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.