In May, Martin Havlat scored an unbelievable game-winning goal in overtime to defeat the Calgary Flames in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. I caught the following photo on my Blackberry just after he hit gold:
Havlat played three seasons for the Blackhawks, coming in with all the promise of a rising star in the league taking a chance on a struggling franchise. His red hair and beard made him the perfect emblem for the rising phoenix fans hoped the franchise would become with him leading the way.
There was never a question about the talent with Havlat; he had been an electrifying forward in Ottawa and got the puck to the back of the net better than anyone the Hawks had put on the ice since perhaps Tony Amonte.
But in his first season in Chicago, Havlat was injured for a good part of the season. He would only play in 56 games, but scored 25 goals. He teased the Hawks’ fans with his skill, but spent too many games watching in street clothes.
Hopes were that, in 2007-08, Havlat would become a mentor for an emerging young roster. The Hawks would promote two babies, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, to the big time to start the season and many observers thought they could be the perfect teenage compliments to Havlat.
The kids would have loved to have played with him more, but Havlat was injured again. Havlat only managed to play in 35 games that second season in Chicago, but still found a way to score ten goals. The Hawks missed the playoffs by a narrow margin, and hopes were again that, if Havlat could stay healthy, the Hawks could maybe make the playoffs.
Havlat only had a three year deal with the Hawks, so 2008-09 was his last chance to give the fans a full season. He did that, getting on the ice for 81 games. Between the maturation of Toews and Kane, a better roster, and Havlat being healthy, Chicago finally got some magic on the ice.
In a full, healthy season, Havlat contributed 77 points. Fans were split on whether or not the Hawks should bring back the popular wing; fans never questioned his ability, but the cost and health concerns were why the decision was taxing.
As the summer began, the Blackhawks claimed to be trying to work out a contract with Havlat. Because Toews, Kane, and Duncan Keith need new paper after the 2009-10 season, the organization didn’t want to lock themselves into a longer term deal with Havlat. The organization’s preference was a one-year deal.
When the two sides couldn’t reach an agreement, the Hawks shocked the hockey world by instead reaching out to, and winning, Detroit’s leading goal scorer from last year, Marian Hossa. Despite the Hawks public stance that they wanted to maintain flexibility with the salary cap long term, Hossa got an enormous deal that will, in theory, pay him into his 40s.
It’s safe to say Havlat felt burned by the Hossa signing. What followed, though, was unexpected.
Havlat, the model of professional composure during his tenure with the Hawks, started blasting John MacDonough and Hawks management on Twitter. Between his own rejection and the removal of Dale Tallon as General Manager, Havlat took every opportunity to get his shots in at the expense of his former team.
Many in the media began postulating that how Havlat was handled by management, specifically by Stan Bowman, could end up hurting the Hawks attempts to negotiate long-term contracts with Toews and Kane, who looked up to Havlat.
But as Havlat’s online rants continued, and he landed in Minnesota with the Wild, it became clear that Havlat, not the Hawks, stood to lose in their divorce. And so far this season, the production on the ice has shown that to be true.
The Blackhawks are in first place, despite being without Hossa until mid-November. Meanwhile, Havlat and the Wild are in last place in the Northwest Division with a 3-7-0 record (6 points).
Havlat hasn’t rewarded Minnesota for giving him the contract he desired, either. He’s already missed two of the Wild’s 10 games, and is -8 on the season with only five points to show for his action so far.
So as he returns to Chicago on Monday night, it’ll be interesting to see what @martinhavlat has to say for himself. It will also be interesting to hear how the fans greet their departed favorite son.