|Late-season trades in the NHL sometimes provide that added spark to teams hopeful of making a difference in their run for the playoffs. But in other cases it may pay bigger dividends in the future. This year there was a record 25 trades before the deadline, but the desired results for this season won't be known until June. |
While Blackhawk management, coaches, players and fans are certainly disappointed with the way this year has gone, I firmly believe that there is hope for the future. For most Chicago teams, we are all too familiar with the cry, "Wait 'til next year!" It is always easier to second guess or be a grandstand quarterback instead of putting yourself on the line to take the heat.
I'd like to look back on several of Chicago's better late-season deals, which not only paid immediate dividends but future benefits too.
On March 13, 1979, the Hawks swung an eight-man trade with the Atlanta Flames (now Calgary). Chicago gained center Tom Lysiak for the last 14 games and finished 1st in the Smythe Division, but ran into a red-hot New York Islander team in the quarterfinals. The Islanders lost a tough series to the Rangers who were beaten by Montreal as the Canadiens took the Cup. The next season saw the Islanders take the first of four consecutive Stanley Cups. Lysiak went on to score 137 goals in six seasons and ranks in the top 10 for goals and points for Hawk players.
On March 5, 1990, the Hawks obtained eventual Hall of Famer Michel Goulet from Quebec. In eight games, Goulet scored four goals but helped the team go to the Conference Finals before falling to the eventual Cup champs Edmonton. In his four seasons with Chicago, Goulet tallied 92 goals, which included his 500th career goal on February 16, 1992, and the Hawks advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals before being defeated by Mario Lemiuex and the Pittsburgh Penguins.
On April 6, 1995, Chicago obtained Denis Savard in a deal with Tampa Bay for the last 12 games of the strike-shortened season. The 1980 top Hawk draft choice returned to tally four goals in those games and went on to lead his team in the playoffs with 7 goals and 11 assists as Chicago went to the conference finals. Savard had his #18 jersey retired in 1998 and was selected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2000.
As for the Blackhawk trades this season since January, general manager Dale Tallon has opted for more speed, scoring and youth. Right now, with an average age of 26, Chicago is one of the youngest teams in the NHL. There have been 25 new faces on the Hawks this year and more than half of the players have not played a full season in the NHL while logging less than 100 games at this level. Jim Vandermeer is currently considered the veteran among the defensemen with some 120+ NHL games at the age of 26.
The new rules this season have placed an even greater emphasis on speed and special teams. While the Hawk penalty killers rank in the top third of the league, the power play has not produced the needed results. The Hawks have been the most penalized team in the league for most of the schedule plus have been on the short end in one-goal games too often. Hockey has been described as a game of inches and, while Chicago has not able to measure up in that little difference, there is hope.
Every team suffers key injuries, but no one on the Blackhawks was able to fill the scoring void created by the injuries to Eric Daze and Tuomo Ruutu. With veteran All-Star defenseman Adrian Aucoin missing over half the year and All-Star goalie Nikolai Khabibulin out for 22 games, this young team never was able to get any winning momentum.
Chicago has 10 picks in the upcoming draft plus a number of promising young scorers in the junior ranks. The Hawks have several capable European players that could be ready next season, so here's hoping that a couple of free agent signings this summer can go a long way in turning the tide for 2006-07.