Former Blackhawk of the Week: Eric Daze, the 2002 NHL All-Star Game MVP

Daze finally got some closure to his NHL career last Sunday.

(Author’s note: If the Hawks had shared last Thursday’s announcement two hours earlier, we would’ve had him as the Former Blackhawk of the Week just before he got the “One Last Shift” treatment on Sunday. But here it is, four days after the fact.)

Eric Daze just drifted away.

He played in the final 16 games of the 2003-04 season, picking up 11 points. After the next season was wiped out by a lockout, Daze suited up for the Blackhawks in the opener for the 2005-06 season, posting a minus-2 in 11:56 of ice time. It would be his last NHL game.

Thought Daze never played again, he didn’t formally announce his retirement until March 20, 2010, when he confirmed that decision on a Blackhawks pregame show. And Daze mentioned that awkward end to his hockey career when he got his One Last Shift before Sunday’s home game against the Detroit Red Wings (and let us never speak of that game again).

Daze was a fourth-round selection (90th overall) by the Hawks in the 1993 NHL Draft, and made his NHL debut during the 1994-95 season, appearing in five games. He played the entire 1995-96 season, scoring 30 goals and adding 23 assists while finishing as a runner-up in the Calder Trophy voting. In the playoffs that year, he set up the famous Sergei Krivokrasov overtime goal against Patrick Roy and the eventual Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche.

At 6-foot-6, 235 pounds, Daze had the physical tools to be a power forward, but sometimes drew the ire of his critics for not fulfilling that role. But with a quick wrist shot and plus-skating ability for a big guy, he became a top scoring threat with the Hawks, scoring 105 goals in his first four NHL seasons. But back injuries started to rob Daze of playing time. In a five-year span, he had three herniated disc surgeries on his back as his physical condition continued to deteriorate. His relationship with the team wasn’t much better. By Halloween in 2000, Daze had requested a trade out of town. But that trade never happened, and Daze finished the season with 33 goals and 24 seasons, his best numbers since his rookie year. And then the 2001-02 season was the best of Daze’s career.

As the Hawks made a surprise run to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Daze set career highs in goals (38), assists (32), and points (70) while playing in all 82 games for the only time in his career. He led the Hawks in both points and goals, earning the lone All-Star nomination of his career. With two goals and an assist in that All-Star Game, he was named MVP, the first Blackhawks to win that award since Bobby Hull in 1971. He won a trophy. And a truck.

But it was all downhill for Daze — and the Hawks — from there, and three years later he played in the aforementioned season opener that was the end of his NHL career.

But Daze spent all 601 games of his career in with the team that drafted him, a rarity in professional sports. And his career total of 226 goals has him just outside the top 10 in franchise history (Bill Moesineko is 10th with 258).

And, if I may interject with a brief personal note: Eric Daze was my first favorite Blackhawks player and his name was on the first Hawks’ sweater that I ever owned (and still do!). I was 13 years old when I saw the news that he requested a trade, and I was devastated. But two years later, I was beaming in the basement of my grandparents’ house — by myself, because no one cared about the Blackhawks then — while Daze was handed his All-Star trophy, part of a 2001-02 season that was the lone bright spot in an otherwise miserable decade of Blackhawks’ hockey. And for 82 games that season, we got a brilliant but all-too-brief glimpse of everything that Eric Daze could be.