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Columnist
What an amazing turnaround for Hawks
By Tim Sassone | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 11/29/2007 12:19 AM

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Fans of the Blackhawks must be pinching themselves, trying to make sure this is all real.

Suddenly, the Hawks matter again.

There's an entertaining team on the ice led by budding superstars Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. Home games, not all of them but enough, are on television. Media coverage has increased. There's a new chairman of the team who apparently gets it in Rocky Wirtz. And marketing whiz John McDonough has left the Cubs to be president of the Hawks.

To think, as recently as April, about the only thing Hawks fans had to look forward to was the arrival of Toews. Heck, general manager Dale Tallon was talking about re-signing Michal Handzus. Thank goodness the mediocre Handzus wanted a four-year contract instead of the three the Hawks were offering and took off as a free agent for Los Angeles, where he had 4 points and was minus-9 in the Kings' first 23 games.

It all started to go right for the Hawks when they won the draft lottery. Tallon even said at the time that maybe this signaled a change in the team's fortunes.

The Hawks took Kane with the No. 1 pick overall. They knew he was good, but not this good.

The next significant event that changed the course of the franchise is a delicate subject around the United Center. It was the Sept. 26 death of owner Bill Wirtz.

But facts are facts, and actions speak the truth. Most of the positive vibes surrounding the Hawks today would not be if Bill Wirtz were still in charge.

It's hard so understand how all these terrific ideas could be rattling around in the head of Rocky Wirtz while he watched the franchise mismanaged into the ground.

But as Rocky Wirtz has said both privately and publicly in recent weeks, his father was so stubbornly set in his ways that nobody could convince him that such dramatic changes were necessary, not even his own sons.

It's time to leave in the past what has happened the last decade. The year Alpo Suhonen coached the team, Mike Smith's run as GM, and players such as Alexander Karpovtsev and Boris Mironov cluttering up the ice are just bad memories now.

This is a Hawks team that is only going to get better as its young players do. Watching Kane and Toews develop is only part of the good stuff going on here. Patrick Sharp, Brent Seabrook, Duncan Keith, Tuomo Ruutu, James Wisniewski, Jason Williams and Jim Vandermeer are becoming players who make a difference and are hardly old men.

Veterans Nikolai Khabibulin, Robert Lang, Martin Lapointe, Brent Sopel, Yanic Perreault, Andrei Zyuzin and Patrick Lalime add stability to a young lineup, and Denis Savard is proving on a daily basis that he is more than simply a great former player, that he knows how to coach.

In the tough Western Conference, the Hawks are a team whose goal still is to make the playoffs. But it's a conference in which only Detroit has looked dominant, and the Hawks have beaten the Red Wings four times already.

There's no reason why the Hawks can't finish fourth or fifth in the West, or even stay on the heels of first-place Detroit in the Central Division into the final months.

Red rising? Indeed.