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Columnist
Time to let results catch up to hype
By Mike Imrem | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 10/13/2008 11:23 PM

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John McDonough wasn't shy about using the "e" word Monday afternoon.

The Blackhawks president was speaking to a gathering of fans on Madison Street at a club-concocted "Red Carpet Event."

"We have expectations for this team," McDonough said two hours before the Hawks' home opener.

Soon he added that there "are a lot of expectations."

This is odd, folks, and just a little uncomfortable. Normally a professional sports management tries to downplay expectations so they don't unnecessarily and unduly pressure players.

It's great to mention aspiring to a championship. It's something else to do so prematurely and unrealistically.

Enough pressure will be placed on these Hawks from outside the organization without more being shoveled from inside.

Who's to say whether the burden is why the Hawks have started the season 0-3, including Nashville's 3-2 shootout victory Monday?

But with every loss comes more pressure. If the winless beginning evolves into, say, a 1-5 record, then 2-8, then 4-12 heading into the annual November road trip -

Well, suddenly head coach Denis Savard's job is in jeopardy under the weight of those unrealistic expectations and the players are wondering more than ever who they are and what this team is.

It isn't as if the Hawks don't already understand "ONE GOAL" - the club's 2008-09 marketing slogan - is to win the Stanley Cup.

But this is an awfully young team. Jonathan Toews, its precocious center, is the third-youngest team captain in NHL history.

The Hawks are a work in progress and figure to be for a while longer. Yet the way this team has been marketed, promoted and advertised gives the impression it's the defending Stanley Cup champion instead of wannabes.

So what's wrong with that, you might ask?

Nothing, except the players have been made out to be special before winning anything. Remember, the Hawks haven't even made the playoffs eight of the past nine seasons and not since 2002.

Yet, there the Hawks were Monday, being driven to work in limousines and walking into the building on a red carpet.

The question might be, "What would management have staged for the players had they split their two opening road games? Would Angelina Jolie and Jennifer Lopez been flown in to escort them down the red carpet if they had won both those games?"

Seriously, the danger is that the same thing happens in the United Center that happened in Wrigley Field for decades. You know, like the pomp gets ahead of the puck and the Hawks tire from chasing them both down at once.

The off-season publicity campaign worked wonders off the ice, elevating the Hawks' season-ticket base from in the 3,000s to into the 13,000s.

But as McDonough told the street crowd, "It's showtime."

Hopefully he meant hockey, not hype, because it's time for the players to produce on the ice as effectively as the rest of the organization has off it.

On this night a sellout crowd of 21,712 chanted "Let's go, Hawks," but the Hawks went only to a third straight loss.

So maybe for now management should dial down the heat a little on the expectations talk and let the Hawks go out and be what they can be.

Whatever that is at this stage of their growing process.

mimrem@dailyherald.com