Chicago Sports Franchises: Chicago Blackhawks
March 2, 2011 Leave a comment
Stanley Cup Championships: (4) 1933-34, 1937-38, 1960-61, 2009-10
Retired Numbers: #1 Glenn Hall, #3 Keith Magnuson, #3 Pierre Pilote, #9 Bobby Hull, #18 Denis Savard, #21 Stan Mikita, #35 Tony Esposito, #99 Wayne Gretzky (retired league-wide)
Rivals: Detroit Red Wings, St. Louis Blues, Columbus Blue Jackets
The Chicago Blackhawks, colloquially known as the Hawks, joined the NHL as one of the “Original Six” teams in 1926. Their first season was a moderate success, as they ended up finishing the season in third place with a record of 19-22-3, before losing to the Boston Bruins in the first-round of the playoffs.
Following this series loss, the ownership fired head coach Pete Muldoon. Angered by charges that his poor coaching prevented the team from finishing the regular season in first place, Muldoon evidently responded by yelling “Fire me, Major, and you’ll never finish first. I’ll put a cures on this team that will hoodoo it until the end of time.” Thus, the “Curse of Muldoon” was born, becoming widely known as one of the first sports “curses.” While they team would go on to win three Stanley Cups in its first 39 seasons of existence, they did so without ever having finished first, either in a single or multi-division format. Years later, the journalist who first published the transcript of the “curse” admitted that he made the story up to break a writer’s block that he had as a deadline approached.
The Hawks went on to have the worst record in the league in the season following Muldoon’s purported curse. By 1931, they reached their first Stanley Cup Final, but fell to the Canadiens. However, three years later, goalkeeper Charlie Gardiner led his team to victory by shutting out the Red Wings in the final game of the Stanley Cup, with a final score of 1-0 in double overtime.
In 1938, the Black Hawks finished with a record of 14-25, only barely making the playoffs. In both semi-final series, they stunned both the Canadiens and New York Americans on overtime goals in the deciding games of the series. Thus, they miraculously advanced to the Cup Final against the Maple Leafs, in which they won both Games 3 and 4, enroute to their second championship. The 1938 Blackhawks possess the poorest regular-season record for any Stanley Cup champion to this day.
As the “Original Six” era came to a close, the Hawks stuck proverbial trade gold, acquiring three young prospects in forwards Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita, as well as defenseman Pierre Pilote, all who went on to become preeminent stars in Chicago. After two first-round exits as the hands of eventual champions in Montreal in 1959, and 1960, the Hawks miraculously upset the Canadiens in their semi-final meeting in 1961. They then bested the Detroit Red Wings, winning their third Stanley Cup Championship. In the 25 years of the “Original Six” era, this was the only time that a team other than Montreal, Toronto, or Detroit won the cup.
In the last season of the six-team NHL, 1967, the Blackhawks finished first, breaking the supposed “Curse of Muldoon.” News of its falsehoods surfaced around this time.
In 1971, life was made a bit easier for Chicago players and fans alike, as the expansion moved the Blackhawks to the West Division, as they quickly established themselves as the best in the West, exploding to a 46-17-15 record and an easy first-place finish. During the playoffs, the Hawks reached the Cup Finals before falling to the Canadiens.
By the late 1980’s, Chicago still made the playoffs on an annual basis, but fell in the early rounds each time. However, in 1988-89, after three consecutive first-round defeats, the Blackhawks made it to the Conference Final in the rookie seasons of both goalkeeper Ed Belfour and star center Jeremy Roenick. However, they would fail to make the Stanley Cup Finals, losing to the Calgary Flames, the eventual champs. Roenick and Belfour were traded away as Chicago faltered through the late 90’s. The team missed the playoffs in 1998 for the first time in 29 years, just one season short of tying the Bruins’ record for longest such streak in North American professional sports history.
The early 2000’s were rough in Chicago, with the icing on the cake being the 2004 ESPN article that named the Blackhawks the worst franchise in professional sports, with much of the media and fan-based angst stemming from the policies instituted by then-owner Bill Wirtz. However, after his death in 2007, he was succeeded by his son, Rocky, who looked to drastically alter his father’s long-standing and questionable policies. Rocky’s moves included a new partnership with Comcast SportsNet Chicago, which began the airing of all the team’s regular season games, a move that helped to reclaim the lost fan base in the Bill Wirtz era. Additionally, partnerships with the Cubs and White Sox helped to strengthen the entire Chicago sport culture by creating a link for fans to establish a vested interest in their city’s teams.
In addition to the changes in the team’s policies and front office, the Blackhawks’ roster also was bolstered by the addition of two stars in Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. Kane finished the 2007-08 season as the Calder Trophy winner, awarded to the best rookie in the NHL. Toews was also a finalist in the voting for this award. The 2007-08 season also marked the first time that the team finished over .500 in six years.
Big things were happening in Chicago, as the newly imaged franchise began to win games, as well as the hearts of fans. Given the acquisition of Marian Hossa in the off-season, the 2009-10 season started off with a bang. Attendance numbers were sky-high, as they achieved the best average attendance in the NHL, finishing the season at 21,356 per game, and totaling 854,267 on the season. Additionally, the team set a new franchise record for wins in a season.
Chicago made the playoffs for the second consecutive season in 2009-10. They defeated the Predators in six games, then the third seeded Canucks in six as well, before besting the Sharks in the Western Conference Finals in four games. Reaching the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1992, they faced the Philadelphia Flyers, and aced them in six games, behind Patrick Kane’s cup-clinching, game-winning, overtime goal. This Stanley Cup victory marked the first time the cup had returned to Chicago since 1961.
A number of cap-induced trades in the off-season left the Blackhawks’ roster looking downsized and very different. Stay tuned tomorrow as we discuss the transition for the defending Stanley Cup Champions.