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Blackhawks rebuild began with botched Chelios trade that was never supposed to happen

In Chris Chelios’ new book, Made In America, he says the trade that sent him to Detroit was never supposed to happen. We look back at what the deal brought to Chicago and how it shaped their future.
The Hockey News

The Hockey News

If it were up to Chris Chelios, he never would have left the Chicago Blackhawks.

In his new book, titled Made In America, Chelios goes into detail about the trade that sent him from his hometown Blackhawks to the rival Detroit Red Wings. With former stars Ed Belfour and Jeremy Roenick gone, it was the Blackhawks struggles of 1998-99 that rumors about Chelios began.

"I want to stay in Chicago. I don't know how I can put it simpler,” Chelios told the Chicago Tribune in January 1999. “Things are going bad here, but I'm not the type of player who is going to quit or ask to be traded. My heart is in Chicago and it's always going to be in Chicago."

What was later revealed, both in the media and now in the book, is that Chelios had an agreement with then owner Bill Wirtz, one which would have had Chelios remain a Blackhawk until the end of his contract in 2000. But in February 1999, Blackhawks GM Bob Murray said Chelios had negotiated the contract as though it would be his last with the Blackhawks, which the Hall of Fame defenseman says is not true and a statement that caught him off-guard.

Chelios writes that he placed a call to Wirtz’s lawyer saying he wanted to negotiate an extension. A call back never came. It was then, feeling as if his hand was forced, that Chelios decided to ask for a trade. He was sent to the Detroit Red Wings at the trade deadline on March 23, 1999 in exchange for Anders Eriksson and two first-round draft picks. But by trading one of the greatest players the organization has ever seen, did the Blackhawks really help their rebuild?

If you break down the trade, no single piece came close to making the trade of Chelios worth it. In fact, by the time the rebuild was hitting its stride, every last piece of the trade was gone. The only player the Blackhawks received, Eriksson, would eventually turn into a player they would lose for nothing, Sergei Samsonov.

After three seasons in Chicago, Eriksson was dealt to the Florida Panthers in 2000-01. That trade would bring defenseman Jaroslav Spacek to Chicago, who was later traded to the Edmonton Oilers for the rights to Tony Salmelainen. Salmelainen wouldn’t last as a Blackhawk, playing only 57 games before being packaged with Jassen Cullimore and sent to Montreal for Samsonov. In 2007-08, the first season of the Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews era, Samsonov was demoted to the American League, and was claimed on re-entry waivers by Carolina.

As for the two first-round picks, the Blackhawks whiffed with both. In what were some of the team’s darkest drafting days, the Blackhawks used the 1999 first rounder on defenseman Steve McCarthy and the 2001 selection on Adam Munro.

McCarthy, selected 23rd overall, played in parts of five seasons for Chicago, a total of 134 games, before he was dealt to Vancouver for a 2007 third-round pick. That pick became Josh Unice, a goaltender that made it no further in North America than Canadian college hockey and currently plays in Slovakia.

As for Munro, the goaltender has become a journeyman, spending time in Austria, Russia, Italy, Switzerland, and making a handful of stops throughout North America. He would only play 17 games in the NHL, all for the Blackhawks, picking up only four wins while posting an .887 save percentage and 3.30 goals-against average.

The only way any of the pieces that came to Chicago in exchange for Chelios made an impact is that they were part of abysmal, bottom-feeding teams that resulted in massive turnover and high draft picks. They’re the players that resulted in the teams that helped gift the Blackhawks Kane and Toews.

It’s really not hard to believe that the Blackhawks, especially of that era, could make a mistake with a cornerstone player like Chelios. He was not perceived to be the face of a rebuild in Chicago. In fact, when the rebuild finally came, Chelios was instead part of the 2008-09 Red Wings that defeated the Blackhawks during their first deep run in the playoffs since 1994-95.

In the book, Chelios goes on to say that Murray, by way of Wirtz, had offered him a position with Chicago once his contract was through at the end of 2000. Chelios had bigger plans.

In 2001-02, the second year of his new contract with Detroit, Chelios would finish as the runner-up for the Norris Trophy to teammate Nicklas Lidstrom. And after leaving Chicago, Chelios would go on to play nine full seasons in Detroit before retiring in 2010 as a member of the Atlanta Thrashers.


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