Monday, June 09, 2008

Future Hall Of Famer Dominik Hasek Retires

Today, future Hall of Fame goaltender Dominik Hasek announced his retirement. He is the first player that I consider a Hall of Famer to retire since Eric Lindros.

Hasek was born in Pardubice, Czechoslovakia on January 29th, 1965. He was brought up in the Czech system when it was still a communist state and it was unclear if he would ever have the chance to come to North America to play in the NHL. He played a very unorthodox style. It is unlikely a western goalie would have made it to his level without being taught a more traditional goaltending style.

At the age of 16, Hasek made it to the first division in the Czech League playing with his hometown Pardubice. He also made his international debut playing the in European Championships. Hasek was largely used as a backup goalie in his first season, appearing in only 12 games. The next season, he was the starting goalie in Pardubice, appearing in 40 games. His international reputation began to grow as he made the first all star team at the World Junior Championships. He made his first appearance for the Czechs in the World Championships that year. The Chicago Blackhawks took a chance on him, selecting him 207th overall in the 1983 entry draft. It was clear Hasek had talent. It was not clear that he would ever come to the NHL. The young Hasek was quickly establishing himself as one of the best goaltenders outside the NHL. He played for Czechoslovakia in the 1984 Canada Cup and the 1984/85 World Junior Championships, while continuing to star in the Czech League. In 1986, he was the Czech League goaltender of the year. This was an award Hasek won five times in a row. In 1987, 1989 and 1990 he was the Czech player of the year. Hasek continued to play for the Czechs in World Championships, Olympics and Canada Cups as they came up. He made the World Championships All Start teams in 1987, 1989 and 1990. In his final year in the Czech League (1989/90) he left Pardubice to play with Dukla Jihlava and again won Czech player of the year and Czech goalie of the year.

With the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe, Hasek had to opportunity to leave and join the Chicago Blackhawks, who had drafted him seven years earlier. Chicago already had Ed Belfour in goal and coach Mike Keenan didn't give Hasek and his unusual style much of a chance. Hasek only played five NHL games in his first season and spent considerable time in the IHL with the Blackhawks affiliate the Indianapolis Ice. In the IHL, Hasek led the league in shutouts and goals against average and made the league's first team all star. The following year, after playing for Czechoslovakia in the Canada Cup, Hasek again shuttled between the NHL and the minors. He played 20 NHL games, but Keenan never gave him the chance to really prove himself. Despite this, he made the NHL all rookie team, as there were no other rookie goalies who had a chance to play regularly that season. Hasek was traded to the Buffalo Sabres in the summer of 1993 for Stephane Beauregard and a fifth round draft pick (that was used on Eric Daze).

In Buffalo, Hasek got a chance to stay in the NHL, without being shuttled to the minors, but his style was slow to gain coach John Muckler's confidence. Hasek played only 28 games in a backup role in his first year in Buffalo. In his second year in Buffalo 1993/94, Hasek finally got the chance to play and he played well. He led the NHL in shutouts and goals against average in the regular season as well as goals against average in the playoffs (despite losing in the first round). He won the Vezina Trophy, made first team all star and shared the Jennings Trophy with teammate Grant Fuhr. Hasek returned to Pardubice for two games during the 1994/95 lockout and then reprised his role in Buffalo. He again led the NHL in GAA and shutouts and again won the Vezina Trophy and made first team all star. The 1995(96 season was a break from Vezina victory (Jim Carrey won that season), but Hasek appeared in his first of six career NHL All Star Games. In 1996/97, he did even better than ever before. This time, along with his Vezina, all star game appearance and first all star team berth, Hasek won the Hart Trophy and Pearson Award as NHL MVP. He was the first goalie in over 30 years to win the Hart Trophy. He repeated his Hart, Pearson, Vezina, all star game and first all star team success in 1997/98. He also led the NHL in games played and minutes by a goalie, as well as shutouts. In the Olympics, he starred for the gold medal winning Czech Republic team and was named the most valuable goaltender in the Olympics. 1998/99 was another all star game, first all star team and Vezina season. This year, he also took his Buffalo Sabres to the Stanley Cup finals. Despite Buffalo's losing in the finals, many thought Hasek should have won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP, although Joe Nieuwendyk of the champion Dallas Stars was awarded it. In 1999/2000, Hasek's groin began to get the better of him. He had suffered groin problems in the past, but none that had kept him out for long periods of time until this season. Hasek was limited to 35 games played due to injury. Hasek was again healthy in 2000/2001. He led the NHL in shutouts for a forth time, appeared in another All Star Game and won the William Jennings Trophy. In a cost cutting move, the Buffalo Sabres traded Hasek to the Detroit Red Wings that summer for Slava Kozlov and a first round draft pick (which was moved onto Atlanta and used on Jim Slater).

In Detroit, Hasek led the NHL in wins in the regular season, appeared in the All Star Game and led the Red Wings to the 2002 Stanley Cup. In the cup run, Hasek led the NHL in games played by a goalie, wins, minutes played and shutouts. He had again played for the Czech Republic in the Olympics, but was unsuccessful to win a medal this time. Hasek decided to go out on top and retired a Stanley Cup champion. After a year off, he decided to return to the Detroit Red Wings. However, he was limited to fourteen games played due to groin injuries.

After the 2004/05 lockout, Hasek signed as a free agent with the Ottawa Senators. Hasek played very well for a little over half a season before re-injuring his groin in his first game of the Olympics and not playing again that season. Ottawa soured on Hasek and he returned to Detroit as a free agent.

Back in Detroit, Hasek played another good year in 2006/07, but was rested more frequently than he had been in the past to prevent injury. In 2007/08, Hasek struggled through another injury plagued year and won the Stanley Cup, but this time as a backup goalie to Chris Osgood. At the conclusion of the season, Dominik Hasek announced his retirement.

At age 43, Hasek is the oldest goalie in the NHL and the second oldest player (behind teammate Chris Chelios). Hasek is arguably the best goaltender of all time. No other goalie won the Hart trophy twice. He does not have career records that are as impressive as his contemporaries (ie. Patrick Roy) because of the years he was in Czechoslovakia instead of the NHL. He was the first European starting goalie to win the Stanley Cup. Hasek had a dominating NHL (and Czech League) career.

This leaves fifteen non-retired players that I consider Hall of Famers, regardless of what happens in the remainder of their careers. Here is the list:

Ed Belfour
Rob Blake
Martin Brodeur
Chris Chelios
Peter Forsberg
Jaromir Jagr
Nicklas Lidstrom
Mike Modano
Scott Niedermayer
Chris Pronger
Mark Recchi
Joe Sakic
Teemu Selanne
Brendan Shanahan
Mats Sundin

Likely, this list will continue to shorten this summer as a few more of these players may retire.

Do you believe that Hasek's off-ice coloration will change his chances for HoF entry?

There is some evidence that players like Glenn Anderson and Dino Ciccarelli have had their on-ice contributions somewhat overshadowed. Although I suppose we can't really know for sure.

Hasek was a far better player than Anderson or Ciccarelli. So there won't be any question. he will be inducted in his first year of eligibility.
I remember when he was a rookie in Chigago, I said to myself, if Chicago keeps this kid and gets rid of Belfour (Who was always great in the reg season, but regularly choked in the playoffs), that they would win the cup within a year...unfortunately for Chi-town, they traded him to the Sabres instead, and launched a legend! (No WONDER the Blackhawks have only 2 cups in over 70 years)
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