Photo Credit: NHL

By Zane Miller

Deplorable Decades is a series which focuses on the most abysmal decades for individual teams in pro sports history, and no team embodies this concept more than the Chicago Black Hawks (now Chicago Blackhawks) of the 1950’s National Hockey League.

Despite being a largely successful team in the previous decade, which included five playoff appearances and reaching the 1944 Stanley Cup Finals (though they would be swept by the Montreal Canadiens in four games), cracks were already beginning to form by the 1946-47 season as they finished in last place in the standings for the first time since 1938-39. The team would not improve the next season as they again finished at the bottom of the standings, taking back-to-back last place seasons for the first time in nearly 20 years. However, nothing could prepare the citizens of Chicago for the horrendous product which was to come in the future.

Despite breaking their last-place streak the preceding season, the 1949-50 campaign would unfortunately put them right back on track, stumbling to a 22-38-10 record, though this would be one of the tamer dead last seasons for the Black Hawks, as they actually shared the same number of wins with the Boston Bruins, who took the second-to-last spot by the skin of their teeth with six more ties. Black Hawks goaltender and future Hall of Famer Frank Brimsek started in all 70 games, but would retire after finishing with the second-worst goals against average of his career at 3.49.

While 1949-50 was at least somewhat respectable, the 1950-51 season would see the Black Hawks fall off the map completely with a 13-47-10 record, by far the most losses in franchise history to that point to finish in dead last for the second year in a row. The team came nowhere close to the second-to-last place New York Rangers, who took a 20-29-21 finish to just miss out on the playoffs by one point. Surprisingly, Chicago actually had a winning record going over a third of the way through the season, holding an 11-10-6 record on December 16th. After this, they would not win again for another month and a half, with their next victory coming on February 1st to improve to 12-28-9. While the Black Hawks would manage to get one more win, the season would end fittingly with a 12-game losing streak. Although the Black Hawks offense was their saving grace in 1949-50, finishing second in the NHL, they would fall to second-worst in 1950-51 while the defense remained firmly at the bottom for the fifth straight season. Following Brimsek’s retirement, Chicago had looked to another future Hall of Fame goaltender in Harry Lumley, although he too was unable to stop the bleeding with a 3.88 GAA after playing in all 70 games.

The disappointment continued into 1951-52, as the Black Hawks limped to a 17-44-9 record to come in dead last in the standings for a franchise-worst third consecutive season, once again getting beat out by the Rangers for the second-to-last spot. Despite having a better record than 1950-51, this season was statistically even worse, as for the first time since their third season in existence in 1928-29, the Black Hawks ended up in last place in both offense and defense. Longtime forward Bill Mosienko led the team in both goals and points with 31 and 53 respectively, while forward George Gee also had a career-high 31 assists. Lumley again took the net in all 70 games for Chicago, improving his GAA to 3.40 despite the lackluster defense in front of him. However, the 1951-52 campaign would be his last with the team, as he was traded at season’s end to the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Black Hawks would have arguably their best season of the decade in 1952-53, narrowly missing out on their first winning season since 1945-46 with a 27-28-15 record. However, it would be enough to qualify for the postseason for the first time in seven years, with the team bouncing back to have the second-best offense in the league, led by the highest-scoring Irish-born player in NHL history, Jim McFadden, who captured 23 goals and 44 points while teammate Cal Gardner led the team in assists with 24. While their defense was still nothing to write home about, new goaltender Al Rollins put together a comparatively decent 2.50 GAA while also playing every game on the year.

The Black Hawks’ first round opponent would be the Montreal Canadiens, who, despite being two seeds higher, had a relatively similar record to Chicago at 28-23-19. With the opening games being played in Montreal, the Canadiens stormed out to a two-game lead in the series, winning 3-1 and 4-3 respectively thanks to solid goaltending from Montreal’s Gerry McNeil. However, once the series returned to the Windy City, the momentum would shift dramatically as the Black Hawks scored a crucial 2-1 overtime win in game three before evening the series up with a 3-1 win in game four.

Even with the series heading back to the City of Saints in game five, Rollins and company scored a 4-2 win to put the Black Hawks just one step away from reaching the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in nearly 10 years. However, despite game six being back at Chicago Stadium, new Canadiens goaltender Jacques Plante would pull off the only shutout of the series, winning 3-0 to even the series once again. With game seven being played at the Montreal Forum, the Canadiens would capitalize on both momentum and two power play goals to win it 4-1 and capture the series four games to three, ending Chicago’s chances at a third Stanley Cup win. As for the Canadiens, they would go on to defeat the Boston Bruins in five games, thus taking home their seventh Stanley Cup win. Though the 1952-53 season saw the Black Hawks overachieve significantly compared to seasons past, this would only be a brief apparition, as the misery of the 1950’s were indeed far from over.

Stay tuned for Part 2!