My favourite Dominik Hasek story may not be true and is actually more a tale about Mike Keenan.
But it’s a fun one, so here goes.
You hear a lot of interesting—if not entirely factual—yarns in this line of work, and somewhere along the way I picked up a story about Hasek from his days with the Chicago Blackhawks in the early 1990s. (Yeah, remember that?) Mike Keenan was the team’s coach at the time and, as you’ll recall, he had a somewhat acrimonious relationship with Chicago’s fiery starter, Ed Belfour.
According to lore, Keenan was convinced Hasek—who played a total of 25 games for the Hawks from 1990 to ’92—could be the team’s No. 1. That being the case, Keenan figured the club could deal Belfour for one hell of a return, finding all the missing pieces required to win the Stanley Cup. But deals of that magnitude are tough to clear with upper management, and the Hawks brass wasn’t about to OK swapping a still-young goalie with a Vezina Trophy on his shelf to clear a path for some skinny Czech who played a single NHL game before his 26th birthday.
Instead, Hasek was quietly traded to Buffalo in the summer of 1992 for Stephane Beauregard and a fourth-round pick in a deal that dramatically altered the NHL crease landscape for the rest of the decade.
Stories about Hasek, Peter Forsberg, Mike Modano and Rob Blake will be making the rounds for the next little while after all four were voted into the Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday. There will be plenty to talk about because each player carved out a unique legacy that’s worth examining.
More than any other goalie, Hasek could elevate an average team to greatness. The Buffalo Sabres had some plucky players in 1998-99, but you have to wonder if that club would have even made the playoffs without Hasek. Instead, thanks to his otherworldly goaltending, Buffalo lost the Cup final to the Dallas Stars in six games on Brett Hull’s infamous foot-in-the-crease goal.
A season earlier, at the 1998 Olympics, Hasek posted a .961 save percentage en route to a gold medal for the Czechs at the first Games that included NHLers. At his zenith, from 1993 to 2001—when he won six Vezinas trophies and back-to-back MVPs in 1997 and '98—Hasek impacted the outcome of games as much as anyone in hockey history.
Number of note: Led the NHL in save percentage for six consecutive seasons from 1993-94 through 1998-99.
When it came to establishing Europeans’ credibility in the NHL, Forsberg finished what his countryman, Borje Salming, started. Salming was the trailblazer willing to stand up to whatever the goons threw at him; Forsberg was the thorny two-way centre who proved once and for all that guys from Sweden could play just as tough as grinders from Saskatchewan.
Though plagued by injuries, especially toward the end of his career, Forsberg’s top gear was one few players could match. At the 1993 world juniors, he had 31 points in seven games. In terms of career assists-per-game, only Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Bobby Orr and Sidney Crosby top Forsberg. “Foppa” was an absolute force.
Number of note: In both 1999 and 2002, Forsberg led the playoffs in scoring despite the fact his team did not compete in the final.
With Hasek and Forsberg, you could watch a period of hockey and get a sense of their impact. To measure Modano’s worth, you had to see him night after night—and you would see him, because durability was a huge part of what made Modano great. The Stars legend played 76 games or more in 16 of his 20 non-lockout-shortened seasons.
Just the second American ever to be selected first overall, Modano was an absolute natural, a smooth-as-silk skater with hands and vision. Other centres of his time—Forsberg, Steve Yzerman, Joe Sakic—got more acclaim, but Modano’s skills cannot be overlooked.
Number of note: Modano scored 75 points as a 19-year-old rookie in 1989-90 but finished second in Calder Trophy voting to former Soviet national team player Sergei Makarov—who was 31. The NHL has since incorporated an age criteria for Calder eligibility.
Any time you win a Norris Trophy with the likes of Nicklas Lidstrom, Chris Pronger, Scott Niedermayer and Chris Chelios around, you’ve done something. Blake was a workhorse for two decades in the league and got his due in 1998, when he was named the league’s best defenceman. Blake had a six-foot-four, 220-pound frame and a big brain to match. He could dominate games physically but separated himself by displaying the hockey acumen his position—perhaps more than any other—calls for.
Number of note: Blake averaged 29:26 of ice in 23 games during Colorado’s run to the 2001 Cup.