When Rocky Wirtz took over as Chairman of the Blackhawks in October of 2007, the front office was in the middle of a rebuilding process on the ice. The Hawks were working toward a return to relevance and were looking to two talented rookies, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, to help him them get there.
Meanwhile the rest of the organization was faced with an equally important and difficult task: repairing the relationship between the team, the fans, and the legends. After years of dissension, disputes, and disappointment, the new Hawk brass had to change the culture.
The first step toward a brighter future was putting home games back on television. The next was recognizing and respecting the past. So the Blackhawks brought back Tony Esposito, Bobby Hull, and Stan Mikita, and named them team ambassadors along with Denis Savard.
Then came "Heritage Nights" designed to bring back some of the all-time greats to be honored with a ceremonial puck drop, a pre-game video, and a handful of in-game tributes.
Glenn Hall, Steve Larmer, the 1961 Stanley Cup squad, Tony Amonte, the late Bob Probert, Jeremy Roenick, the “MPH” line (Pit Martin, Jim Pappin and Dennis Hull), and Chris Chelios have all returned to the Madhouse to be honored.
With the 2011-2012 season only months away, people are wondering who could be next. Here are six players that the Original Six franchise should honor with a Heritage Night.
Long before Pat and Edzo, there was Lloyd Pettit. A Chicago legend, Pettit brought the game to life, inspiring broadcasters like Pat Foley and Bob Miller, and fathering a generation of Blackhawks fans.
Pettit joined the Blackhawks in 1961 during one of the most exciting eras of Chicago hockey with Stan Mikita, Bobby Hull, and Tony Esposito. He was to the Hawks what Harry Caray was to the Cubs.
His broadcasts were a luxury to a fan-base that didn't always have the means to watch games on television. My Dad will often tell stories of staying up late as a kid, holding a transistor radio under his pillow listening to Pettit and waiting for his famed signature call, "A shot...AND A GOAL!"
After those goals, Pettit would stand in his broadcast booth and hold the mic out to let the audience hear the roar of Chicago Stadium.
Though he passed in 2003, a Lloyd Pettit Heritage Night would be a welcome treat, especially for the baby-boomer Blackhawks fans. It would be a chance for them to reminisce about childhood memories and transistor radios. For the newer fans who have hopped on the bandwagon in recent years, it would be an opportunity to familiarize themselves with a huge part of Blackhawks history.
The Blackhawks already honored the entire 1961 Cup-winning team with a Heritage Night. And his No. 3 hangs from the United Center rafters, shared with the late Keith Magnuson. But couldn't hurt to give Pilote, the captain of the '61 squad, one more small token of appreciation.
Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1975, Pilote played in 890 regular season NHL games, scoring 80 goals and handing out 418 assists. 477 of his 498 career points came with Chicago, which puts him at 17th on the franchise's all time list.
He has some hardware too. Pilote won the Norris Trophy in three consecutive seasons from 1963-1965, and played in the All Star Game eight times.
Pilote came before Bobby Orr and revolutionized the blueline. The offensive-minded defenseman joined the Blackhawks in 1955 and helped lead Chicago out of the cellar and to the top of the hockey world in 1961. During the Hawks' cup run, he tallied 15 playoff points, which was tops in the league.
Despite his 5-foot-10 frame, Pilote played a physical game. He once led the league in penalty minutes (1960-1961: 165) and registered 1,251 career PIM's.
Pilote turns 80 this December - a Heritage Night would be the perfect gift for one of the greatest players to dawn a Blackhawks uniform.
When Gary Suter won the Calder Trophy in 1986, it marked the first time an American-born player had won the award. He would spend the better part of nine years in Calgary before coming to Chicago in the 1993-1994 season. And while his best statistical years may have come in a Flames jersey, Blackhawks fans still remember his time in an Indian sweater fondly.
The last name Suter is sort of an American institution, having represented the U.S. in international competition for many years. Gary's brother Bob was a member of the 1980 "Miracle on Ice" squad. His nephew, Bob's son, Ryan currently plays for the Nashville Predators and dawned the red, white, and blue for the silver medal-winning team at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Gary himself played in eight worldwide competition, including two Olympics, winning a silver medal in 2002. He also helped he United States capture the first-ever World Cup of Hockey crown in 1996.
A native of Madison, Wisconsin, Suter had 179 points with the Blackhawks and 844 for his career, which ranks fourth in NHL history among American defensemen.
Two days ago, his professional and international contributions were recognized with an election to the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame. He will be inducted in a ceremony this fall along with his former Hawk teammate, Chris Chelios.
The United Center never has a problem getting up for the National Anthem. And American ex-Hawks have been well represented at Heritage Nights - Tony Amonte, Jeremy Roenick, and Chelios are all past honorees. It's time to salute Suter...
Before 2010, the last time the Blackhawks had been to the Stanley Cup Final was in the 1991-1992 season. Jonathan Toews was four years old. Dirk Graham was Captain.
Graham never got to hoist the Cup like Toews, but he was just as good a leader...with infinitely better facial hair.
Acquired during the 1987-1988 season in a trade with the Minnesota North Stars, Graham wore the "C" for six and a half of the eight years he spent in Chicago and had his best years as a Hawk.
Graham won the Selke Trophy as the best defensive forward in 1991 and made a living on special teams. He is tied with Theo Fleury for 9th all-time in career short-handed goals with 35 - more than players like Pavel Bure, Joe Sakic, Mats Sundin, and Jeremy Roenick.
His 26 short-handed goals with the Blackhawks is a franchise record. Patrick Sharp is the closest among active players with 15. He also has the team record for most short-handed goals in a single season with ten.
After he retired from playing, Graham took his leadership qualities to the bench as an assistant for the Blackhawks. Then he became a scout, and briefly served as head coach in 1998-1999.
He is now back in scouting, but for the San Jose Sharks, a team that visits the Blackhawks twice this upcoming season...Just saying.
But if there is a Dirk Graham Heritage Night, he has to bring the 'stache back with him.
Drafted by the Hawks with the 6th pick in the 1977 NHL Amateur Draft, Wilson went on to play 938 games across 14 seasons in Chicago. The puck-moving blue-liner represented the Blackhawks in the NHL All Star Game seven times.
He spent the final two years of his career in San Jose, where he became the first captain in Sharks' franchise history. But as a 1999 Chicago Sports Hall of Fame inductee, Wilson will always be remembered as a Hawk.
When he ended his career, Wilson was the top-scoring defenseman and fifth highest-scoring skater in Blackhawks history with 779 points. His 225 goals and 554 assists are also tops among D-men in their respective categories.
Wilson has found substantial success as the executive vice president and general manager of the San Jose Sharks. He has overseen four Pacific division championships, a President's Trophy, and consecutive trips to the Western Conference Finals the past two years.
The Sharks visit the United Center twice during the 2011-2012 season, first on December 11 and then again on January 15, 2012.
Perhaps the Hawks could kill to Sharks with one stone by letting Wilson and Graham wear the Indian Head for one more night.
Just over a month ago, Ed Belfour was inducted to the Hockey Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. When reflecting on his 17 years in the NHL, he said being traded from the Blackhawks was "the worst day of [his] career." Well Eddie, it was one of the fans' worst days too.
The "Eagle" is owner of one of the most remarkable rookie seasons in NHL history. After winning the starting job from Jimmy Waite and Dominik Hasek, Belfour went on to post a 43-19-7 record with .910 save percentage and a 2.47 goals against average. He won the Calder, the Vezina, and the Jennings Trophy.
He was also nominated for the Hart Trophy, but the league must have felt sorry for the rest of the league as they gave it to Brett Hull.
Belfour won the Vezina again in 1993. But egos and a bitter contract dispute led to the his exit from Chicago. When he left, he trailed only Tony Esposito and Glenn Hall in Blackhawks history in games played by a goalie (415) and wins (201). Belfour also ranked fourth with 30 career shutouts as a Hawk.
Ultimately Belfour won 484 games - third most in league history - and posted 76 shutouts. His unique style made for countless highlight reel saves, and also helped him win a Stanley Cup.
It seems now more than ever that Belfour and the Blackhawks are ready to reconcile. Both parties should heed Chris Chelios' advice: "let bygones be bygones" and enjoy a Heritage Night.
If anyone deserves one, it's the Eagle.