It has been every bit the challenge I thought it would be and more. I'm enjoying it.
It's a brand new world. There are no rainouts. The players are humble. Gracious. No entitlement. Thoughtful. Great athletes.
This is a cultural explosion. This is not an evolution.
I knew we had a chance for dramatic improvement (1). I'd rather lead the league in wins. I'm happy where the attendance is, but we're really going to have to earn it. This franchise needed to see change. They needed to see potential. They needed to hear somebody say, "This is what the ultimate goal is going to be: The ultimate goal for the Chicago Blackhawks is to win the Stanley Cup."
This was an estrangement.
I think when Hull, Mikita and Esposito came back and my generation of fans started to say, "Maybe there is something different going on there."
The third home game I was here, I think we went from 8,000 to 11—to maybe 14—and the team played really well. Everyone left the United Center that night, and they were really on a high and were really enthused. I walked out and kind of quietly went to my car. I got on my cell phone and I called Dale and I apologized.
I said, "Dale (2), I want to start this conversation and I want to tell you how proud I am of our team and how well they played tonight. But I want to apologize to you." He said, "John, for what? The team played well, a great night for everybody. The team is going in the right direction." I said, "These young players that you've accumulated … I'm embarrassed that they're playing in front of so few people and I'm going to do everything I can to help fix it."
I needed to say that because my option was to say nothing and to have Dale think that I was content.
We have to stop being surprised when there are 21,500 people here. We have to stop being surprised that, "Oh, my god, I forgot the Blackhawks are on television." We shouldn't be surprised when we win.
My 24-plus years with the Cubs was over. I enjoyed every single minute of it. … Then I got into a car and drove to the United Center and wondered, "Where am I going? What is going on? I'm leaving." I look back and I see the marquee. I get emotional when I think about this now.
The message to the staff was, "I want all of you to succeed." But I could tell from day one that there was a pretty high percentage of people who were not going to be on board because it was going to be a different pace. I remember calling him after my first day and I said, "Rocky (3), it appears there's going to be a lot of changes soon." He said, "Do what you have to do."
The Cubs are in my DNA, they're in my soul. They always will be. The day that I did go back is a day I will never forget. It was a day with Scotty Bowman, who is probably my new mentor at this stage of my career. … He wanted to see Piniella.
We sat in Lou's office for an hour. It was myself and Lou and Scotty Bowman. I felt almost as if I had sneaked into a seminar on greatness. … They started talking about philosophies and winning and treating different players and how to treat star players and how to treat fringe players and younger players and veteran players. I'm looking at two of the greatest names in the history of their collective sports. Scotty has been associated with 11 Stanley Cups and Lou has won two World Series and was just named manager for the year for the second or third time. That was great.
The day that we let Denis Savard go was by far the toughest single day I've ever had in 28 years of professional sports. People talk all the time about what is the right time. After four games, is that the right time? After 14 games, is that the right time? 34 games? That's probably not the right time.
In some ways the hiring of Denis as head coach three years ago may have been unfair to him.
A good baseball analogy would be when we let Dusty Baker go two years ago, Ryne Sandberg really pitched to replace him. Ryne had not coached at the big-league level, he had not coached at the minor-league level and he hadn't managed at the minor- or major-league level. It would have been a very popular decision with our fans. It would have been romantic, it would have been sentimental. It wouldn't have been the right decision.
After three months it was, "We think you've got it (4). Oh, it might go back to New York. It appears as if you've got it. Congratulations. Well, not yet." Finally, we got a phone call and at that point, the NHL said that the outdoor Classic is coming to Chicago, I for the first time sensed that there was possibly a league-wide sense of validation that the Blackhawks are being noticed, that the Blackhawks are relevant again.
Our season-ticket base went from 3,400 to 14,000 in a matter of four months when you had two winning baseball teams, that won divisions in a bad economy and we did not make the playoffs.
Dale has done a very good job drafting. We have a very good young team. We were three points away from the playoffs last year. We're looking for steps, not strides.
I said (5) there is list of seven or eight pages of ideas I have. I have it at home. We have a lot of pages left.
We sent a jersey over to him, Obama '09, because that's when he's going to take office.
To alleviate the stress, I work out every day. That's a big part of my day. I'm up at 4:30 and I read four papers. I work out for an hour and a half and I come into the office really well-prepared.
I feel in love again. I love seeing Blackhawks logos when I go out in public. And I love to see people wear the jersey. People love wearing Blackhawks jerseys, more than any jersey. During the course of all these crazy things during the summer the Blackhawks logo was voted the No. 1 logo in all of hockey.
I made a presentation before I started with the Cubs in 1983 to Bob Pulford. I had already been hired by the Cubs. I had such a strong interest to work for the Blackhawks. I spent about an hour in front of Bob Pulford with a complete marketing plan. A to Z on what I would do to try and help build this fan base long-term. He couldn't have been more polite. He was a wonderful gentleman and at the end of it he just said, "I really appreciate you doing it. I don't think it's something we want to implement at this time."
It's kind of ironic we find ourselves here today.
I never saw this coming. I never saw this happening in my life. I never saw this coming when I started. I never thought I would be with the Blackhawks. There would have been no reason for me to ever think I was not going to be with the Cubs. … It's incomprehensible for me to think that one year later that this has happened.
I'm very, very lucky. I don't take any of this for granted. Every day is overtime for me, it's a bonus.
When other people say something incredibly complimentary with the job I did with the Cubs and incredibly complimentary with what's going on with the Blackhawks I almost feel as if they're talking to someone else. … I don't get caught up in being proud of myself. I'm very proud of Dale, I'm very proud of our young hockey team.
People thought this would never come back. They had given up. This was a loved one they just thought was never coming back. It was a big part of their youth, they had great memories about it—I've heard them all. But they never thought it was coming back. And now they never want to let go.
1. Home attendance, in which the Hawks lead the NHL.
2. General manager Dale Tallon.
3. Rocky Wirtz, chairman of the Blackhawks.
5. At his introductory news conference.