By Dan Bernstein–
670TheScore.com senior columnist
(670 The Score) This is all getting a bit strange at this point, and I’m not talking about the 24-32 record, the last-place position in the Central Division or the obvious fact that the Blackhawks are going to fail to make the NHL playoffs for the first time in a decade.
I mean that that so few people seem to care.
Here we have expensive All-Star players whose individual games have collapsed entirely, trades and acquisitions that have blown up in the team’s face, an ongoing mystery regarding a still-undisclosed injury to their starting goaltender, rumors about both a coaching change and instability in the front office, and the typical Chicago sports fan seems far more concerned about who’s teaching Mitchell Trubisky new run/pass options and where and how Javier Baez is going to find adequate playing time.
There are several possible reasons for this perception, so let’s hold it out as a hypothesis that this free-fall of a season isn’t receiving the general response we might expect, then examine why.
One thing is that it might just be a non-neutral and unscientific assessment on my part, not being properly plugged in to whatever outlets could best represent the collective consciousness. I doubt this aspect, however, because my Twitter timeline is curated specifically to provide access to such feelings and information as channeled by writers, broadcasters, athletes and other observers across local and national sports. Not to mention the 25 hours per week that I spend in a live talk radio studio with eight open phone lines, concurrent conversations on Facebook and Twitter and a similarly open and anonymous text screen. I believe we’re in a better position than most to assess this, especially after more than 20 years of doing it.
So it could be simply that Blackhawks fans are so fulfilled by the gift of three championships since 2010 that this denouement was entirely expected as this era drew to an close, and it’s not worth the anger. They’re appreciative of what the 2010s have brought them to the point of accepting that good times must end. It would take an extraordinary sense of maturity and awareness to understand this and act accordingly, though, and those are two traits not often associated with any kind of sports fandom.
What I think is happening is larger and a bit more complicated, based on the fact that even when wildly successful, hockey is still without the broad-based standing here that other sports enjoy. I know there’s some degree of deep disappointment, but evidence of it doesn’t rise to the levels that most of us see or hear regularly, even as I take notice as the area’s dedicated hockey writers fend off those who are lashing out in their respective forums and I can’t miss the boos when they rain down both in the United Center and from fans on the road, as occurred in Phoenix on Monday night.
But such reactions are coming from those already most dedicated, who were probably there before this run and will remain loyal long after notwithstanding their current thrashing about. This is the hard core of the base, those commenting on tweets from the newspaper beat guys and buying tickets to actually go to the arena. They’re making noise where they are but are still committed fully.
The difference is in those who don’t even realize that they aren’t watching games or that the featured screen at their regular restaurant or bar is showing something else. Those are the people who drove the endless emails from the broadcast networks about new records set every season, the people snapping up Dustin Byfuglien souvenir mugs from Walgreen’s and Keith Krunch at Jewel, the people being interviewed in full regalia by local news crews and jumping up and down reflexively when the red light flashed and The Fratellis sang syllables.
They aren’t bothering with a strong negative reaction, because they never were invested the same way they may be in the Bears or Cubs and have replaced whatever the Blackhawks meant to them relatively easily.
It was merely an annual post-Super-Bowl party into the summer for a while, and they don’t even know that it’s over.