A look at the Chicago Blackhawks’ All-Decade team for the 1980s
This is part of a series detailing the all-decade team for every NHL franchise for the 1980s. The all-time teams were compiled using a mix of skill, longevity and statistics; it is not necessarily the best, most memorably or most talented players. Instead, this is the list of players by each position who had the best numbers over a prolonged period (i.e. at least three full seasons between 1980-81 and 1989-90) during the regular season. A complete list is available here.
Team: Chicago Blackhawks (1980-81 to 1989-90)
342-356-102, .491 WIN PCT, 3,089 GF vs. 3,172 GA, -74 Diff, 10/10 Playoff Appearances, 0 Stanley Cups
Chicago was much weaker than I remembered during the 1980s, and part of that is because of their playoff success. The Blackhawks had the advantage of playing in the Norris division, which meant that one of the Red Wings (pre-glory years), North Stars or Maple always finished behind them, no matter how bad the Hawks were. In fact, the Blackhawks were sub-.500 six times in ten years, and only once finished with at least 90 points (104 points in ’82-83). But they managed to emerge smelling like roses a number of times: they made it to the Conference Finals five times in ten years. Unfortunately, three times resulted in a series against the Edmonton Oilers (’83, ’85 and ’90), who went on to win the Cup each time. A meeting with Calgary had the same result in ’89, and they also lost to the Cinderella Vancouver Canucks in 1982. Chicago’s win percentage was middling at 49.1%, ranking them 11th in the league (exactly in the middle). They could score, with a 3.87 goals-per-game offense ranking 7th. Unfortunately they were pretty bad at defending, allowing 3.97 goals per game (ranked 15th). Ultimately their differential of -74 ranked 12th, which is why their win percentage ranked 11th. But at least they gave the city of Chicago some extended (and exciting) playoff runs.
Left Wing: Al Secord (423 GP, 199-152-351, +8, 1,295 PIM, 25 GWG)
Chicago was never overly deep on the left wing during the 1980s, but Al Secord manages to stand out as a quality player. He was incredibly inconsistent in terms of playing time, but he was dangerous when he played a full year. In his seven seasons in Chicago during the 1980s, he played 77-80 games four times. During those four seasons he scored 44, 54, 50 and 29 goals. He also cleared 75 points three times. He was also exceptionally tough, posting 180+ PIM five times (including 303 in ’81-82). He was also a go-to offensive talent in Chicago, as attested to by his 61 powerplay goals (including 20 PPG in ’82-83 alone).
Centre: Denis Savard (736 GP, 351-662-1,013, +85, 835 PIM, 43 GWG)
Denis Savard was one of the great offensive players of his generation. He unfortunately doesn’t get the respect he deserves because he didn’t win a Stanley Cup during his prime in Chicago, and he was behind Gretzky, Lemieux and Yzerman in terms of skill and profile. But being in the “second tier” with elite-level players like Peter Stastny, Dale Hawerchuk and Bryan Trottier is definitely nothing to sneeze at. Savard played the entire decade in Chicago. He never scored fewer than 23 goals or 82 points. He also had an incredible run from ’81-82 to ’87-88: during that seven-year span he averaged 39 goals and 111 points. He also wasn’t a slouch on the defensive side, posting a +55 rating. He finished the decade with three 40-goal seasons, and four others with 30+. He cleared 100 points five times, including a high of 131 in ’87-88. Not only was he a threat on the power play (96 PPG), but he also developed into a threat on the penalty kill as well (scoring 12 SHG combined in ’87-88 and ’88-89). He also contributed an impressive 43 game-winning goals. By far the best Chicago forward of the decade, and one of the classiest skilled players of the 1980s.
Right Wing: Steve Larmer (647 GP, 298-380-678, +112, 283 PIM, 31 GWG)
Larmer had a few brief stints with Chicago early in the decade before making the team for good in ’82-83. He played every single game for Chicago the rest of the decade. In eight full seasons for Chicago during the 80s, he had four 40+ goal seasons, three 30+ goal seasons and a 28-goal season. He also had 40+ assists each year. He was double-digit for powerplay goals seven years in a row, finishing with 111. And he was also reliable in the clutch, with 31 game-winning goals (10% of his total). He was a consistent offensive threat, recording at least 184 shots on goal for eight consecutive seasons. He was one of the most reliable players in the NHL during the 1980s.
Defense: Doug Wilson (681 GP, 183-435-618, +84, 553 PIM, 19 GWG)
Doug Wilson was one of the more talented offensive defenseman of the decade, and a huge part of the Blackhawks blueline. He was fairly durable, playing in at least 66 games in all but one season during the 1980s. He had double-digit goals and 48+ points in every season except an injury-shortened year in ’87-88. He had three seasons of 20+ goals and 70+ points, including a career year of 39 goals and 85 points in ’81-82. His booming slapshot was deadly from the point, as he scored 64 powerplay goals. He also had 240+ shots on goal eight times. He was fairly consistent defensively as well, recording a positive +/- rating in eight seasons including five seasons in the +13 to +24 range.
Defense: Bob Murray (644 GP, 72-286-358, +34, 619 PIM, 7 GWG)
Honourable Mention to Keith Brown
Bob Murray wasn’t as skilled as Wilson, but he was no less integral to Chicago’s defense. Although his offensive production and +/- rating worsened over the course of the decade, he was a quality defenseman for Chicago for the entire decade. He had six consecutive seasons of 30+ points, including a high of 60 in ’80-81. He didn’t score a huge number of goals (he was typically in the 6-9 goal range), although half of his markers came on the powerplay (34 PPG). He was up-and-down defensively, typically posting a +/- in the -9 to +6 range. But he played on some weaker regular season squads, so that is understandable. Overall he was +34 during a time when the team was -74. Honourable mention to Keith Brown, another solid, physical defender for Chicago during the 80s. But Brown’s offensive numbers weren’t as strong as Murray’s, so Murray gets the nod.
Goalie: Tony Esposito (175 GP, 76-69-30, 3 SO, 4.02 GAA, 0.878 PCT*)
*NOTE: Save Percentage for ’82-83 and ’83-84 seasons only
Chicago struggled mightily in net post-Esposito. Bob Sauve had good numbers, but only played two seasons. Murray Bannerman played quite a few seasons in Chicago, but was sub-.500 overall and his successful period was short-lived. And Darren Pang was a flash in the pan, so the twilight of Esposito’s career gets the nod. Esposito had two good seasons and two poor seasons in the 80s. ’80-81 and ’82-83 were strong; above .500 record, sub-4.00 GAA. ’81-82 was an ugly season, and his final year in ’83-84 is better left forgotten. It is unfortunate that Chicago didn’t have a truly skilled successor to take the reins from Esposito, but he did his best to shore up a weak defensive team during the first half of the decade.