Going through the rosters from Hockey Reference, it's clear that Chicago's rebuild really began, even if by happenstance, before the death of franchise owner, Bill Wirtz. In 2002, the Hawks drafted Keith (54th overall) and in 2003, they drafted Seabrook (14th overall). Those two players ultimately laid the foundation for their modern-day defense. The rookie year (2005/06) for both defensemen did not afford them the luxury of playing with any long-term, veteran d-men (unless you count Spacek who played half a season, Cullimore, who played third pairing minutes, or Adrian Aucoin, who played 92 games over two seasons). The Hawks defensive corps was essentially a group of young players who had little NHL experience. Jim Vandermeer and Shawn Thornton were the only defenseman who had any history with the team.
Even with rookies Keith and Seabrook, the Hawks' the 2005/06, post-lockout season was just as bad as their 2003/04 season. With 26 wins and a 0.396 point percentage, they finished 28th overall, a small step up from 29th place, the previous season. They were 29th in goals against, had the last place power-play (12.2%), but were 9th in the league on the penalty kill. In addition to Keith and Seabrook, 8th round pick Dustin Byfuglien played his first 25 NHL games. In 2005 Patrick Sharp was acquired from Philadelphia via trade, Nikolai Khabibulin was signed as a free agent and Radim Vrbata was acquired from Carolina.
2006/07 - The next season saw more changes. Trent Yawney was replaced by Denis Savard. The team still struggled offensively and again had the last place power-play in the league. Tuomo Ruutu had returned from injury and Martin Havlat was acquired from Ottawa.
2007/08 was the first season under the guidance of new owner, Rocky Wirtz, who seemed to breathe a new life into the entire organization. Denis Savard continued as head coach. The team traded Ruutu to Carolina for Andrew Ladd and now added recent draft picks Patrick Kane (72 pts) and Jonathan Toews (54 pts) to the lineup. Sharp was second in scoring with 62 pts. Robert Lang was signed as a free agent and helped out with 21 goals and 54 pts. Dustin Byfuglien (36 pts) emerged as an offensive defenseman and James Wisniewski and Cam Barker both began to show effectiveness at the blue line. They lost Havlat to injury, but acquired Jason Williams via trade with Detroit. Ninth-round pick, Adam Burish played the full season on the fourth line and the team now had 4 defensemen in their top-10 in points on the season. An undrafted free agent, Rene Bourque (signed in 2004) began playing solid minutes on the third line. Kris Versteeg was also "stolen" from Boston for "future considerations." The team finished 3 points out of a playoff spot, but with a +4 goal differential and a point percentage of 0.537.
The 2008/09 season saw another coaching change, with Joel Quenneville taking the reins from Savard just four games into the season. Havlat returned from injury and Lang was traded to Montreal for a second-round pick. Toews and Kane were in their sophomore years and Keith and Seabrook were in their fourth season. Brian Campbell signed as a free agent. With his addition, the team had 4 defensemen with more than 25 points, who combined for a total of 162 points. Dustin Byfuglien had been moved to wing, where he managed 31 points as a forward. Havlat led the team in points and Kris Versteeg emerged as an offensive talent in the top-six. Troy Brouwer played some solid top-nine minutes. Most players finished with positive +/- and the team finished 6th overall with 98 points (0.634%), fourth in goals for, fifth in goals against, and modest special teams performance (PP: 19.3%, PK: 80.6%). They lost the Conference Finals to Detroit in 5 games.
In their Stanley Cup year (2009/10), they acquired Marian Hossa and John Madden and saw a career year from Duncan Keith, putting up 69 points. With Byfuglien back on the blue line, four defensemen combined for 171 points. Dave Bolland played top-six minutes. The team finished with 52 wins (0.683%), finished second overall, third in goals per game, sixth in goals against a modest powerplay (17.7%) and a fourth place penalty kill (85.35). And, of course, they won the Stanley Cup.
Summary of the 2009/10 cup-winning roster:
11 drafted players
- 6 forwards
- 5 defensemen
- 5 first-rounders
- 3 second-rounders
- 1 fourth-rounder
- 1 seventh-rounder
- 1 eighth-rounder
- Average number of post-draft development years: 3.25 (excluding Kane)
8 Free agent signings
- 3 forwards
- 3 defensemen
- 2 goalies
- 1 prospect (defense)
- Average age of NHL free agents: 30.28
5 players acquired through trades
- All 5 forwards
- 1 prospect
- Average age: 22.2
Mike Smith's only contribution to the Hawks' 2009/10 Stanley Cup team was the drafting of Duncan Keith. Keith was a departure from Smith's known propensity for drafting and acquiring European players, which apparently cost him his job.
Former Hawks coach and Jack Adams winner, Bob Pulford was GM from 2003 (interim) to 2005. He's been criticized for being a horrible GM, but he's the guy that was in the chair when Seabrook, Byfuglien, Barker, Burish, Boalland, Bickell, Brouwer and Hjalmarsson were drafted. Pulford also traded for Sharp and Fraser.
Having been with the Hawks since 1998, Dale Tallon was promoted to GM in 2005. Under Tallon, Toews, Keith and Kane were drafted. Tallon also signed Hendry, Sopel, Campbell, Niemi, Huet and Hossa and traded for Versteeg, Ladd and Eager. Tallon was ultimately demoted to senior advisor when Stan Bowman took over as GM. In May of 2010, he became GM of the Panthers and missed the Hawks' Stanley Cup victory. His name was engraved on the cup as a member of the Hawks.
Stan Bowman, who had been with the team since 2001 as special assistant to the GM, director of hockey operations, and assistant GM, took over as GM in the off-season prior to their Stanley Cup season. He signed Madden and Kopecky. He has also drafted a number of promising players who were not on the first Stanley Cup roster, including Marcus Kruger, Brandon Saad and Andrew Shaw.
Under Brian Sutter, the Hawks' struggled badly. Team owner, Bill Wirtz, was not interested in paying large contracts which limited the possibilities for player acquisitions. The team went from being above 0.500 to a low of 0.360, the lowest they'd been since the mid-50's. In 2004, ESPN named the Hawks the worst franchise in professional sports. Not surprisingly, it cost Sutter his job.
When Trent Yawney took over as coach after the 2004/05 lockout, he had Keith (age 22), Seabrook (age 20) and Sharp (age 24). Otherwise, the cupboards were essentially bare. Yawney, a former NHL defenseman, had been a relatively successful AHL coach with the Norfolk Admirals, but struggled in his first year as an NHL head coach. He was fired 21 games into his second coaching season and never coached in the NHL again.
Former Hawks player, Denis Savard, took over as interim coach after the firing of Yawney. He coached the team through some significant improvement, but after missing the playoffs for two years, he was fired 4 games into the 2008/09 season.
Joel Quenneville was hired by the Hawks in September 2008 as a pro scout. Having coached both the Blues and the Avalanche to the playoffs in 9 out of 10 seasons, he was named head coach upon Savard's firing. In his second season, his team won the Stanley Cup.
Comparison to the Oilers
Daryl Katz contends that the Oilers' rebuild began in 2010 with the drafting of Taylor Hall. Next I'll take a closer look at what the Oilers have done since the end of their 2009/10 season and see if there are any significant similarities with the Blackhawks rebuild.