[Ed. Note: Some lists chronicle the best in hockey. Others the worst. Others the most memorable or greatest or essential. What Puck Daddy’s 2016 Summer Series seeks to do is capture those indefinable, quirky, oddities that occur every season. Moments that defy prediction or, in some cases, logical explanation. Welcome to WEIRD NHL.]
1. Hawks doctors numb Chris Chelios’ nuts
It was basically the last throw of the dice for the mid-90’s Hawks, which were pretty good teams.
They held a 2-1 lead over the first-year Avalanche, thanks to Sergei Krivokrasov’s OT goal in Game 3 (you read that right.) Look here’s the video evidence if you don’t believe us and with a vintage Foley call when he was just a loon without the stupid catchphrases.
While the Avs were deeper and more skilled, if the Hawks could somehow hold serve at home Game 4 they would have a 3-1 lead and would have gone on to play (and probably get throttled) by the Red Wings, at the very beginning of their Red Menace phase.
The game started, and Hawks fans were curious that their captain and best defenseman Chris Chelios was not out there. He was not listed on any injury report, and soon it was spread that he was missing due to an equipment problem.
Boy, was he.
Still, this was the longest equipment problem in history. He missed all of the regulation three periods. He briefly came to skate out before overtime, but then went back to the dressing room. This happened before the next two overtimes too, with Chelios never seeing an actual shift. Joe Sakic scored in the third overtime, sending the series back to Denver with the series tied at 2-2 and never to lose again to the Hawks.
It came out the next day that Chelios had been suffering all series with a groin problem, and the Hawks doctors attempted a cortisone shot to paper it over so he could play. The only problem was the doctor hit a nerve on the attempt, and numbed Chelios’ right leg and groin. Had Chelios played in such a tight game, it’s likely the Hawks could have pulled it out, if you’ll excuse the pun.
That’s right, the last and best chance the mid-90’s Hawks had of claiming a Cup, despite their owner and despite their age, went up in smoke because a licensed doctor couldn’t correctly administer a shot.
After the series, Roenick was traded in the offseason; Chelios and Belfour would soon follow. It would take a decade and a half for the Hawks to return to prominence. And it can all be traced to Chelios’ numbed nuts.
2. Old men at the strip club
I don’t think we could have possibly known the demons Theo Fleury was battling when he came to Chicago – but he was at an all-time personal low when the Blackhawks brought him in. Coming off some productive years with the New York Rangers, Fleury was another player that commonly made his way through Chicago during the dark years: once great, riddled with personal problems or injuries or rapidly increasing age, who could be had fairly cheaply.
On a January evening in 2003, the Hawks flew from a game in St. Louis to Columbus. When they arrived, a few Blackhawk players, led by Fleury and Voted Least Likely To Be At A Strip Club Ever Phil Housley, decided to paint the town red. Instead of going to bed, they made their way to a BYOB strip club called Pure Platinum.
Just a few hours later, the police responded to a 911 call and managed to wrangle Fleury, Housley, and a third player (Tyler Arnason, who would soon be infamous for yet another off-ice incident) into the back of a squad car. Fleury was beaten up pretty badly by club bouncers and sported a torn up face for the game against the Blue Jackets that he blamed on a bad check from a Blues player that obviously never happened.
The fallout was remarkable. Essentially, it marked the end of the fleeting salad days of Brian Sutter’s tenure in Chicago and a team that up to the incident had been contending for a playoff spot quickly fell apart. Players claimed the lack of discipline that the players faced fractured the dressing room. The Blackhawks wouldn’t make the playoffs again until 2009.
One of the most disappointing aspects of this was that Fleury’s teammates enabled him in the absence of his sponsor who apparently wasn’t nearly as watchful as the media claimed he was supposed to be. Phil Housley never gets any stick for this but he should. His status as one of the better offensive NHL defensemen should be more tarnished than it is.
3. Billy Reay fired on Christmas Eve
There are probably dozens of stories that would illustrate just how backwards and in the dark the Hawks were under Bill Wirtz (Rocky’s Dad, for those of you who joined the party post-2009). The no home games on TV policy, the never-ending contract squabbles with any star who wanted to remotely be paid like one, the continuing presence of Bob Pulford despite him not being aware of his own surroundings, etc.
Perhaps nothing exemplifies it quite like the firing of legendary coach Billy Reay in 1976. Reay had been one of the most successful coaches in Hawks history, and was worshiped by a roster that had Esposito, Hull, Mikita, Martin and others. While a championship remained elusive, Reay had guided the Hawks to two Final appearances in three years, which was something of a miracle for them at the time. And losing to the Canadiens of the 70’s wasn’t exactly something to be ashamed of.
However, in 1976 the Hawks got off to a rough start, and Bill Wirtz decided changes needed to be made. But Wirtz wasn’t the type of man to simply call Reay into his office and give him his dismissal with the respect he deserved because that’s how professional organizations were run.
No, Billy Reay was fired with a note slipped under his office door on Christmas Eve. It has not been confirmed that Wirtz sprinted for the exit after slipping said note, but it’s definitely more apt to picture it that way. Needless to say the change didn’t have any effect and the Hawks spent the rest of that season getting pumped under Bill White.
This is how the Hawks were run for decades under the Old Man. Incompetently, selfishly, and cowardly. With three inches of water (we hoped it was water) on the Stadium bathroom floor. Good times.
4. The fax machine debacle in the summer of 2009
In NHL ‘16, one of the first steps of the offseason is sending your Restricted Free Agents a qualifying offer. We have no idea who mails out the qualifying offers in the game. The s— just gets done.
In real life, it’s hard to believe an NHL general manager is running out to the post office on his way home from the bar to mail out qualifying offers but that’s what the Blackhawks wanted us to believe.
On July 2 2009, it was revealed that Troy Brouwer, Kris Versteeg, Ben Eager, Cam Barker, Aaron Johnson and Colin Fraser did not receive their qualifying offers.
The Chicago Blackhawks were coming off one of their more memorable postseason runs in franchise history (up until that point). A Western Conference finalist with a young core that was locked up with relatively favorable contracts (Not you, Cristobal. And sit down, Mr. Byfuglien). They had just kicked off free agency by signing the top player available in Marian Hossa, who later admitted he needed major shoulder surgery and gave us another contender for Weirdest Moment in Franchise History.
Then, this fiasco in the summer happened. (Sort of a theme with this group, isn’t it?)
General Manager Dale Tallon claimed it was he that had mailed out the qualifying offers instead of faxing for reasons that remain undetermined. With July 1 being a Canadian holiday, the players did not receive the offers in time and were on the verge of becoming unrestricted free agents. Kris Versteeg, a Calder finalist that year, was in line for a raise from his $625k. Cam Barker, coming off the best season of his career, was also going to get a bump in pay.
No one – not even their own damn parents – expected either of them to be making well over $3-million each to open up the next season. But that’s exactly what happened as the Hawks were forced to overpay drastically to ensure none of them became unrestricted free agents. This also ensured that neither would play out their contract with the Blackhawks and helped intensify the cap purging of 2010 as Duncan Keith, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews were all getting massive pay bumps the following summer.
In the case of Barker, it didn’t end up mattering much. But for Versteeg, and even Eager, the Hawks probably could’ve used either of them in 2011 or 2012 when they were running out the likes of Andrew Brunette, Daniel Carcillo, 19-year-old Marcus Kruger, Fernando Pisani, Brendan Morrison, or whatever other bum they dressed up as a NHL player during those two forgettable campaigns.
The other fallout was the Hawks immediately reassigned Dale Tallon in the organization and later kicked him to the curb while his assistant, Stan Bowman, took over the reigns and has become a heralded genius. Or BowSTINK, depending on who your main source of information is.
Today, there are still so many unanswered questions from an incident that feels like a side plot in an overrated Aaron Sorkin drama.
Why did they choose to mail the qualifying offers instead of fax?
Whose responsibility was it, really?
Was Dale Tallon backstabbed by his assistant or some other snake in the organization?
Did the players ever end up receiving their qualifying offers in the mail?
Sadly, these questions will remain unanswered and we’re left with a “Choose Your Own Conspiracy Theory.”
5. Patrick Kane press conference
PR Rule #1 – In the time of a crisis, do not also use this time as a way to get across how great you are.
The term marketing genius was thrown around quite a bit when describing John McDonough over his first eight years with the Blackhawks organization. That term was forever thrown out the window on the eve of the 2015 training camp.
To call this story “weird” is a flagrant misnomer and disrespectful to survivors of sexual assault, but not mentioning it in this space and continuing to point out the flaws and misdeeds in its handling would be even more remiss.
On the heels of their third Cup victory in six years, and six weeks after Kane himself proclaimed at the victory rally for everyone to “watch out” during the celebration after his newly minted, carefully crafted, and reformed image after numerous incidents in years past, the beginning of August 2015 found police at Kane’s home investigating claims of sexual assault. From there things only began to spiral further and further out of control in an SVU case even Stabler and Benson could not have held the reins on.
From the third hand reports coming out of Buffalo, to the back and forth between reporters and scummy hangers-on, through the dueling, onto uncomfortable and convoluted chain-of-custody press conferences held by lawyers on all three sides (the District Attorney, Kane’s lawyer, the accuser’s lawyer), the unrelentingly repugnant situation culminated in perhaps the most tone deaf press conference in this franchise’s storied history of them.
Hawks President, and until that point bulletproof, evil marketing genius John McDonough took to the dais at Notre Dame university, a monolith of Catholicism and athletic entitlement and a deeply ironic, bordering on pitch-black satirical commentary of sexual assault in its setting.
McDonough broke the lone rule of public relations in the face of crises, and that’s to list all of the positives the organization has achieved in trying to sidestep every meaningful question as owner Rocky Wirtz and coach Joel Quenneville sat expressionless next to him. These non-answers forced the assembled media (a substantially larger contingent than the Hawks usual adoring press corps) to ask the players their thoughts on the matter. And no one can speak on the adjudication process of sexual assault quite like millionaire entitled athletes with eighth grade educations.
McDonough even went on to actually proclaim “I’m not tone deaf,” during this fiasco. Two days later the Hawks announced a Patrick Kane Bobblehead Night. We won’t even delve into the Garret Ross embarrassment, but it was certainly further proof that McDonough has no idea what “tone-deaf” means.
But hey, everyone appreciates your questions.
Even after no charges were filed against Kane, the whole of the incident left an indelible scar on this franchise, and hockey fans in general.
Honorably Weird: The entire Alpo Suhonen experience
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About the authors: The writers of The Committed Indian are either entitled white men in their 30s who have regressive opinions or are social justice warriors with terrifying leftist politics, depending on who you ask. Both are correct. The site is a den of willfully obtuse cultural name-dropping, rare sobriety, while also writing about hockey occasionally by using the novel concept of a combination of both qualitative and quantitative analysis, without the use of charts that look like a Basquiat nightmare.
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