The 5 Biggest “What Ifs” in Blackhawks History

In the wake of Kerry Wood announcing his retirement from the Chicago Cubs, fans have engaged in a number of discussions surrounding Chicago sports. Should the Cubs retire Wood’s number? Why can’t Sox fans respect his career? And, perhaps the most intriguing, is Wood the greatest “What if” player in Chicago sports history?

He certainly left a lot of fans wondering what could have been had he stayed healthy, but Wood isn’t the greatest “What if” player in Chicago. In fact, there are a number of players and scenarios that have made Blackhawks fans ask that multi-million dollar question over the years.

Let’s look at the five biggest “What if” players/scenarios in Blackhawks history.

Honorable Mention: Eric Daze

There might not be a closer parallel to Wood’s career with the Cubs than Daze, who was an NHL All-Star Game MVP and one of the better scorers in the game for a very brief amount of time. The 6’6″ forward didn’t throw around his 220 pounds as much as many Hawks fans wanted, but his name was next to the likes of Mike Modano and Teemu Selanne in the early days of the new millennium. Chronic back issues cut his career short, leaving many Blackhawks fans to wonder how good he could have been.

5. What if the Blackhawks had traded Jeremy Roenick the first time

Everyone remembers the name Alexei Zhamnov, but he shouldn’e have been the players Chicago acquired for their leading scorer in the mid-1990s. In the summer of 1995, the Blackhawks and Winnipeg Jets worked out a trade that would have sent Jeremy Roenick to Manitoba in exchange for another superstar, Keith Tkachuk.

At that time, Tkachuk was holding out for more money, and the Jets were in no position to offer him more; they were in dire straits financially and couldn’t afford to pay Tkachuk his market value. Rather than lose their top player for nothing in free agency, the Jets decided to be proactive and worked out a deal that would swap two of the best scorers in the game.

However, when then-Jets owner Barry Shenkarow heard through the grapevine that Roenick allegedly didn’t want to move to Canada, he backed out of the deal.

After the summer of 1995, Tkachuk added 874 points to his Hall of Fame career. Roenick left Chicago a year later in exchange for Zhamnov, who gave Chicago 424 points before he was traded to Philadelphia on Feb. 19, 2004 for Jim Vandermeer, Colin Fraser and a second round pick in the 2004 Draft (that became Bryan Bickell).

4. What if the Hawks had chosen Hašek over Belfour?

After only 25 games in a Blackhawks sweater, Dominik Hašek was traded to the Buffalo Sabres in August of 1992 for Stephane Beauregard and a draft pick that became Eric Daze.

I have been asked on a number of occasions what could have been if, when Hawks management had to make a move to settle a boiling battle for ice time between the pipes, they had moved now-Hall of Famer Eddie Belfour instead of Hašek.

This debate is harder to argue one way or the other. Certainly Hašek had perhaps the best stretch of play from any goaltender in league history for the following decade, but it’s hard to say the Blackhawks failed the depth chart with the trade. Belfour won 78 games in the two seasons immediately following the trade.

3. What if Charlie Gardiner hadn’t passed away?

Not many fans know this, but the last time a goalie was the captain of a Stanley Cup champion was when Gardiner led the Blackhawks to their first Cup win. Gardiner was an incredible goalie who played through ridiculous pain to get the Stanley Cup to Chicago.

He won two Vezina Trophies with the Hawks and led the league in shutouts twice, but his performance in the 1934 postseason was beyond epic. Gardiner allowed 12 goals in eight games, and took a shutout into a second overtime in the Cup-clinching game before Mush March won the game. After the win, Gardiner retreated to the locker room because he was having issues just standing up in the final game of the series.

Just a couple weeks after he fulfilled his dream of winning the Stanley Cup, Gardiner suffered a massive brain hemorrhage. He had surgery, but complications cost him is life on June 13, 1934. His brilliant career, and life, were far too short.

2. What if Bobby Hull hadn’t left for the Jets?

Everyone in Chicago knows about Hull bouncing to play for the WHA’s Winnipeg Jets. He wanted $1 million, and got it. The dollar amount he asked for was allegedly so ridiculous, he made the request in an attempt to get the WHA to leave him alone. When they came up with the money, he left in the middle of his prime.

What could the Blackhawks have been if Hull had stayed through the 1970s?

1. What if the Hawks hadn’t traded Phil Esposito?

Quickly after the 1966-67 season ended, the Hawks made a deal with the Boston Bruins they felt would help them compete for the Stanley Cup for the next decade. Ultimately, that deal turned the Bruins into one of the great offensive dynasties in the history of the game.

Pit Martin had a nice career in Chicago, and nothing should be taken away from what he did for the Hawks in the 1970s. But the Hawks traded Phil Esposito, Fred Stanfield and Ken Hodge to Boston for two scrubs and Martin in 1967 in one of the most disastrous trades in NHL history.

In eight full seasons in Boston, Esposito had more than 126 points six times. He was arguably the most dynamic scorer in the NHL during the 1970s, but made his mark on the game wearing a Bruins (and Rangers) sweater. Hodge and Stanfield were also solid players for Boston, with Hodge crossing the 100-point mark twice and scoring 50 goals in a season once for the Bruins as well.

12 thoughts on “The 5 Biggest “What Ifs” in Blackhawks History

  1. i THINK ivan traded esposito et el because espo didnit get any points in the previous playoffs ivan thought espo was lazy i guess its the hawks version of the lou brock trade dk

  2. I always thought the Hawks moved Hasek for Christian Ruuttu, but when I looked back after this article it wasnt true,….interesting still a bad trade for the Hawks considering what Hasek became as a non-BlackHawk.

  3. @Dave: Esposito did have a rough postseason in 1967 (0 pts, 7 PIM)… and, to that point in his career, his playoff record isn’t overwhelming (4 goals, 4 assists, 24 PIM in 29 gms). No question Ivan was selling a kid to maximize his veteran roster for a Cup run. But it backfired in biblical proportions.

  4. Rather than #5, I wonder what if the Jets/Coyotes hadn’t matched the $17M offer sheet to Tkachuk in 1995, to put him on a line WITH Roenick on the Hawks.

    Also, as an honorable mention, what about drafting Anze Kopitar instead of Jack Skille? Regardless of what that may have meant for the next few drafts.

  5. Also intriguing, AC, is the offer sheet. A case has been made that the Hawks’ offer sheet ultimately led to the demise of the Jets. Ironic, isn’t it, that the franchise that took away Hull may have lost their original home town because of the Hawks forcing them to spend money?

    I didn’t go w/ draft picks here for a couple reasons. First, I’ve looked back at the biggest busts in Hawks’ draft history before, so it would have been a bit redundant. And secondly, it’s impossible to project into the future how one pick would impact subsequent drafts. For example, if the Hawks had taken Kopitar instead of Skille, would they have taken Toews over Kessel the next summer? So many variables w/ draft picks…

  6. AC makes a great point about Kopitar…if we had of taken him, we might have won the last 2 Stanley Cups as well.

    Painful list of memories to bring back up Tab…I mean, wow, painful…getting rid of Roenick for anyone at anytime, come on…

    Letting go of Hasek and then Belfour 2 seasons later…brutal…

    Hull to the Jets was very tough as well…had Wirtz paid him what he was worth in the first place, the preposterous offer from the Jets would never have found life…

    And then Espo…Espo in goal and Espo and Hodge on the front line…just a killer, an absolute killer…too many times it has happened to the Hawks and too many times it was because of the owner…

  7. I agree with the Tkachuk one as well, should be on the list. I always remembered that offer sheet wasn’t supposed to be matched because of the Jets money problems, and then somehow a team buyer was found during the period they had to match the offer and the new buyers instructed them to match it….or something like that

  8. I believe the Hawks front-loaded the crap out of that offer sheet, something like $12 million of it in the first year of the deal.

  9. Brad is right on the money as Dollar Bill’s influence is all over many of the terrible decisions by the Hawks. The Hull situation is perfect example, just pay the guy a reasonable star wage and the Winnipeg thing never happens. It’s clear Ivan and Pulford pulled many ill-advised moves when the financial puppeteer was pulling the strings. Another for the list? Letting Chelios go to Detroit was another low point in Chicago sports history inho…

  10. liked the article. I’m 25, dont remember or wasn’t alive for most of that, but I always love Hawks history. Hate to change the subject but whats going on with Hoss? Is he ok? is there a place I can go and read what his official progress is if any? Thanks.

  11. The Eric Daze thing kills me he had so much potential and I often draw parallels from him to Wood (as you mentioned), Prior, Mike Brown, and maybe even Jay Williams. Just makes me wonder if Chicago would have had a few more championship banners given the fact the injury bug wouldn’t have bitten Chicago so many times.

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