Monday morning I was wide awake at 3:30 am, and unable to sleep. So like a normal person I spent a handful of minutes during a commercial break of a DVR’d episode of Law & Order looking at hilarious things Mike Milbury has done in his career. That led me down an Internet rabbit-hole that consisted of Hockey-Reference.com and other crap that I’ve forgotten about. I completely missed out on whether or not Sam Waterston and Elizabeth Rohm convicted some guy for shooting some other guy or something because I started looking at trades at the NHL trade deadline from 2003 and 2004. I found out that Milbury Milburied the Blackhawks a high quality item for a vodka-drenched garbage hill.
Before we get to how the Blackhawks got Mike Milbury to take a pile of their crap for a valuable asset, we need to set the stage for the 2004 NHL Trade Deadline…
The 2002 Blackhawks rode the tight ship of Brian Sutter to a 5th seed in the playoffs and General Manager Mike Smith somehow put together a team that won more games than they lost. Seriously, look at this team. Winning more than losing was a remarkable feat for the veteran GM during his time in the Windy City. However, the Hawks’ moves prior to the 2002 deadline highlighted the ineptitude that would eventually get Smith fired at the beginning of the 03-04 season.
In 2001-2002, the Blackhawks were near the middle of the pack in both goals for and goals against, but were abysmal on the penalty kill. They finished the year 27th in the league at 81.47%. Smith attempted to shore up the PK before the playoffs by moving a riskier, offensive defenseman (Jaroslav Spacek) and a second round pick for 33 year-old aircraft carrier Lyle Odelein. Odelein joined a blue line that already featured 36 year-old Joe Reekie, 37 year-old Phil Housley, 33 year-old Steve Poapst, 30 year-old Chris McAlpine, 31 year-old Alexander Karpovtsev, and 26 year-old Vladimir Chebaturkin (who would never play another season in the NHL). There may not have been an older/worse/slower group of defensemen in Blackhawks history.
So yeah, that team sucked and was knocked out of the playoffs in the first round by St. Louis in 5 games.
The following year the Sutter magic wore off, and as the 2003 trade deadline approached it was obvious that the Hawks needed to blow everything up and rebuild. Smith basically held a garage sale and moved Housley, Odelein, Sergei Berezin, Andrei Nikolishin, Michael Nylander, and Stumpy Thomas for draft picks and other, lesser-known bad players. Only one of those picks was ever a useful thing for Chicago – Troy Brouwer.
Obviously, the 2003-2004 Blackhawks were going to be terrible and Bob Pulford got the itch to make awful decisions in the front office for a few months again, so Chicago fired Smith and Pully took over.
Shockingly, Ol’ Pully’s moves that year were not that crappy – some of that may have to do with the fact that Dale Tallon was assisting him. The Alex Zhamnov trade led the Hawks to nab up the pick that would give them Ronnie Pickle and the rights to Colin Fraser, amongst other smaller deals that weren’t exactly losses for Chicago.
BUT. The big deal. The deal that might be the best trade in Chicago Blackhawks history was the one that occurred on March 9th, 2004. We’ll let Pat Foley take you through this one:
Now, listen, the fact that Pulford and Tallon got anything for Alex Karpovtsev was remarkable. We all know that he sucked. But Pully managed to get a 2005 fourth round pick for a guy who ended up only playing in THREE games for the Islanders. Mike Milbury gave up less for Jason Blake a few years prior.
To say it was a fleecing is probably an overstatement. But what the Blackhawks did with that fourth round pick is select a defenseman who could currently would be a top pairing guy on many teams in the NHL. He’s got two Stanley Cups, a Silver Medal from Sochi, and a contract that I’d like to take out for a nice dinner. His name: Niklas Hjalmarsson.
Granted, the positioning of that draft choice had a lot to do with the Islanders making the playoffs as an 8 seed in ’04 and the stupid draft rules of a lockout year, but it sure is fun knowing that Mike Milbury kind of, sort of in a weird way traded Niklas Hjalmarsson for Alexander Karpovtsev.