(Author’s note: Mark Lazerus covers the Chicago Blackhawks for the Chicago Sun-Times and wrote ‘If These Walls Could Talk: Chicago Blackhawks,’ providing a behind-the-scenes look at this ongoing era of Blackhawks hockey. We had a lot of questions and he had a lot to say, and this is the second half of our conversation, with the first part available here. This portion largely focuses on everything after the 2010 Stanley Cup championship.)
You talked in the book about Brent Seabrook being the “soul” of the team. Were there any other player roles like that which you uncovered while writing this book?
“Jamal Mayers. I covered that 2013 team, so I knew that everybody respected him, and that he wasn’t just some scrub who played in a handful of games. But I was surprised to the degree that he was looked up to in that room. That team was still pretty young at that point and Mayers had been through a lot. He was there all season, he played a lot of games, then he sat out the entire playoffs. But his voice carried a lot of weight in that room. The whole Raffi Torres thing … I know we all make fun of hockey fights, and we should because they’re usually pretty dumb, but that meant a whole lot to his teammates. The role he played in taking care of that, I remembered the way his teammates talked about it when it happened. Even five years later, the way they spoke about it — he meant a whole to his room.”
With the player who are still on the team now, was there anything about their personalities or their past that you learned in researching this book that you weren’t able to learn during your time covering the team?
“That’s a good question. I don’t think I was surprised too much by any of the guys that I’ve covered for a few years now. Maybe the degree to which Jonathan Toews took himself so seriously as a 19-year-old. I’d always heard stories about that. I don’t think I was too surprised by anyone that is currently on the team. It was fun for me to go back. I didn’t cover that 2010 team so I didn’t know that much about them. That was a fun part, getting to know what role guys like Colin Fraser and Adam Burish and Brent Sopel played. I never thought of Burish as a huge part of that team, but talk to anyone on that team and they’ll say he was.”
“Most of the stuff I got was from guys who weren’t in the league anymore or certainly weren’t Blackhawks anymore. There were definitely looser lips among the guys who weren’t on the team anymore because that’s just the nature of hockey. What happens in the locker room, stays in the locker room.”
With that 2015 team, I think it gets lost in hindsight because, from a fan perspective, all you think about is that team winning the Cup. You forget about all the behind the scenes stuff like Clint Reif and all the Patrick Sharp stuff, and Duncan Keith going through a divorce. Was it tough to get the players to talk about that team because it was the most recent season and there was so much going on away from the ice?
“With the 2013 and 2015 teams, because so many of those guys are still on the team, I had to rely a lot on the reporting I did at the time, to a degree. Just covering that team, you could tell nobody was having any fun that year. It was a miserable year with all of the things going on. Not only the emotional toll that Clint’s death and Steve Montador’s death took on the team, and all the rumors and things like that which were going on, they were just tired as hell. I think people discount how much of an impact all the hockey they played in those seasons. They played 11 playoff series in three years. That takes a huge toll on you. That room, they were just doing a job.”
“That 2013 team was having fun in that sprint of a season. That 2010 team, obviously, had all kinds of fun. I never got the feeling that 2015 team was having that much fun, which kind of made it the most remarkable of the three, that through sheer defiance and will and talent, were able to win almost despite themselves. And I think, talking to them after that Cup, it was just an unbelievable sense of relief and exhaustion, that they’d pushed themselves as far as they could push themselves. I think that was the hardest one for a lot of reasons. Physically, mentally and emotionally, that team was just completely out of gas by the time they won.”
How does this year’s Blackhawks team start putting it all together? (Lazerus was asked this on Saturday afternoon and it still rings mostly true four days later.)
“They need to score some goals. It’s hard. there’s no easy fix to this right now. It’s not like they can bring up a whole bunch of guys from Rockford, because they’re in Rockford for a reason. It’s not like they’re NHL superstars ready to pounce. And the fact that some of guys will need to clear waivers makes things complicated. You can’t just go out and trade for a top-four defenseman because there aren’t any available. It’s November. Nobody’s out of it yet. And come February, when everyone’s looking for a top-four defenseman, it’s even harder to get because everybody wants one. They have to figure it out within. They have to figure out how to get this offense going, which pairings can survive the best. They need Connor Murphy and Cody Franson to establish themselves a little bit more. They need a lot. The talent is there. On paper, they have a top nine better than they’ve had since 2015. They just need to figure it out.”
Lazerus’ book, ‘If These Walls Could Talk: Chicago Blackhawks,’ is available now through Amazon and wherever books are sold.