Unlike the teams of the 1960s, the 1970's version of the Hawks did emphasize team defense. Esposito helped the club capture the Vezina in 1970 and 1972, and they tied for the honor with the Flyers and Bernie Parent in 1974.
In 1974-75, the NHL reorganized into four divisions, with the Hawks landing in the Smythe. Although Chicago won the division title four times, the team had slipped to around and sometimes below the .500 level. There were empty seats in the Stadium as many of the Hawks stars slowed down or were traded away. And while it didn't hurt the Hawks immediately in the standings, the loss of Bobby Hull, who jumped to the WHA Winnipeg Jets in 1972, may finally have had an effect.
"It's harder to lose someone in life than in death," said Hawks President Bill Wirtz. "That was the case with Bobby Hull. He was such an infectious star in this market."
A poor showing in 1976-77 cost Reay his job at mid-season. On an interim basis, he was replaced by Bill White. The following year, Bob Pulford arrived from the Los Angeles Kings and took over both behind the bench and as the team's player personnel boss. At the same time, a new generation of Blackhawk players, including such eventual stars as defensemen Doug Wilson and Bob Murray, were coming along.
The team took in more life in 1979-80 when the WHA was merged into the NHL and forwards Terry Ruskowski and Rich Preston were added. Also helping was center Tom Lysiak, whom Pulford had acquired in a multi-player deal with the Atlanta Flames late in '78-'79.
There was additional vitality and excitement in 1980-81 with the addition of Denis Savard via the NHL Entry Draft, Al Secord in a trade with Boston, and a hard-working winger named Darryl Sutter, who scored 40 goals. But despite the new blood, the Hawks still hovered around the .500 mark.
In 1981-82, the Blackhawks were just 30-38-12, but managed to upset the Minnesota North Stars in the opening round of the playoffs and advanced as far as the semifinals before falling to Vancouver. Even though the team wasn't putting up great numbers in the standings yet, the fans returned, packing the Stadium. Among the individual highlights that season, Doug Wilson won the Norris Trophy thanks in part to a 39-goal, 85-point season that still ranks as a team record for defensemen.
In 1982-83, Hawk tickets were even harder to come by as Chicago iced one of its most colorful teams ever.
Taking over behind the bench was Orval Tessier, a former Hawks minor league coach who eventually became known as "Mt. Orval" for his heated post-game criticism after losses. During that season the Hawks surged to a 47-23-10 record and a first place finish in the Norris Division.
Also that season, a right winger who had been a Tessier favorite in the American Hockey League, Steve Larmer, finally got a chance to play in the NHL. Larmer, a sleepy 11th-round draft pick, wasn't a flashy skater and didn't have overpowering skills, but he fit in perfectly on the starboard side of a line with center Savard and left winger Secord. The trio scored 132 goals that season and Larmer won the Calder Trophy as the NHL's Rookie of the Year.
"The type of players we were, we complimented each other so well," said Secord, who scored a career-high 54 goals that season while continuing to bang away and take on some of the league's heavyweights.
"We were so comfortable and so in sync with each other on the ice, we hardly had to discuss anything," he added. "If we did make changes, we'd do it with one or two words and that was it."
As personnel changed, so the Hawks were up and down in the regular season standings in the 1980s. The Stadium, however, became louder and crazier than ever. The frenzy in the old barn during the singing of the National Anthem became legendary. And the Hawks, who never missed the playoffs during the decade, managed a few decent post-season shows. They made it to the Conference Championships, (league semifinals) five times, in 1982, '83, '85, '89 and '90.
"The thing I remember most was being lucky enough to play in front of the best fans in pro sports for 14 years," Wilson said. "Coming up the stairs (from the dressing room) to that kind of support with the people I played with was just unbelievable. The Stadium was the best building for a hockey player to play in and opposing teams knew how lucky we were to have it."
After Tessier was dismissed in 1984-85, the Hawks tried several coaches. Pulford returned to the bench for 1986-87 and Bob Murdoch took a turn in 1987-88. Then Mike Keenan, fresh from rebuilding the Philadelphia Flyers, brought his intense, authoritarian – some would say maniacal – style to Chicago for 1988-89.Love him or hate him, Keenan's teams were the best-conditioned and hardest-working in the NHL.
When Keenan, a wild wheeler-and-dealer, added the title of GM in 1990-91, player personnel moves were inevitable. Although some Hawk favorites, such as Savard, were sent packing, new help arrived in players such as defensemen Chris Chelios and Steve Smith and forwards Michel Goulet and Brent Sutter. Meanwhile, other Hawks, including Belfour, center Jeremy Roenick, and captain Dirk Graham, were growing into key roles with the club.
In 1992 the Hawks, propelled by an 11-game post-season winning streak, rolled all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals before being overwhelmed by the Pittsburgh Penguins. After the run, Keenan remained GM, but gave up the coaching reins to Darryl Sutter. During games in early 1992-93, Keenan shuffled nervously around the press box. He wanted complete control and that didn't fit within the Hawks management team concept. So, in a typically Keenan-esque, tumultuous fashion, he left the Hawks in the middle of the '92-93 season and eventually landed with the New York Rangers.
The Hawks, however, built on the work habits instilled by Keenan and reinforced by Sutter. Defensively, the team was especially sound, winning the Jennings Trophy for the lowest team goals-against average in 1991, '93 and '95. (Belfour, meanwhile, netted the new Vezina as the NHL's best goalie in 1991 and '93, while Graham got the Selke Trophy as the League's best defensive forward in 1991.)