In landing Kane, Hawks' luck changed
Winning 2007 coin flip over Flyers a big start
The transformation of the Blackhawks from NHL doormat to Stanley Cup finalist isn't about television, marketing or corporate sponsorships.
It's all about the players.
That's why what happened before the 2007 draft is so important in getting the Hawks to this point.
After finishing with the fifth-worst point total during the 2006-07 season, the Hawks had only an 8.6 percent chance of winning the draft lottery for the No. 1 pick.
Their chances of winning the lottery were so slim that former general manager Dale Tallon was off on a scouting trip on the day of the lottery.
The Philadelphia Flyers had the league's worst record and a 25 percent chance of winning the lottery.
In a stunning turn of events, the Hawks won the lottery, moved up four spots, took Patrick Kane first overall, and the rest is history.
"I can remember the moment," said Hawks GM Stan Bowman, who was Tallon's assistant at the time. "I was sitting in my office and we got a phone call. Dale was traveling to scout some players in the Quebec League and happened to call in moments after I got the call.
"I said you may as well cancel your trip and he said, 'What are you talking about?' I told him we won the lottery and he said, 'Come on.' I said, 'No, honestly, we won the lottery.'"
Little did the Hawks realize at the time what it would mean. The plan was to take Kane, but even they didn't know the little winger from Buffalo with the questionable size would turn into a star.
"We knew internally that Kane was the guy, that he was a difference maker," Bowman said. "You hope when you have that No. 1 pick that there's a player of that caliber because you can't find special players like that.
"We had been looking at a different tier of guys (to draft) in that range and all of a sudden everything changed. You look at the impact that had on this franchise. We were due for some good luck there, and it certainly went our way."
The kicker to the story is the Flyers took winger James van Riemsdyk with the second pick and now here are the only two Americans to go 1-2 in the draft facing each other in the Stanley Cup Finals.
If not for a fortunate bounce of a ping pong ball, Kane could be wearing Flyers orange today instead of the Indian head.
"I think Philly's a great city, but I don't think it really compares to Chicago," Kane said Thursday. "At the time of the draft lottery, I thought Philly was going to get the first overall pick, not that I knew I was going No. 1, but Chicago ended up getting it and I was lucky enough and came here.
"You always wonder what it would be like if it hadn't worked out this way, but I think it worked well for both teams. I think van Riemsdyk is going to be a great player. He's got all the tools in the world to be an awesome player."
Kane and van Riemsdyk are good friends from the year they spent together as teammates in the U.S. Developmental program in Ann Arbor, Mich., but their paths to the NHL have differed greatly.
Kane went to his first training camp with the Hawks and dazzled immediately with his speed and skill. He ultimately won the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year.
Meanwhile, van Riemsdyk was off to college for two years at the University of New Hampshire, much to the dismay of the Flyers.
"We were both put in different situations and we were both in different stages, I guess, of our hockey development," said van Riemsdyk, who felt the need to play in college and get bigger and stronger. "I did what I thought what was best for me to be a better player, and he was obviously ready to make that jump right after the draft.
"He made it happen right away. I remember watching his first game with my buddies and it was pretty cool."
Even now van Riemsdyk is still trying to find his way in the NHL, playing on the Flyers' third line with Claude Giroux and Arron Asham. He has 4 points in the playoffs compared to Kane's 20, and 34 in his one-year career so far to Kane's 230.
Flyers GM Paul Holmgren believes any comparison to Kane is unfair to van Riemsdyk right now.
"Patrick Kane is already a star, one of the elite players of the game," Holmgren said. "James is just a player trying to figure it out on most nights. Some nights he looks great, some games he just looks like a regular player."
So does van Riemsdyk ever think what his life would be like had the Hawks drafted him somewhere in the top five in 2007?
"Obviously this was always a possibility, but things happen for a reason and I'm happy with how things turned out," van Riemsdyk said.
So are the Hawks.