Sunday June 16, 2013

No matter how the Stanley Cup Final between Boston and Chicago ends, these teams have been, and are, forever linked together.

The fates of the Bruins and the Blackhawks came together on May 15, 1967. That was the day the Boston team became what we all know as the "Big, Bad Bruins."

That was when Bruins general manager Milt Schmidt, in one of his first moves, acquired Ken Hodge, Fred Stanfield and some guy named Phil Esposito for Pit Martin, Jack Norris and Gilles Marotte. Martin and Marotte had very good NHL careers with the Blackhawks.

However, this trade is one that you put on par with Dan Duquette's fleecing of the Seattle Mariners -- acquiring Jason Varitek and Derek Lowe for Heathcliff Slocumb.

If the Bruins don't make that trade in 1967, we might not be talking about these two teams playing in the Stanley Cup Final.

The Esposito trade helped the Bruins win Stanley Cups in 1970 and 1972. Esposito and Hodge were part of the NHL's best front line and, when paired with defenseman Bobby Orr, turned the sport on its ear with the way they scored goals.

Nobody would argue that Orr is the greatest defenseman to ever lace up skates. To me, however, Esposito was a real game changer at center. He scored goals and did so by parking himself in front of the crease and using his strength. That wasn't how centers used to play in the league. They were more likely to pick up assists than goals.

Esposito's success in Boston changed how centers played, and it's fair to say that Espo begat Mark Messier and many of today's modern scoring centers.

Hodge became almost as much of a household name in Boston as anyone else, and continues to have a name in New England. Stanfield was more of a second or third-line player, but he was an outstanding two-way hockey player and a key member of the team.

The Blackhawks, who won a Stanley Cup in 1961, didn't win another Cup until three seasons ago. One has to wonder if they didn't make the Esposito deal, if that long dry spell would have happened.

Conversely, without Esposito and Hodge, one can imagine that the Big, Bad Bruins never come to pass, and hockey fans in New England might still be waiting for a first Cup since 1941.

Unfortunately for Esposito, he remains somewhat bitter over being traded from the Blackhawks and then from the Bruins to the Rangers in the 1970s.

In an interview with the Toronto Sun, Esposito said, "I have no feeling for these teams. There's nothing emotional about it. They both got rid of me, traded me."

Imagine the stories Esposito could be telling today about his time with both teams. He'd be quoted far and wide. But Phil Esposito's reticence takes nothing away from this Stanley Cup Final.

Don't forget that Orr finished his career with the Blackhawks. His knees badly injured, the Bruins gave up on Orr and he played his final seasons in Chicago. He wasn't the same player he was during his prime, but it still was strange to see Bobby Orr in a jersey other than Boston's.

To reach Howard Herman:
hherman@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6253.
On Twitter: @howardherman.