Was it when Bob Pulford sent Ed Belfour out of town for Ulf Dahlen, Michal Sykora and Chris Terreri?
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Or when Pulford "unloaded" Jeremy Roenick on Phoenix for Alex Zhamnov, Mike Mills (not the bass player from R.E.M.) and a draft pick who turned into the immortal Ty Jones?
Or was it just one (or all) of the many re-emergences of Pulford from the shadows of the Blackhawks' organization to impose 1960s thinking on a struggling 1990s franchise? Each instance, of course, made possible by the late William Wirtz.
Regardless, somewhere along the line, the Blackhawks truly became the Franchise of the Damned.
There was nothing the team could do that would turn out right.
After the aforementioned trades, there was more. The removal of Bob Murray as GM, followed by the hiring of Mike Smith (a disaster) and subsequent years of drafting injured, soft Russian "prospects," hiring Alpo Suhonen as head coach, Smith's squabbling with Brian Sutter (a Pulford hire), the trade of Bryan McCabe for an albatross named Alexander Karpovtsev.
And so much more. More coaches. No home games on tv. Local sports radio hosts refusing to even talk about the team.
But then something changed. History will probably say it was the recent death of Bill Wirtz, the ascension of Rocky Wirtz and the "reassignment" of Bob Pulford.
While all of that has greatly accelerated the process, I would argue the turnaround started a couple of years ago, with the promotion of Dale Tallon to GM, Pulford's reaction and the subsequent reaction of Mr. Wirtz, Sr.
A lot of Hawk fans scoffed at Tallon's promotion to GM as another example of the Hawks rewarding another unqualified member of the BFL (Blackhawk For Life) Club. But it became clear early on that Tallon was his own man. He was not only not going to play front office games with Sutter, he wasn't going to allow Pulford to meddle. Pulford publicly claimed he was still in charge. This is turn prompted Bill Wirtz to set the record straight in a press release, firmly establishing Tallon's role.
Tallon made some mistakes along the way: a raft of bad, early free agent signings (along with a couple of good ones), hiring Trent Yawney as head coach, etc. But he moved quickly to correct those mistakes. And he didn't repeat them.
He shipped aging, under-producing veterans like Zhamnov and Karpovtsev out of town for a boatload of draft picks and prospects. He beefed up his scouting staff (always a smart move) and refocused on North America, with a batting average on first round picks that so far looks good: Cam Barker, Jack Skille, Jonathan Toews, Pat Kane. And late round finds like Nathan Davis, Troy Brouwer and Niklas Hjalmarsson.
More importantly, he's stuck to the plan: build through the draft, hold on to promising prospects— endure the rough years and avoid going for quick fixes or mortgaging the future for the likes of Boris Mironov.
So today, the future looks incredibly bright for Hawk fans. Not only is there a terrific core of young players on the Hawks: rookie stars Toews and Kane, potential star Dustin Byfuglien (23), Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith (both 23 and playing first pairing roles), speedy, versatile Patrick Sharp (25) who already has 18 goals this year, and the gutsy two-way player Wisniewski (24).
What should really be of concern to Central Division foes (and the rest of the NHL) is what the Blackhawks have on the way:
Dave Bolland: a 2004 high 2nd round pick. Compared to a young Doug Gilmour, he might not have the Killer's skill level, but possesses good hands, tenacity and is a great penalty killer.
Brouwer: came out of nowhere as a 7th round pick from Moose Jaw to lead the WHL in scoring in 2005-06. Scored 41 goals as a rookie in the AHL last year. A big, strong kid who bangs in rebounds with deceptive hands and offensive instincts.
Skille: Blazing fast and very strong on his skates, he could play anywhere from 1st to 3rd line in the NHL.
Petri Kontiola: A 23 year old from Finland who is currently playing in the Hawks top 6, despite this being his first year in North America. A gifted passer, he can also play in his own end.
Barker: Big, strong and offensively talented, he finally seems to be putting it all together.
Davis: A Hobey Baker finalist last season at Miami (OH), he is very fast, fearless and a natural goal scorer.
Igor Makarov: A high 2nd rounder in 2006, he's blazing fast, has great hands and terrific competitiveness.
Hjalmarsson: has all the offensive and two-way skill one would exect from a Swedish defenseman, but according to Rockford coach Mike Haviland "he flattens people."
And last, but not least, Haviland: another smart move by Tallon was installing the former ECHL coach of the year at the Hawks' AHL affiliate. Haviland is a great teacher, a straight shooter who runs a similar system as Hawks coach Denis Savard and is delivering players to the NHL who are ready to compete on their first night.
As the old saying goes, every dog has his day. Maybe, just maybe, the Hawks are about to have their decade.
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