to guide fans through this as well, as it’s likely to get ugly on the ice. What better and more trusted face than Olczyk?
Eddie Olczyk was more than just the team’s broadcaster on television. He was the MC at numerous Blackhawks Conventions and two Stanley Cup rallies. He led the charge for all of the banner-raising ceremonies. His voice was synonymous with the Blackhawks. Fans loved him. Journalists raved about him.
The Blackhawks needed something good to hang onto from the past. Eddie Olczyk was the easy decision. He was everything they were looking to change into, but he just so happened to already be there and be loved by fans.
Again, if the Chicago Blackhawks truly wanted Eddie back, he would be back. Instead, Olczyk is on his way to Seattle, and Blackhawks fans are left feeling lost with no sense of direction and nobody left to trust.