(Photo: Chicago Blackhawks social media)
The Blackhawks‘ first-round exit in last season’s playoffs may seem like a significant loss for the franchise. But, as we embark on a new season, with its clean slate and hopeful possibilities, it’s time we reflect on the real losses Chicago has suffered since last year.
On August 7, hockey and Blackhawks legend Stan “Stosh” Mikita died at 78 after a heart-wrenching battle with years-long illness. The Hockey Hall-of-Famer had been fighting the progressive illness, Lewy Body Dementia (similar to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases) for several years.
His family shared word of the illness in 2015, as the Blackhawks made their Cup run.
Mikita, whose number “21” was retired and raised to the rafters in 1980, was a center for the Hawks from 1958-1980.
He retired with 1,467 points (926 assists and 541 goals) in 1,394 games, earning the Hart Trophy as MVP in 1967 and 1968, the leading scorer Art Ross Trophy in 1964, 1965, 1967, and 1968. The Lady Byng Trophy in 1967 and 1968 made him a three-award winner for two consecutive years.
He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1983.
He’s credited with discovering and capitalizing the benefits of a curved stick when he accidentally bent his blade at practice in the 1960s. The noticeable change in velocity led him and other players to start curving their blades using heat.
According to LockerRoomDoctor.com, Mikita was one of few players who chose to wear a helmet in the 1960s.
“Next summer,” he said, “I want to be able to mow the lawn, not push up daisies.”
In 2011, a bronze statue of Mikita was unveiled outside the United Center.
He spent years as an official Blackhawks ambassador, and, even off-the-clock, was known for his kindness and sense of humor with fans.
Last season, the team featured Mikita’s grandsons for a special “One More Shift” ceremony.
After he left the Blackhawks in the 2017-2018 season with a debilitating skin condition, plus side effects to the medication intended to treat it, and being placed indefinitely on the long-term injured reserve, Marian Hossa‘s contract (and its $5.25 million cap hit through 2021) was traded to the Arizona Coyotes in July—officially closing the door on any remaining hopes for his return to the ice.
The team issued a statement:
“Today is another example of the leadership Marian has displayed as a member of the Chicago Blackhawks organization. When we approached him to discuss the idea of him waiving his no move clause to allow us to make this move, it became clear this was a difficult thing for him to consider.
“After the success he has had in a Blackhawks jersey, the friends he has made throughout the organization and the fact his heart will always be in Chicago, the thought of disassociating in any way from the team he has come to love was not something he really wanted to give any thought to at all. But, as the consummate team player, he did what he has always done. He did what the team needed him to do in order to succeed.
“Marian’s long-term contributions to the club will never be forgotten…On behalf of the entire organization, we would like to thank Marian—a world-class player—for all he has done for the Chicago Blackhawks.”
While he has been a valuable player on the ice since he joined the Blackhawks in 2009—with three Stanley Cups, 186 goals, and 229 assists—coaches and teammates have recognized him for his leadership presence in the locker room and on the bench.
General Manager Stan Bowman spoke about Hossa before his condition was announced:
“Marian is probably the biggest reason that (our) culture changed. When he came here, we had a lot of young players…trying to learn their way in the NHL. Here we have Marian come in, and he handles every situation with the perfect amount of humility and class.
“Off the ice he helped establish a tradition and a culture here that’s going to live on for decades and decades.”
He’s widely-recognized as one of the best two-way players in the league who never slowed down until his health required it.
In 19 NHL seasons that included stints in Pittsburgh and Detroit, Hossa accumulated 1,134 points (525 goals, 609 assists) in 1,309 regular-season games, and 149 points (52 goals, 97 assists) in 205 postseason contests. Only 44 other players in NHL history exceeded 500 goals in their career.
Captain Jonathan Toews told media how hard it was to see Hossa go:
“It’s heartbreaking what he has to go through when you know it’s too soon. He has a ton left on the table. I could almost see him being one of those (Jaromir) Jagrs that is playing for another six or seven years. It’s tough to see.”
Starting a new season seems like a big challenge with beloved legends left behind. But, the time is here.