That’s not just a stupid title. During our first year as a blog, intrepid reader Eric Rabbers made us t-shirts of Martin Havlat as Jesus and printed up prayer cards to him, that I believe we read out loud before Game 1 against Vancouver in 2009. That’s how deep the psychosis went.
If you’re a newish fan, and it’s no problem if you are, you might look at Havlat’s three years in Chicago and wonder why older fans like us still go weak in the knees whenever we see his name (or a picture of his face, because… well, I mean, c’mon). It’s hard to explain just how deep the malaise had set in when Marty arrived.
After Tony Amonte, which is saying something in itself, the Hawks didn’t have one player where you thought anything could happen (in a good way) when he hopped over the boards. Sure, Tuomo Ruutu promised much but delivered little. It wasn’t just that the Hawks were bad… they were listless. They were boring. They were essentially beige. The losses piled up but you couldn’t even pick out a moment from any of them that you remembered. They just became this white noise of suck. And a lot of us couldn’t bear to watch anymore.
When Havlat arrived before the ’06-’07 season, it was what I imagine an alien landing amongst us would feel like. Not only had a lot of us not seen anything like this in a long time, a lot of fans hadn’t seen anything like this at all, and it was hard to compare him to anything around him. Not only had the Hawks had really no genuine top line players for four or five season, you could argue they didn’t have any top six players for four or five years. Havlat was so far above anything around him… it was like how Chuck Klosterman described trying to review Chinese Democracy: “It’s like being asked to describe a unicorn. Do I compare it to other unicorns? Do I compare it to horses?”
And in some ways, as much as he dazzled us those first seven games–he had seven goals in them and 11 points and the only game he didn’t have multiple points or a goal in was the one he got hurt in-we felt terrible about having him in this wasteland. He was doing things only a few guys in the league could do, and he was doing it in front of like 300 drunks or shut-ins who simply didn’t have anywhere else to go. He didn’t belong here.
He only played 56 games that year but still put up 57 points, and ever return from injury was greeted with utter joy by whatever fans there were. Not that we thought he could turn the Hawks into anything, because that was an impossible task. But just because he gave us something to watch, and we knew that if we stuck through whatever slog they had that particular night, we might be rewarded with a moment that would bring us to our feet.
Which is why ’08-’09 remains a lot of fans’ favorite season, even with the Cups. The Hawks came out of the shadows, and for one season Havlat was able to shake off his injury problems to show what he could be. It’s been washed away by the Cups now, but that season Havlat was far and away the best Hawks forward, and probably best player overall. And this was our big reward. The Hawks hadn’t become trendy yet, the ticket prices were actually still quite cheap, and all of us who had stuck it out through the hockey nuclear winter that was Chicago basically went to every game. And every game was a party, with a team doing things that had only been a rumor to us before. The kind of passing and pace the Hawks played with, we only heard or saw that in flashes from other teams. In a lot of ways, it was like making out with a girl for the first time. The descriptions you’d heard didn’t do it justice, and you thought you might faint at any moment from the rush.
And Marty was the best part of that. He had games where he simply dominated every shift. He got a 47-point season out of Dave Bolland, for fuck’s sake. When Kane and Toews struggled at times in their first season on a real contender, Marty was there to pull the team’s ass out of a sling. When the team froze a bit in its first playoff game, it was Marty who rolled out from the corner and said, “Fuck this, I’m scoring now.” He did it again in overtime. He did it again when the Vancouver series was in serious danger of slipping away in Game 4. Sadly, it all ended when Niklas Kronwall sent him to Jupiter in Game 3, and he was never the same (though he did play the next game, but the Hawks have always cared about concussions!).
Yeah, Marty’s exit was acrimonious. And he was moved out for Hossa, which even Havlat would tell you is the right move. He never hit the heights in Minnesota or San Jose, but I can assure you there wasn’t a Hawks fan who watched him those three years who didn’t want him to.
I wonder what my life would have looked like if Havlat hadn’t arrived. If I had had to watch the same kind of farm runoff that skated at the United Center in ’05-’06 for another season I may have never come back. Marty at least reminded me what was possible and what it should look like. I know I’m not alone.
Anyway, wanted to write this after reading his piece on the union’s site today. I’m glad he’s found a comfort with everything, because you’d understand if he was angry how his body let him down. It would have been great to see him have that one, comeback season. I guess I’ll be content with the images of him scorching Cory Perry in overtime, or beating Luongo when the Hawks had to have it, or 12 seconds or any of the other moments that reminded us why we bothered in the first place.