Chicago Blackhawks: Looking Back On Their Transformation

CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 18: Patrick Sharp attends Chicago's Celebratory Parade
CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 18: Patrick Sharp attends Chicago's Celebratory Parade /

Everyone knows that the dark days of the Chicago Blackhawks franchise are far behind us, so much so that we almost forget they ever existed. But just how dark were they?

Every year, ESPN releases an ultimate standings list, ranking every professional sports franchise in North America. In 2004, the Chicago Blackhawks came in at #119, last on the list. Comparatively, the Cubs, who at the time hadn’t won a World Series in 96 years, came in at 45th.

Improvement is evident, as the Blackhawks were ranked 10th in 2014 and 17th in 2015 and have since won the Stanley Cup three times.

The franchise had some very low points in the early 2000s, and one story told by Patrick Sharp at the 2017 Blackhawks Convention encompassed it all. The panel included Brandon Saad and Sharp, and was titled “Sweet Home Chicago.” You can view Part 1 here and Part 2 here .

In this story, Sharp tells of times when the attendance for Blackhawks games was shockingly low. He said that he and Duncan Keith were trying to promote attendance for the games, being that they were the faces of the franchise.

They put on their jerseys, went to a local L stop in Chicago during rush hour, and were offering fans free tickets. Sharp said that most people rushed right past them both, glaring at them for slowing them down. Could you imagine if Sharp and Keith showed up tomorrow to an L stop to give out free tickets? It would ignite pure chaos.

Another story sticks out in my mind, and this one was told by Jim Koehler, the longtime general manager of the United Center. I had the opportunity to hear him speak, and he also told of times where filling the United Center seemed impossible. Basically, he said that he used to get bags full of as many tickets as they would hold, and just drop them off at local fire stations and police stations.

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Rise in team popularity

Obviously, the situation is a lot different now.  In 2004, the Chicago Blackhawks were 27th out of 30 NHL teams in average attendance, averaging 13,250 fans per game. (Side note: coincidentally enough, current back-to-back champion Pittsburgh was last in attendance that year).

The 2007-08 season, the first time we saw Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane on the same team, they jumped up to 19th. The following season, they led the league in attendance, and they have every year since. All attendance statistics can be found here.

But with success comes an increase in ticket prices as well, at face value and especially on the resale market. Per, season ticket prices now are double what they were in 2009, and they have increased every year for the past eight.

Many forget that the most expensive ticket for Game 6 of the 2015 Stanley Cup Final in Chicago went for $25,000, with the cheapest resale ticket being $800. To put that monetary value in perspective, in-state tuition along with room and board for one year at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is roughly $31,000, only $6,000 more than some people paid for one ticket to Game 6.

Right after hockey’s best dynamic duo was drafted and started playing full time, the team outlook changed and there was hope. I came across a four-minute Inside Hockey segment that aired on Hockey Night in Canada that discusses the very optimism that fans felt in 2007, and it can be seen here.

Regardless if you’re a new Blackhawks fan or a lifelong fan, I would highly recommend checking it out. It shows how far the franchise has come, and it gives some insight from both fans and Blackhawks personnel as to how the full scale transformation came about.

From being the worst franchise in sports in 2004, to being called a dynasty by commissioner Gary Bettman after winning a Cup on home ice a mere 11 years later, its undeniable Blackhawks fans have witnessed something really special.

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So, next time you have a hockey heart attack or admire  Kane doing what only Kane can do, remember that things won’t be this good forever, and make sure to enjoy every second of it. But for now, I pose one question: Can they go for four in nine?