After that Championship, however, the Hawks slipped into an era of consistent ineptitude that became even bleaker after McLaughlin's death in 1944. During a 13-season span from 1946-47 through 1957-58, Chicago made the playoffs only once. For 15 years, from 1946-47 through 1959-60, the Hawks had losing regular-season records.
There were a few highlights during that era, however. The Hawks "Pony Line," made up of Doug and Max Bentley and Bill Mosienko, was small but swift, and one of the most exciting forward trios of the day. Max Bentley, a 5'8", 158-pound center, was the Blackhawks' first Hart Trophy winner as the League's MVP in 1945-46.
Although it didn't reflect in the standings for several years, the Hawks began their climb out of the cellar in 1953-54, when former Detroit Red Wings shareholders James D. Norris and Arthur Wirtz took control of the club. One of their first moves was to hire Tommy Ivan away from the Wings and install him as Chicago's General Manager. That year the Hawks finished again in last place, but at least goaltender Al Rollins was rewarded for facing a steady stream of pucks by winning the Hart Trophy as the league's MVP.
Ivan made some deals, including acquiring 1955 Calder Trophy winner Ed Litzenberger from Montreal to help the Club immediately, but the Hawks required a long-term recovery plan. Supported by funds from the new owners, Ivan was able to rebuild the Blackhawks player development system. In those days that included sponsored junior teams as well a professional minor league club. Eventually Ivan built a system that groomed skaters such as Bobby and Dennis Hull, Stan Mikita, Ken Wharram, Pierre Pilote, and Elmer "Moose" Vasko.
In order to complete the overhaul, Ivan felt that he needed to improve the team's goaltending. In 1957-58, he swung a deal with the Detroit Red Wings that brought netminder Glenn Hall and Red Wings' captain Ted Lindsay to Chicago.
"So many players are hesitant to go to a team that isn't doing well," recalled Hall, who remained with the Hawks until being taken in the 1967 expansion draft by St. Louis. "But we got a chance to lead a team out of the wilderness. We were probably at rock bottom when we got there."
The Hawks didn't stay down for long after Hall arrived. With Coach Rudy Pilous behind the bench and Hull, Mikita, Pilote, and company rounding into form on the ice, the team improved steadily.
In 1960-61, the Hawks set club records for wins (29) and points (75) and climbed over the .500 mark for the first time since 1946-47. In the playoffs, Chicago surprised defending champion Montreal in six games in the semifinals and then knocked off the Red Wings in six in the finals to win the Cup.
"One of the highlights for me was winning the Stanley Cup that year," said Hall, who appeared in a record 502 consecutive games. "I don't think we were supposed to win it then."
"I remember winning it in Detroit," he added. "We didn't parade around with the Cup the way players do today for TV, but there was a presentation and I'm sure we felt just as good about winning the Cup as players do today. There was an absolute great feeling in the dressing room and I'm sure that hasn't changed at all."
That launched an era of 14 years of consecutive sellouts at the Stadium. The Hawks were hot. And Hull, the Golden Jet, who cracked the 50-goal barrier for the first time in 1961-62, and Mikita, who netted his first Art Ross Trophy in 1963-64, became the talk of the town.
"When we got Bobby and Stan, we always knew we had a chance to win," Hall said. "Bobby could carry the puck and when he wound up it was real impressive. Stan would think through games, with great moves and then make a little pass to set something up."
Hull, who led the NHL in goal scoring six times and in points for three seasons, was a prototypical scorer. But Mikita's game evolved. During his early years, he was known for his hot temper. In fact, when Mikita led the NHL with 89 points in 1963-64, he also topped the circuit with 149 penalty minutes.
"Pilous had a talk with me and told me to take a look at the penalty minutes," Mikita recalled. "I realized most of the penalties were additions of 10 minutes - misconducts. I also tried to knuckle down and stop the stupid lazy penalties, the hooks, the trips and the holds. I also realized I couldn't talk the referees out of anything, so I just went to the penalty box if I was called for anything."
Among the other Hawks making an impact during the renaissance were Pilote, who won the Norris Trophy as the League's best defenseman for three straight seasons (1963-65), and right winger Kenny Wharram, a steady point producer who is remembered as "underrated" by many of his peers.
"We had so many highlights during that period," said Billy Reay, who replaced Pilous as coach in 1963-64 and remained behind the bench until 1976-77.
The Hawks enjoyed a steady wave of talented players either developed within the organization or acquired by trades. Homegrown were Phil Esposito, Ken Hodge, Dennis Hull, Fred Stanfield, Doug Jarrett, Cliff Koroll, and Keith Magnuson Arriving through deals were Jim Pappin, Pit Martin, Pat Stapleton, Bill White, and later, Tony Esposito.
The Hawks finally broke the "Curse of Muldoon" in 1966-67. They finished first overall in the six-team NHL -- the final season before the League doubled its size through its first expansion. The expansion draft cost the Hawks Hall and other key players. Chicago fell to fourth place in the East Division - which contained all six established teams in â€˜67-68. The Hawks landed in the cellar the following year.
But in 1969-70, they rebounded to first place, due largely to the play of Tony Esposito in his phenomenal rookie season. In winning the Calder Trophy, "Tony-O," an acquisition from Montreal, was 38-17-8, had a 2.17 goals-against average, and posted a remarkable 15 shutouts.
In post-season play, the Hawks of the 1960s and early 1970s made the finals four times after winning the Cup in 1961, but each time they fell short. Most frustrating was a loss to the Montreal Canadiens in seven games in May 1971. Chicago had 2-0 and 3-2 leads in the series, but the Canadiens kept coming back. In Game Seven, at the Stadium, the Hawks had a 2-0 lead by 7:33 of the second period, but dropped the deciding game 3-2.
"I remember (Bobby) Hull hit the crossbar with a shot that would have made it 3-0," Reay said. "Then (Jacques) Lemaire scored on a long shot to make it 2-1. I thought that was the year we were going to win it, but that's the way things go in hockey."
Although he wasn't around for that particular series, Glenn Hall offered some insight as to why the pre-Tony Esposito Hawks of the 1960s didn't collect more silverware.
"A team like Montreal was maybe as good as us offensively, but they were better than us defensively," Hall explained. "We sacrificed defense for offense and it didn't work that way in the playoffs. We had good defensemen, but didn't have the total team commitment. When I was there (in Chicago) we weren't a team looking to win a Vezina Trophy. Montreal was."
Still, Hall and the Hawks did skate away with the League's lowest team goal-against averages in 1963 and 1967.