Our second NHL Saturday miniseries takes on the storied history of another one of the Original Six: the Chicago Blackhawks (or alternatively until 1986, the Black Hawks). Of course, we’re only analyzing the modern-era squads (1967-1968), and five of the team’s top six rosters come from this era. The other one? The final year of the Original Six (1966-1967). Interesting, for sure, as the franchise has won 6 Stanley Cups—but only one of those champs makes it on to this list. Tough crowd? Tough crowd!!
No. 5: 1969-1970 Chicago Black Hawks
In this era, the East Division was all Original Six teams, and the Black Hawks finished atop the heap with a 45-22-9 mark, for 99 points. Chicago scored the second-most goals and surrendered the fewest numbers of goals. The team swept the Detroit Red Wings in the first round of the postseason, but in the conference finals, the eventual champion Boston Bruins somehow swept the Black Hawks aside. The Bruins also finished with 99 points, albeit with only 40 victories, but this was still a big shocker.
Chicago had three future Hall of Famers leading the way: forward Stan Mikita (39G, 47A, 50 PIMs in 76 games), left wing Bobby Hull (38G, 29A, 61 games), and goaltender Tony Esposito (38-17-8, 2.17 GAA, .932 S%, and 15 SOs). But against the Bruins, the team scored just 10 times after averaging 3.3 goals per game in the regular season. Esposito also had a rough series, as his save percentage dropped more than 50 points against Boston. Ouch!
No. 4: 2012-2013 Chicago Blackhawks
This is the only Cup-winning team on the list, surprisingly, and it came during a shortened season (only 48 games due to labor strife). Chicago started the season 21-0-3 before suffering its first regulation/overtime loss, and the Blackhawks finished 36-7-5 overall to post 77 points and win the Central Division. Anything short of a Cup title would have been a disappoint, and the team didn’t fail to deliver: Chicago went 16-7 in the postseason to win its second of three NHL championships in the decade.
Again, the team was No. 2 on offense and No. 1 defense. For scoring, the Blackhawks were led by the front-line duo of right wing Patrick Kane (23G, 32A) and center Jonathan Toews (23G, 25A, 27 PIMs). In net, G Corey Crawford (19-5-5) and Ray Emery (17-1-0) dominated the league. Both posted identical 1.94 GAA marks in their time playing goal. In the postseason, that number dropped to 1.84 GAA as Crawford got all 23 starts in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Quite impressive, really.
No. 3: 1971-1972 Chicago Black Hawks
In a realigned NHL, Chicago finished first in the West Division with a 46-17-15 record for 107 points. The Black Hawks were No. 5 in scoring and No. 1 in scoring defense. In the playoffs, however, Chicago was able to sweep the expansion Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round, but the New York Rangers returned the favor in the next round, beating the Black Hawks in four straight games. Chicago scored just 9 goals in the four games and lost two of them by the same 3-2 score.
Hull was, by far, the top scorer on the team, with 50 goals and 43 assists to go along with his plus-53 rating. No one else on the roster managed to post more than a point per game. Meanwhile, Esposito was unreal in net, putting up a 31-10-6 record with an outstanding 1.77 GAA and a .934 S%. He backed 9 of the team’s 14 shutouts on the year, but Esposito was inconsistent in the postseason and started just 5 of the team’s 8 playoff games—and that was that.
No. 2: 1970-1971 Chicago Black Hawks
Here we go again: a 49-20-9 record led to 107 points and a first-place finish in the West Division. The team was third in offense and second in defense, as we awarded Esposito our Vezina Trophy for this season. In the postseason, Chicago swept the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round and then dropped the Rangers in 7 games in the NHL semifinals. However, the Black Hawks lost in 7 games to the Montréal Canadiens with the Stanley Cup on the line, due to the Habs’ excellent goaltending.
Seven different skaters posted at least 50 points, led by Hull again, of course, with his 96 points (44G and 52A), plus-35 rating, and 32 PIMs. Esposito had another great season, as noted, with a 35-14-7 record, a 2.27 GAA, a .919 S%, and 6 shutouts. He was good in the postseason, too, with an 11-7 record, a 2.20 GAA, and a .928 S%. He also posted 2 shutouts, but in the Cup Finals, Montréal outscored Chicago, 20-18, and won Game 7 in Chicago with a third-period goal. Heartbreaking, really.
No. 1: 1973-1974 Chicago Black Hawks
These Black Hawks posted an astounding 23 ties, which considering the No. 6 offense and the No. 1 defense, meant a lot of losses were avoided on the way to a 41-14-23 record, adding up to 105 points—and a second-place finish in the West Division. Chicago was No. 3 in the SRS for year, too, which is interesting, as the team is No. 1 on this list. After a 5-game series win over the Los Angeles Kings in the opening round, the Black Hawks lost in six games to the Boston Bruins in the NHL semifinals.
With Hull gone, it was an age-33 Mikita (30G, 50A, 46 PIMs) leading the team in scoring, and he was supported by C Pit Martin (30G, 47A, 43 PIMs) and RW Jim Pappin (32G, 41A, 76 PIMs). Defensively, blueliner Dick Redmond (17G, 42A, 69 PIMs) topped the skaters in Win Shares (11.3), and of course, Esposito was grand yet again: 34-14-21, 2.05 GAA, .929 S%, and 10 SOs. So, what went wrong against Boston? The defense gave up 28 goals in 6 games, so that was quite painful to endure for Chicago.