by Mike Chen on 11/17/08 at 03:00 PM ET
With the Chicago Blackhawks flying high (literally and figuratively) in the post-Bill Wirtz revival starring Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, I thought it’d be a reasonable time to take a quick look back at one alternative timeline for the Chicago Blackhawks. Younger fans, after all, may not realize that they missed out on an NHL titan back in the early/mid-90s—a team that really could have been even better.
Stanley Cup winners are often built around a strong pair of centers. In the 1990s, Mario Lemieux had Ron Francis, Steve Yzerman had Sergei Fedorov, and Joe Sakic had Peter Forsberg. As good as the Chicago Blackhawks were during the early/mid-90s, they only had one top-flight center in Jeremy Roenick.
However, they sure came close to getting one. In this alternate timeline, we’ll assume that all feasible trades and drafts were made in 1992 - 1994, except with one big change: Eric Lindros came to the Chicago Blackhawks.
In my opinion, one of Bill Wirtz’s biggest blunders was denying then-Chicago coach/GM Mike Keenan’s on-the-table deal to bring Eric Lindros to the Windy City. The trade was goalie Ed Belfour, #2 defenseman Steve Smith, and veteran scorer Steve “Stumpy” Larmer, along with $5 million to the Quebec Nordiques for Lindros. Remember, this was pre-concussion, pre-drama, pre-all-that-crap Lindros. Would the second half of Lindros’ career been as ugly and bitter had he started off with the Hawks? No one knows, but let’s assume that the first half was as brilliant as it was in real life.
Why would the Hawks trade Vezina-candidate Belfour? Because they had a fellow named Dominik Hasek waiting in the wings, and Keenan acknowledged that he had to move either Belfour or Hasek. Keenan pleaded with Wirtz to make the deal happen, saying that the $5 million involved would be easily made up for in merchandise and ticket sales generated by having Lindros skate for the Hawks. Wirtz, as he had done all too often, failed to see the bigger picture and was more concerned about the immediate budget.
But back to the alternate timeline—in this scenario, the Hawks’ #1 center would be Jeremy Roenick and their #2 center would be Eric Lindros. The 1992-93 wing would have veterans Michel Goulet and Dirk Graham with up-and-coming Joe Murphy getting ready to hit the 30-goal mark for the first time in his young career. On defense, they’d have Chris Chelios to anchor the squad down (featuring a young Bryan Marchment), and the aforementioned Hasek would be at the early stages of his hall-of-fame career.
Now, let’s assume a few more significant transactions happened after that season:
October 1993: Keith Carney for Craig Muni/5th Rounder
March 1994: Tony Amonte for Stephane Matteau/Brian Noonan
March 1994: Gary Suter for Frantisek Kucera and Jocelyn Lemieux
What doesn’t happen? Eric Daze never becomes a Hawk because his draft pick came from the original Hasek-to-Buffalo deal. Similarly, Eric Weinrich never puts on the Indian head because he was originally traded for Steve Larmer and Bryan Marchment.
By 1994 playoffs, the Hawks two forward lines would have been built around two pairs: Jeremy Roenick/Tony Amonte and Eric Lindros/Joe Murphy. The top-four defensemen would have been Chris Chelios, Gary Suter, Keith Carney, and Bryan Marchment. How good was Hasek by 1994? In Buffalo, his 1.95 GAA was almost unthinkable (this was just before the dead-puck era post-1995) and he was on the cusp of winning the first of his bazillion Vezina trophies. So yeah, that would have been a pretty good team.
Would that have put the Hawks over the top? We’ll never know, but this is what Keenan said at the time when the Lindros deal was on the table:
“Mr. Wirtz didn’t want to spend the money. I said you had the opportunity to have Jeremy Roenick and Eric Lindros on the same team in Chicago Stadium. I said any money you had to give out will come back to you. But he couldn’t see the vision and didn’t want to spend they money. We had a trade on the table that was never granted that probably would have put us over the top. That would have given us a tremendous opportunity to make a run at the Cup. The great thing about it was that we would have kept Roenick and Chelios, and that we still had Hasek.”
Now here’s one more thing to consider. Had this deal happened, and had the Hawks even won the Stanley Cup sometime between 1994 and 1996, there’s no way Bill Wirtz would have kept this team together. It would have been dismantled just as the actual Hawks team was, and the overall chaos that somehow led to the drafting of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane probably still could have happened. In that sense, it truly was a missed opportunity, and let’s just hope that Rocky Wirtz never takes a stingy turn for the worst when it comes to Blackhawks hockey.
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