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After suffering through a 48-year championship drought, the Chicago Blackhawks found themselves atop the hockey world once again in 2010. In a city that is thoroughly saturated with sports success, the Blackhawks had become something of an afterthought in the wake of consistently competitive performances by the Bulls, Bears, and even White Sox through the latter half of the twentieth century and into the early 2000s.
Although they came up just short in this year’s first round, falling to the eventual conference champion Vancouver Canucks, Chicago seems poised to remain a contender for years to come. With a nucleus of young talent that is the envy of the league, Blackhawks fans can be confident they will not be forced to wait another half century before returning to the promised land.
With the future of the franchise looking bright, we turn our attention to the past as we examine the all-time greatest Chicago Blackhawks:
RW, Steve Larmer- (1982-93) Steve Larmer exploded onto the NHL stage in 1982 as a rookie scoring sensation, netting 43 goals and 90 points to walk away with the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie. Over the course of the next decade, Larmer would become a model of consistency, playing in an astounding 884 consecutive games and reaching the 40-goal plateau on five occasions. Sitting fourth on the club’s all-time scoring list, Larmer accumulated 923 points in just 891 career games with the Blackhawks. As a goal scorer, noted fore-checker and reliable defender who refused to take a night off, Larmer may well have been the most well rounded player of his generation.
C, Stan Mikita- (1959-80) In a playing career that spanned four decades, Stan Mikita was one of hockey’s true innovators. At his peak, he was an unstoppable offensive force, leading the league in scoring on four occasions and making nine All-Star appearances. He remains the only player to ever win the Hart, Art Ross and Lady Byng Trophies (MVP, scoring title, and most gentlemanly player, respectively) in the same season, which he did consecutively in ’67 and ‘68. What makes this feat all the more incredible is that early in his career, Mikita was a noted agitator, accumulating more than 100 penalty minutes on four separate occasions. After facing the wrath of an angry four-year old who believed that “Daddy sits down too much when he plays hockey,” however, Mikita set out to become an example for his young daughter and recorded just six minor penalties in 1966-67. Mikita retired as the third highest scorer in NHL history and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1983.
LW, Bobby Hull- (1957-72) Before Bobby Hull, no player had ever recorded more than 50 goals in a single season. Not only did Hull shatter the single season mark by recording 58 in 1969, he also set a new standard for scoring consistency, reaching the half-century plateau on five occasions between 1962 and 1972. His notorious slap shot was said to have reached speeds of over 120 m.p.h., a phenomenal feat even by today’s standards. Depending on who’s telling the story, it was either Hull or Stan Mikita who first stumbled across a broken hockey stick at Hawks’ practice one day in the early 1960s. The result was the world’s first curved hockey blade. Goal scoring (and goaltending) would never be the same. Hull left the NHL for the upstart WHA in 1972, but left behind a legacy of pure dominance. In his 15 seasons in the league, he was a 12-time All-Star, twice won the Hart Trophy as league MVP, and was a three-time scoring champion. Hull is widely considered the greatest left-winger in the history of the game.
D, Doug Wilson- (1977-91) In his 14 years patrolling the Chicago blue line, Wilson was the model of consistency and leadership. Chicago’s all-time leader in points (779), goals (225) and assists (574) by a defenseman, he was an eight-time All-Star during his tenure in the Windy City. Wilson was awarded the Norris Trophy in 1982 as the league’s most outstanding defenseman after recording a career-high 85 points in just 76 games. His 39 goals that year still stand as the highest scoring total in a single season by a Chicago defenseman.
D, Pierre Pilote- (1955-68) In his time, Pierre Pilote was simply the greatest defenseman in the game. He won three consecutive Norris Trophies and helped revolutionize the defense position, becoming one of the first to consistently contribute on the offensive side. He won the Stanley Cup in 1961 and appeared in seven straight All-Star Games between 1960 and 1967. But even with all of the accolades, Pilote was known first and foremost for his grit. As an undersized player who did not play in an organized game until the age of 17, Pilote often found the only way to make a name for himself was to do the things that other players were not willing to do. Caught in a scrum versus the Montreal Canadiens, Pilote found himself staring down not one, but two of the most feared players in the game; brothers Henri and Maurice Richard. Two punches later, both Richard brothers were lying unconscious on the ice. Pilote entered the Hall of Fame in 1975.
G, Glenn Hall- (1957-67) As one of the first to legitimize the butterfly style of goaltending, Glenn Hall truly helped change the way the game is played. During his ten years with Chicago, Hall was an eight-time All-Star and twice won the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goaltender. He brought home a Cup in 1961 and played in a mind-boggling 552 consecutive games, a record which is widely believed to be untouchable. What makes this mark all the more unbelievable is that during the streak, he never once wore a goaltending mask, opting instead to face down shooters with his trademark glare. Hall was so fiercely competitive that he required a “nausea bucket” next to his stall for the entire length of his career due to his notorious pre-game jitters. When he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1975, former teammates joked that they would also have to induct the bucket.
Coach, Joel Quenneville- (2008-present) Although Quenneville has only been with the Blackhawks for a short time, it is impossible to argue with results. In 2010, just his second season on the Blackhawks bench, Coach Q led the ’Hawks to a franchise record 112 regular season points en route to capturing their first Stanley Cup since 1961. Although the decision to replace then-coach Denis Savard was widely criticized in 2008, Quenneville turned out to be the perfect complement to a team that was loaded with young talent, but lacked NHL experience. His no-nonsense approach to the game and willingness to let his offensive talent shine has quickly earned him the respect of players and fans alike.
Honourable Mentions- Denis Savard, Jeremy Roenick, Chris Chelios, Ed Belfour, Tony Esposito, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Dirk Graham, Coach Billy Reay