Daily Herald
Rocky's knockout punch
By Barry Rozner | Daily Herald Columnist
Published: 10/12/2007 12:13 AM

The dominoes are starting to fall.

The housecleaning on West Madison began with the departure of Peter Wirtz last week and continued with the removal of Bob Pulford on Thursday, one of the most important moves the Blackhawks have made in years.

At this rate, new Hawks owner Rocky Wirtz will have home games on TV and a first-class hockey operations department by Christmas.

OK, that's a stretch, but he's moving fast and you have to give him time to clear up the more complicated matters.

The Hawks will put home games on TV. As for whether it's this season, that's to be determined.

Still, he's a businessman above all else, and Wirtz intends to make the Hawks profitable again. The best chance for that is to win and expose the game to as many people as possible.

When offered the chance, Rocky only took over the family liquor distributorship when granted full power to run it the way he wanted, to make any changes necessary with the idea of making it more efficient and therefore more profitable.

That's the same reason he has avoided the Hawks all these years, the inability to remove obstacles, but now with full authority to change, he has taken over and neither losing nor excuses will be tolerated any longer.

He will not avoid change just to avoid conflict, as has been the policy of late.

He will spend money to improve the product, and that includes not only purchasing players, front-office management and coaching staffs, but also buying out the contracts of anyone who can't do the job.

Rocky is already making his presence felt, spending time around the UC the last few days, and he was in the stands Wednesday night to see the Hawks handled by a strong San Jose team that would have won easily if not for a huge night from goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin.

One can only imagine what Wirtz must have thought as he saw 13,000 empty seats for a top-notch opponent, with ex-Hawk Jeremy Roenick on the ice, and with two talented rookies, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, playing on the same line.

The lower bowl was nearly empty and that's an embarrassment Rocky won't sit for very long.

It's going to take time to get acclimated and put in place those who will tell him the truth about what's really happening at the UC.

It's been a long time since a Hawks owner has heard anything more than what his lackeys thought he wanted to hear, and so Rocky can't expect much from inside beyond the spin, the talk of "kids on the way'' that you've been getting since Tony Tanti was in diapers.

Even today, even with what's occurring, you hear from the Hawks that everything is pretty much perfect.

Toews and Kane are legit, yes, but they shouldn't be forced to carry a team their first week in the NHL.

First-rate organizations bring young talent along slowly so they can learn from veteran players with character, and adapt to the life, but the Hawks throw the kids in, force them to play on the top line, and try to sell the few people who still care on the notion that this is a playoff team.

It'd be laughable if not for the fact that this had better be a playoff team because jobs are on the line.

The old excuses about injuries or waiting for the youngsters to get here aren't going to fly anymore.

Current GM Dale Tallon might have hoped to one day get the cushy Pulford role, the one where you head for warm climes, play golf in the winter, and "oversee'' the operation, while elevating pal Rick Dudley to GM, but that doesn't seem too likely now.

Needless to say, a lot of people on a free ride the last 20 years are in danger of losing their scholarships.

If they didn't believe it before, they should now, because moving Pulford physically out of the building is a huge statement along those lines.

Pulford had enormous influence over all hockey operations until Bill Wirtz passed away, and even bragged in recent years about being "in charge'' of hockey at the UC.

That's why the news release went out of its way to mention that "Pulford will be transitioning from the United Center to … corporate offices at 680 N. Lake Shore Drive …''

That was the point. That was the reason for the announcement. That was an olive branch offered by Rocky Wirtz to Hawks fans. It was a plea for time, but also a pound of flesh.

As for Pulford's stay, let's not relive it all.

Suffice it to say that 25 years ago he was a heck of a hockey coach and at times an excellent GM who would have never allowed his teams to be caught soft and humiliated like the ones you've ignored the last few years.

He's also the reason people like Stan Mikita, Doug Wilson and Tony Esposito wanted nothing to do with the Hawks, and he personally prevented Bobby Hull from returning following the fall of the WHA in 1979.

He's responsible for the insane number of coaching (17) and GM (8) changes in his 30 years here, handling both jobs on four separate occasions.

That absurdity ruined careers, changed lives and caused enormous pain, and the nonexistent fan base is a direct result.

It's a long and sad chapter in Hawks history that is finally finished. It's a statement by Rocky Wirtz to the fans that he's serious, and a serious message to anyone working there smart enough to listen.

Spin is no longer in, and business as usual is officially over.