CHICAGO – At the end of the 1960s, the Blackhawks weren’t playing the way they had at the beginning of the decade.
The 1961 Stanley Cup title seemed a long way away when the team went 34-33-9 to finish last in the NHL’s East Division, which featured the “Original Six” teams in the league. Because of that, the Blackhawks missed the playoffs for the first time since 1958.
That offseason, the team was able to pick up a goaltender from the Montreal Canadiens in the intraleague draft, getting him for $25,000. It seemed like a simple pick-up at the time, but it would be a move that would have an incredible impact on the franchise for years to come.
It’s a legacy that’s been talked about since Tony Esposito’s death at the age of 78 Tuesday after a short battle with pancreatic cancer.
Starting with that first season in 1969-1970, the goaltender changed the trajectory of the franchise, as his 15 shutouts and 2.17 goals-against average helped the Blackhawks improve from 77 to 99 points. They’d make it to the Final Four of the NHL playoffs that season as Esposito was the Calder and Vezina Trophy winner.
He’d help the team back to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in ten years in 1971 and would do so again in 1973, and until his retirement in 1984 the Blackhawks made the playoffs every single season. Esposito’s 418 wins in goal along with his 74 shoutouts remain the best in franchise history as he finished with three Vezina Trophies along with six All-Star appearances.
That earned Esposito a spot in the Hockey Hall of Fame, which he was elected to in 1988, which was the same year he had his No. 35 retired by the Blackhawks.
Yet his time with the franchise didn’t end after his retirement, as Esposito had another era with the franchise that began in 2008.
With the team taking on a new direction, the goaltender along with a few others returned to the team as ambassadors. They were visible around the United Center along with other marquee games for the team at the end of the 2000s then in the 2010s, when the Blackhawks won three Stanley Cups.
Larry Hawley had this tribute to Esposito’s career in Chicago on Wednesday’s WGN News Now at 3 PM, and you can watch it in the video above.