History says ‘Hawks and expectations don’t mix

By Jeffrey Bartl

The Chicago Blackhawks‘ 2009-10 season looks on the surface to be one of the most successful in franchise history. Sure, there are question marks. Every team has them. They added, they subtracted, they rearranged. Now, it’s almost time to hit the ice while carrying the burden of some of the highest expectations this great Original Six franchise has ever had to live up to.

Chicagoans certainly remember the 1985 Chicago Bears. The “Monsters of the Midway” dominated in laughable fashion.

And then, it was all over. No more Super Bowls, despite enough talent to have created a dynasty. The Bears’ regular season records following the 1985 championship? 14-2, 11-4, 12-4, 6-10, 11-5, 11-5. No championships. 65-30 over the course of six seasons, five division titles, zero championships. The Bears created an epic dynasty of failed expectations.

I can’t help but think of the early-90s Blackhawks in nearly the same manner — teams with enough talent to bring multiple championships to Chicago, yet they failed to get over the hump.

After back-to-back runs to the Campbell Conference Finals in 88-89 (lost to Calgary) and 89-90 (lost to Edmonton), Mike Keenan’s Blackhawks rode into the 90-91 season poised to bring home the franchise’s first Stanley Cup since 1961. Led by Steve Larmer’s 101 points and 94 more from a 21-year-old phenom named Jeremy Roenick, the Blackhawks possessed enough offensive firepower to make the job easy for their 25-year-old rookie goalie, Ed Belfour, who captured the Calder and Vezina Trophy that season.

Chicago’s 106 points won the franchise it’s first Presidents Trophy, and the Blackhawks headed into the Norris Division playoffs against the Minnesota North Stars who finished with a mere 68 points — 38 behind the Blackhawks.

Six games later, the Blackhawks were headed home as Minnesota rode it’s momentum all the way to the Stanley Cup Final. Still, the expectations continued to grow.

The ‘Hawks only finished with 88 points the following season, but finally got past the Edmonton Oilers and into the Stanley Cup Final, only to be swept away by the Pittsburgh Penguins. Another 106-point season followed that Campbell Conference championship. And another disappointing, first-round loss at the hands of the 4th-place Norris finisher came with it. St. Louis sent the ‘Hawks packing with a four-game sweep.

Years of mediocrity ensued until recently. Now, the franchise is back in the spotlight. Talks of Stanley Cup glory, thoughts of a potential dynasty with a young core of talent, stars in the making… we’ve been down this road before.

And that’s why this upcoming season scares me half to death. We’re in possibly for one huge letdown. Despite the question marks, this city isn’t going to be excited over another Western Conference Finals appearance. The history of the Blackhawks not living up to their expectations isn’t helping my fear of what this season could become. There’s a reason they haven’t won a Stanley Cup since 1961.

Let’s just hope history doesn’t repeat itself.

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