On Tuesday afternoon, the Hockey Hall of Fame announced the members of the Class of 2011: Joe Nieuwendyk, Eddie “The Eagle” Belfour, Doug Gilmour and Mark Howe.
After not being drafted and having a solid career at North Dakota, the Blackhawks brought Belfour in before the 1988-89 season. He bounced back and forth between Chicago and the minors that year, and was disappointed by the lack of playing time in the NHL. So, before the 1989-90 season, Belfour left the organization to be part of a six-month, 33-game world tour with Team Canada.
Belfour returned to the organization after the tour, and the desperate Blackhawks recalled him for the 1990 playoffs. To say Belfour was impressive would be underselling his performance in the 1990 postseason; he went 4-2 with a 2.49 goals against average and figured to have the inside track to be the starter the following season.
And yet, when training camp opened for the 1990-91 season, there were seven goalies fighting for a spot with the Blackhawks.
Despite the organization favoring Jimmy Waite and another young goalie, Dominik Hašek, making a strong impression, Belfour won the starting job. The 1990-91 campaign turned in by Belfour remains one of the most epic rookie seasons in the history of the NHL.
He led a Blackhawks team that was evolving into a young, fast team into the postseason with an NHL rookie record 43 wins in 74 games, and posted a strong 2.47 goals against average. Belfour nearly swept the NHL’s postseason awards that year.
The unorthodox Belfour was suddenly the toast of the NHL. He won the Calder Memorial Trophy (rookie of the year), the Vezina Trophy (league’s best goaltender), and the William M. Jennings Trophy (league’s best goals against average). Belfour was also nominated for the Hart Memorial Trophy (league MVP), which went to Brett Hull.
The following season the Blackhawks made a run all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals, only to be swept by the Pittsburgh Penguins. Even though Belfour had been so strong the year before, Hašek was pressing him for playing time; in only 20 games, Hašek played well enough to earn All-Rookie honors.
Because he was the starter, and had played well enough to have a strong bargaining position, Belfour demanded respect from the organization. In August, the Hawks traded Hašek to Buffalo.
Belfour continued to earn the respect of his peers, winning the Vezina Trophy for a second time after the 1992-93 season. He had another strong season in 1995, but at that point the relationship between the front office and Belfour was becoming contentious.
During the 1995-96 season, the Blackhawks again had a young netminder they liked in Jeff Hackett. The tension between the self-conscious Belfour and his backup was again an issue, as the two feuded throughout the season.
At this point the Blackhawks and Belfour were at a standoff. Belfour had one year left on his contract, and the Hawks were beginning to grow tired of his unwillingness to share the ice with the many talented backups they had brought along during his tenure. It didn’t help that Hašek was developing into an elite goalie in his own right for the Sabres.
The wheels fell off when the Blackhawks, and Belfour, got off to a slow start in 1996-97. While Hašek was on his way to the first of his six Vezina Trophies, the Blackhawks offered Belfour a contract extension that was turned down by the goalie. The standoff would end when he was traded to San Jose after 33 starts.
When he left Chicago, Belfour ranked third in Blackhawks history in games played by a goalie (415) and wins (201), trailing only Hall of Famers Tony Esposito and Glenn Hall in both categories. Belfour also ranked fourth in shutouts (30) in the team’s long history.
In total, Belfour would protect the net in 1,187 NHL games, winning 484 and posting 76 shutouts. He would win the Stanley Cup once, unfortunately not in Chicago.