When the Blackhawks signed restricted free agent Tony Amonte to
a five-year, $14.5 million contract in July, Chicago owner Bill
Wirtz was so excited that he ordered champagne. Certainly it was
a time to rejoice--Amonte, a right wing, carried the Blackhawks'
offense last year with 41 goals--but the bubbly was also a grim
reminder that Chicago has not drunk from the Stanley Cup in 36
years, the NHL's longest championship drought.
Don't look for the streak to end this season. The Blackhawks
didn't make any major additions to a team that barely made the
playoffs (34-35-13) and lost in the first round to the
Avalanche. That leaves Amonte and underachieving center Alexei
Zhamnov (20 goals in 74 games) as the only offensive threats for
Chicago, which scored 50 fewer goals last season than in
1995-96. The Blackhawks need a left wing capable of playing on
the first line, and they hope that 22-year-olds Eric Daze (22
goals) and Ethan Moreau (15 goals) and 1997 first-round draft
pick Dan Cleary, 18, emerge.
Chicago, which moved to the United Center in 1994, finished
below .500 at home last season for the first time since 1957-58.
Players speak wistfully of venerable Chicago Stadium. "We had
such an advantage with the old arena," says 35-year-old
defenseman Chris Chelios. "We had a big, strong team that
intimidated other teams. With our size, we need to get back to
playing the aggressive hockey the Hawks were noted for."
Nobody questions Chelios's toughness, though one might wonder
about his sanity. For two years he has played with a torn
anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. "It's one less
ligament to worry about tearing," he says. "I've worked on my
legs pretty hard over the years, and the muscle holds my knee in
As usual, Chicago is strong on defense, with Keith Carney, Gary
Suter and Eric Weinrich joining Chelios on the back line. Goalie
Jeff Hackett had the league's second-best save percentage (.927)
last season. But he was not content with his performance, and
over the summer he went to Vladislav Tretiak's goaltending camp,
where the Russian great, now Chicago's goalies coach, pushed him
through double sessions for two weeks. "He worked me hard," says
Hackett, 29. He had better get used to it, because the Hawks
face an equally punishing season.