Chicago Blackhawks’ General Manager Stan Bowman has had a busy summer, attempting to get the team under the salary cap before the start of the 2015-16 season. Some popular players were offloaded to create cap space: first, rising star Brandon Saad, followed by All-Star winger Patrick Sharp. These trades won’t be fondly remembered by ‘Hawks fans in the years to come, but they are from far the worst moves the team has ever made.
During the Blackhawks’ 89-year history, the team has made several trades that looked bad from the get-go. These moves were usually made because of personality conflicts with the coach or short-sightedness by management, with devastating effects in the years to come. Here are the five worst trades in Blackhawks’ history.
#5 – October 25, 1991 – Blackhawks trade away offense to get better defensively
Mike Keenan had a relatively successful run as the Chicago Blackhawks coach. The ‘Hawks made it to the conference finals twice in Keenan’s first two years behind the bench (1989, 1990), losing out both times to the eventual Stanley Cup winner. In 1991, the team won the Presidents Trophy for finishing the regular season with a league-leading 106 points. Goaltender Ed Belfour also won the Jennings Trophy for allowing the fewest goals. However, the Blackhawks were upset by the Minnesota North Stars in the first round of the playoffs. After that, Keenan — who was now the team’s General Manager, too — shook things up.
Keenan made 16 trades from July 1991 to February 1992. The trade that affected the team most negatively during that span was when the Blackhawks sent center Adam Creighton and winger Steve Thomas to the New York Islanders for center Brent Sutter and winger Brad Lauer. Sutter was a good defensive center; the problem was that the ‘Hawks gave up too much offense in return.
Creighton was on a roll at the start of the 1991-92 season, scoring 12 points in 11 games. Thomas was a solid second-line player who scored 70 points (40 G, 30 A) in 76 games in the 1989-90 season, and 54 points in 69 games during an injury-shortened 1990-91 season. Both of these players could have been the difference when the Blackhawks met the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 1992 Stanley Cup Finals. The Penguins swept the ‘Hawks in four games. Three of the losses were by one-goal margins. A 6’5″ center like Creighton might have been able to slow down 6’4″ superstar Mario Lemieux — Sutter sure didn’t — while Thomas’ speed and goal scoring could have been the extra punch the ‘Hawks sorely needed.
#4 – March 23, 1999 – Blackhawks trade legend so they don’t have to re-sign him
Acquiring Chris Chelios in 1990 was one of the best deals the Blackhawks ever made. Trading him to the Detroit Red Wings nine years later was one of the worst. Chelios had a remarkable career for the Blackhawks, winning the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s best defenseman twice and winning post-season All-Star honors four times. His contract was set to expire after the 1999-2000 season, but the team had had no intentions of re-signing him. Instead, GM Bob Murray explained that Chelios would have a front office job waiting for him after his contract expired. The problem was, Chelios still wanted to play.
After some soul-searching, Chelios decided that he was not ready to retire anytime soon and requested a trade. The Blackhawks shipped him off to the Detroit Red Wings for Anders Eriksson and two first round draft picks — a horrible trade on so many levels.
First, the ‘Hawks traded away their team captain — the heart and soul of the franchise — to the arch-rival Red Wings. This made Detroit, who won the last two Stanley Cup Championships, an even stronger contender. Secondly, Eriksson — the warm body the ‘Hawks got in return — was clearly no prospect. Drafted by Detroit in 1993, the Wings long figured out that he was a dud. And the first round picks didn’t really help, either; partially because the Red Wings were solid contenders who weren’t getting high picks in the draft and partially because Chicago’s scouting and drafting was not great.
Finally, trading away a fan favorite to a hated rival is never a good way to win back fans, especially those who were still mad about the team parting ways with Jeremy Roenick in 1996 and Ed Belfour in 1997. With Chicago’s “Big Three” now gone, the team rapidly declined and was eventually named by ESPN as the worst professional sports franchise.
As for Eriksson, he went on to be a fringe player. So did the two guys the Blackhawks drafted (Adam Munro and Steve McCarthy) with the two first-round picks acquired from Detroit. Chelios, meanwhile, went on to play another TEN seasons, help Detroit win two Stanley Cup Championships, captain the U.S. Olympic team to a silver medal and be named a First Team All-Star in 2002. His accomplishments in his 40s were better than the combined careers of the three players he was traded for.
#3 – August 16, 1996 – Blackhawks trade franchise star to save $5 million
When the Blackhawks traded Patrick Sharp on Friday, July 10 — late in the afternoon — they messaged their fans who had the team’s smart phone app with news of the trade. Websites reported Sharp’s trade shortly thereafter, and journalists were all abuzz on Twitter. Things could not have been more different 19 years ago, when the Blackhawks traded away franchise player Jeremy Roenick, also on a late Friday afternoon, in 1996. This was before the internet became commonplace, so news of the popular player’s departure wasn’t met with an immediate outcry; many didn’t find out until a day or two later.
Roenick cemented his status as an elite NHL center, scoring 596 points in 570 games for the Blackhawks. Unfortunately, the Blackhawks and their notoriously frugal owner, “Dollar” Bill Wirtz, did not want to pay him like one. Roenick, 26 at the time, was a restricted free agent in the summer of 1996. He and the Blackhawks were reportedly $5 million apart in their negotiations for a five-year contract.
Instead of paying their franchise player like a franchise player, the Blackhawks traded Roenick to the Phoenix Coyotes for Alexei Zhamnov, Craig Mills and a first round draft pick in the 1997 draft. Zhamnov was projected to be the next Sergei Fedorov, and the Blackhawks were sure they could sign him for far less money than Roenick.
In a column published two days after the trade, Chicago Tribune columnist Bernie Lincicome bemoaned what the ‘Hawks had done:
What they should have loved is the way Roenick plays hockey, fearlessly, forwardly and forecheckingly. They should not have just sworn they would match any offer, they should have made an offer that no one else would match.
To keep Roenick and his considerable skills, all it would have taken is money. All it would have taken is a compliment now and then. All it would have taken is for management to be bigger than Roenick.
Instead, the Blackhawks matched Roenick pique for pique, trying to teach him a lesson in economics instead of a lesson in bonding. The Blackhawks proved they could be just as petty, and now they’ve got a wimp, a prospect and a draft choice instead of one of the best players in the game (full article here).
Phoenix had no problem shelling out the big bucks for J.R., signing him to a five-year, $20 million deal. But Chicago couldn’t work out the cheap deal with Zhamnov like they had hoped before the start of the season. Eight games into the 1996-97 season, with no Roenick, no Zhamnov and looking to save face, the ‘Hawks relented and signed Zhamnov to a five-year, $15 million dollar deal. The Blackhawks saved $5 million, but lost their most exciting player of the decade and alienated many of their fans.
#2 – May 15, 1967 – Blackhawks dump top center because of big mouth
The Blackhawks had a ton of talent in the mid-1960s: Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita, Pierre Pilote, Glenn Hall and an up-and-coming Phil Esposito. In his first three full seasons with the club, Espo finished fourth or higher in team scoring, centering the “HEM Line” with Hull and Chico Maki.
But Esposito’s outspokenness, which he would become famous for during the 1972 Summit Series, was the catalyst for his eventual trade to the Boston Bruins. As recounted in his autobiography, “Thunder and Lightning,” Esposito had a little too much to drink at a Blackhawks’ team party at the end of the 1966-67 season. A drunk Espo told Coach Billy Reay and GM Tommy Ivan “We’ve got a great team here, you could almost have a dynasty, but you two are gonna screw it up (page 51).”
Utimately it was team owner Jim Norris who didn’t like Esposito’s finesse style of play, wanting the big centerman to be more physical. Of course, telling off Reay and Ivan didn’t help his case either. The day before the expansion draft, Phil Esposito, Ken Hodge and Fred Stanfield were shipped out to Boston for Gilles Marotte, Pit Martin and Jack Norris.
After the trade, Esposito would go on to rewrite the record books for goals and points, win the Art Ross Trophy five times, be named to the All-Star Team eight times and lead Boston to Stanley Cup Championships in 1970 and 1972. Ken Hodge didn’t do too shabby either, reaching the 100-point plateau twice. And Esposito was right: by trading Esposito, the Blackhawks – losers in two Cup Finals – did screw up on becoming a dynasty.
#1 – August 7, 1992 – Blackhawks trade away the best goalie of the 1990s
The last trade made by Mike Keenan was also the Blackhawks’ worst trade. Heck, it was the worst trade of the decade. On August 7, 1992, the Blackhawks shipped out future goaltending legend Dominik Hasek to the Buffalo Sabres for Stephane Beauregard and a fourth round pick in the 1993 draft. Then the ‘Hawks traded Beauregard to the Winnipeg Jets for Christian Ruuttu three days later.
The Blackhawks had two top prospects vying to back up starter Ed Belfour: Dominik Hasek and Jimmy Waite. Before playing in the NHL, Hasek won goaltender of the year honors five straight years and player of the year three times in his native Czechoslovakia. During the 1991-92 season, Hasek played 20 games as the ‘Hawks backup and was named to the NHL All-Rookie Team.
Waite was a former junior hockey star, but had fallen so far down the depth chart that he was loaned to the AHL’s Hershey Bears during the 1991-92 season. So, the choice to keep Waite over Hasek to serve as Belfour’s backup seemed wrong all-around.
And, boy was it ever wrong. Had the ‘Hawks traded Waite — or made no trade at all, because they really did not have to — that would have kept Hasek in the picture perhaps long enough to usurp Belfour as the team’s starter; or at least long enough for Hasek to play more games and increase his trade value. A daring GM might have even traded Belfour for a high-scoring player. (Remember, the team had just lost in the Cup Finals to the Penguins due to lack of scoring.)
Instead, the ‘Hawks traded the future Best Goalie of the Nineties and got Ruuttu, who would do little in Chicago: 90 points in 158 games. Over in Buffalo, Hasek had a Hall of Fame career with the Sabres. Much like his tenure in the Czech league, Hasek won NHL MVP honors twice and top goaltending honors six times, setting an NHL record.
The only silver lining in this trade was that Chicago used the fourth round pick acquired from Buffalo to draft Eric Daze, who had a respectable, though injury-shortened, career with the Blackhawks. Oh, and that Keenan was fired as the ‘Hawks GM soon after. ■