Trading a team captain rarely goes over well.
When the then-Atlanta Flames traded captain Tom Lysiak to the Chicago Blackhawks as part of an eight-player deal (the biggest transaction in league history at the time) during the 1978-79 NHL season, the move was derided across the Flames’ fan base.
For the next seven seasons, Lysiak would garner similar praise in Chicago for consistently being one of the team’s top scorers while also handling a commitment to a two-way game.
Lysiak was a No. 2 overall pick in the 1973 NHL Entry Draft and joined the Flames that winter for the franchise’s second season of existence. Lysiak scored 19 goals with 45 assists that season, finishing second in the Calder Trophy voting to Denis Potvin, who was picked No. 1 overall in that 1973 draft.
Lysiak ripped off point totals of 77, 82 and 81 in his next three seasons and was becoming a fixture of the franchise before the aforementioned trade on March 13, 1979. But when Lysiak debuted with the Hawks at Chicago Stadium, he noticed there were three bedsheets adorned with tombstones bearing the numbers of the three players he’d been traded for: Ivan Boldirev, Phil Russell and Darcy Rota, all fan favorites with the Hawks.
But it didn’t take long for Lysiak’s play to earn the affection of Chicago’s fans. In his first full season with the team, Lysiak had a nice season with 69 points (26 goals, 43 assists), second on the team to captain Terry Ruskowski. One season later, he led the team with 76 points (21 goals, 55 assists), just ahead of an up-and-coming 19-year-old named Denis Savard, who had 75 points. Lysiak marched his career-best output of 82 points in the 1981-82 seasons and then finished fourth in the Selke Trophy voting for the 1982-83 season.
Perhaps the most-remembered moment of Lysiak’s career was closer to the notorious side of things: on October 30, 1983, Lysiak was suspended 20 games for tripping linesman Ron Foyt during a game against the Hartford Whalers.
Injuries started to pile up for Lysiak towards the end of his career, though, as he was limited to just 51 games in his final NHL season, in 1985-86. Lysiak played in 919 NHL games, scoring 292 goals with 551 assists for 843 career points. In eight seasons with the Hawks, he played in 474 games and scored 137 goals with 275 assists (412 points).
After retiring, Lysiak returned to the Atlanta area and the first fan base that embraced him so warmly during the first half of his NHL career. In 2012, Lysiak was inducted into the National Polish-American Sports Hall of Fame.
Lysiak was diagnosed with leukemia in May of 2013 and passed away three years later on May 30, 2016 at the age of 63. His daughter, Jessie, is married to current San Jose Sharks defenseman Justin Braun.