(Author’s note: This is number two in our weekly series profiling former Chicago Blackhawks. If you missed last week’s article on Bryan Berard, you can find it right here!)
Inspired by the ramblings of Chicago Blackhawks’ play-by-play announcer Pat Foley during the third period of the Hawks’ 8-2 dismantling of the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday night, this week’s Former Blackhawk of the Week centers on a player who had his time in Chicago marred by a few off-ice incidents that ultimately led to his departure from the organization.
Tyler Arnason was a seventh-round pick (183rd overall) by the Blackhawks in the 1998 NHL Draft. He played college hockey for St. Cloud State through 2001, got some seasoning with the Hawks then-affiliate Norfolk Admirals in the 2001-02 season, and was up for a full season with the Blackhawks by the 2002-03 season.
For a player that was drafted so late, though, Arnason built plenty of buzz by rocketing up to the NHL level in such a short span. He, along with young forwards Kyle Calder and Mark Bell, formed the now-infamous “ABC Line,” upon which the hopes of a Hawks’ revival were pinned. In the 2001-02 season, the Blackhawks made a stunning run to the playoffs, before losing in five games to the St. Louis Blues in the first round.
The 2002-03 season saw the Hawks hang in the thick of the playoff race through the first half of the season, before Arnason and two teammates were involved in incident at a strip club in Columbus.
Theo Fleury and Phil Housley were reported to be other two teammates with Arnason when a 911 call from a gas station across the street from Pure Platinum — a popular destination for visiting NHL players — was made just a few hours before sunrise. Officers arriving on the scene found a bloodied Fleury, who said he’d been beaten up by nine bouncers. The incident cast a pall over the entire team, which quickly plummeted out of the playoff chase and finished the season three games under .500.
That night led to significant restrictions of what Chicago players could do on road trips and Housley was traded a few months later. That was also Fleury’s last season in the NHL, although details of the demons he’d battled his entire life emerged years after his career ended.
Arnason seemed to be more of a spectator in that first situation. The second one, though, saw him cast as a central character. During the 2003-04 season, Arnason was involved in a physical confrontation with head coach Brian Sutter. There are several different versions of what happened, but the general consensus is that, while the team was at the famous Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge in Nasvhille, Sutter grabbed Arnason’s shirt and threw him up against a wall with intentions of punching the then 25-year-old Arnason over frustrations with Arnason’s lackadaisical attitude toward hockey. The story didn’t hit newspapers for about a week, with both Arnason and Sutter downplaying the incident.
But the damage had been done. The following season was wiped out by an NHL lockout and when the league returned to the ice in 2005, Trent Yawney was the team’s new head coach. In March 2006, Arnason was traded to the Ottawa Senators, spent the next three seasons with the Colorado Avalanche, and then bounced around Russia, Europe, and the AHL before ending his hockey career in 2012.
There was no denying that Arnason had talent. He had 39 points in his debut season, finishing fourth in the Calder Trophy voting. He was the Hawks’ leading scorer in the 2003-04 season with 55 points (22 goals and 33 assists) and had 41 points in 60 games with Chicago during the season he was traded. But that talent was never fully realized, a trend that was all-too-common during the early 2000s era of the Chicago Blackhawks.