How Bob Pulford traded a pylon for a Hammer.


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 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.

Cryin’ Odelein.

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.


  1. Havis

    Get some sleep for god’s sake…3:30 AM 03-04 draft re-evaluation sounds miserable. At least spend some time watching highlights from your boy Toewes & Kane….jesus

  2. Steve from Glencoe

    As I said when the Panthers named Tallon as their GM, good for them because no current GM is better at getting the first overall pick than him. He is beloved in Chicago but an objective look gives him huge props for the Sharp trade and congrats for picking Kane overall, which all 30 GM’s would have, and having Toews fall to him 3rd in the draft. Other than that he is an empty suit. Please publish the rosters of his Hawk teams. Arkipov as first line center anyone? He tanked for picks in Chicago the ultimate bs GM move. His free agent signing in Florida have been comical. He consistently hires coaches with no NHL experience. His broadcasting style was to blame the refs. With no consensus 1st overall this year. I can’t wait to see how he screws this one up. Perhaps he will wait too long to make a pick and lose it as he did with all those Hawk free agents.

    • Tom Pauly

      I’ve said what I needed to say about Smith on the other thread. But look, Dale Tallon isn’t an elite GM. But he’s done a fine job in the NHL. He’s amassed some good young players in Florida. To say that tanking is a BS move by a GM is stupid. If your team sucks and you amass young talent to get better you have a good chance of improving your team cheaply. That’s how it works in a salary cap era. Actually that’s how it works, period. Your team is bad, you get better draft picks, and if you draft correctly your team gets better.

      He’s doing that by adding players like Pirri, Hayes, Olsen, Bjugstad, Huberdeau, Barkov, Howden, Trocheck, Gudbranson, Kulikov, and having Luongo for a few more years. Those players, for the most part, have been rated highly in their respective drafts or been successful in juniors. It’s a great recipe for turning that franchise around.

      Also, as for the Kane pick, Kyle Turris was the Central Scouting consensus best skater. A handful of folks thought that he, van Riemsdyk, or Kane could go first overall. It wasn’t a total slam dunk.

  3. Steve from Glencoe

    I thought trading Steve Sullivan in the division late in the season for picks was a BS move. The league actually has adjusted the draft now so that teams that do this type of thing are not guaranteed the first overall pick and have to endure a lottery.

    It is hard to have respect for the teams that try to bottom out when Detroit figures out how to stay competitive for 23 years without ever tanking.

    Is it stupid to have integrity? Is it stupid to try put a winning team on the ice for your fans paying big bucks? I think Tallon’s tanking clouded the Cup victory when compared to the way the Wings have won their Cups. And let me say that for decades I hated the Wings until I realized that I was hating greatness.

    As for the Kane draft, I remember that year differently. Turris was tearing up a low level BC league filled with future factory workers and JVR was protected in the US Development Program playing against D3 College Teams. Kane was dominating the Ontario Hockey League and by draft day he was the obvious #1.

    The Hawks had a draft night party at the UC and I am willing to bet my old Jofa helmet there was not a Turris or JVR jersey in the building. There was a Kane jersey.

    • Tom Pauly


      First, the draft lottery has been around for 20 years. It’s not about tanking to get the #1 overall pick all of the time, it’s to increase your odds to do that, or to have a statistically better chance at landing a high impact player.

      Second, here is the Central Scouting ranking of Turris above Kane:

      And no, it’s not stupid to have integrity and it’s not stupid to try and ice a winning team. That’s what you tank for. To build a team that can win. You wanna talk about the Wings? Take a look at how they did until they drafted 4th overall in 1983…

      If your team is not going to compete for a playoff spot, much less a Stanley Cup, you owe it to your fans to build a core to win for a long time. Would you rather be the Calgary Flames, who have been either barely in the playoffs or out for the last decade? Or would you rather be the Hawks, who realized things were bad and decided to build through the draft? The outlook for Chicago is a lot less grim than Calgary.

      The Sullivan trade, for example, is one where there was an asset of value (who was not going to re-sign with Chicago, FYI) and they had a chance to get value in return. It’s a smart deal for a team in the middle of a rebuild. You move value for futures, in the hope that those futures meet or exceed the current player you’re trading. It’s the right move. Then, you continue to draft to well while your team gets better. That’s how you become the Detroit Red Wings.

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