LOS ANGELES — Wearing a black blazer with the NHL 100 logo stitched into the left breast pocket, Duncan Keith stood on the stage at the Microsoft Theater in downtown Los Angeles surrounded by 99 of the best players in NHL history, and could hardly believe he was counted among them.
“It’s a huge honor,” Keith said. “There are so many great players that played in the NHL. For me, I just wanted to play in the NHL, and that in itself has been a dream come true.”
The Blackhawks are the unquestioned team of the decade. Based on the NHL’s Top 100 list unveiled Friday night, they’re one of the teams of the century, too.
Ten Hawks were deemed to be among the 100 greatest players in NHL history, as voted on by a panel of 58 owners, executives, general managers, coaches, players, broadcasters and writers. The unveiling on Friday night was part of All-Star weekend, and part of the league’s yearlong centennial celebration.
The Hawks’ contingent spanned 70 years, from center Max Bentley (1940-1947) to current stars Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith. In between, goalies Glenn Hall and Tony Esposito, forwards Stan Mikita, Bobby Hull and Denis Savard, and defenseman Chris Chelios were named to the list. Then, of course, there are the legends who had a cup of coffee in Chicago, including Bobby Orr, Dominik Hasek and Paul Coffey.
Mikita and Hall couldn’t make it for health reasons, but the Hawks were well represented on the stage. Keith said it was a reminder of what he, Toews and Kane represent.
“It’s the Blackhawks, it’s a lot of tradition, and the city, the people of Illinois, and everybody that supports that crest,” he said. “The Wirtz family. It’s one big family. And to be a part of that, and the top 100 with those guys, representing the Blackhawks, is a huge honor.”
Only six current players made the list, and half of them were Hawks. And two of them were just 28 years old. Among the Hawks’ snubs were defensemen Pierre Pilote and forward Marian Hossa.
“For us to be already midway through our careers and be thrown in the same pit as Tony O and Bobby Hull and Stan and Denis, it’s crazy,” Toews said. “I don’t think even if I was still playing somewhat close to 10 years from now I would still really believe that I would be mentioned at that level.”
Kane said it was fun to just sit back and watch so many all-time legends “chirp each other” throughout the evening.
“It was just so much fun to see not only the new guys, like Kane and Toews and Duncan, and the Bobby and Denis, but to see guys like Bernie Parent and the older guys,” Esposito said. “It was just nice to see some guys that I hadn’t seen for 30 years. That was really nice.”
The All-Star game hit a low point in 2015 in Columbus, a game won by “Team Toews” 17-12 over “Team Foligno.” The only highlight of the weekend was the surprisingly well-lubricated and hilarious fantasy draft on Friday night. The game itself wasn’t funny, but it was a joke.
“Columbus was the epitome of just floating around and not much happening,” Toews said.
The All-Star weekend had new life breathed into it last year in Nashville, with the new format — a 3-on-3 tournament between all four divisions — and the improbable John Scott story, which saw the lovable tough guy voted into the game as a gag, only to score twice and be named MVP. With $1 million on the line to the winning division, the tournament featured a much better brand of hockey.
“It’s fun when guys give a little bit of an effort,” said Toews, who skipped last year’s game. “That doesn’t mean you have to be laying down to block shots, or play solid ‘D’, but it’s fun when guys try to go out there to show their skill and make things happen. It makes the game a lot better, too.”
The annual skills competition will be held Saturday night. The popular breakaway challenge — which saw Kane don a Superman cape once — has been killed, replaced by something called the “Four Line Challenge,” which will involve four shooters from each division. Kane will compete in the accuracy competition and the skills relay. Duncan Keith and Jonathan Toews also will participate in the relay. Corey Crawford will be involved in various events as well.
Crawford wanted no part of the events in which goalies can try to score goals, but was looking forward to the skills competition, in part, because nobody expects much from the goalies.
“It’s pretty cool, just to be out there and be relaxed on the ice,” he said with a laugh. “You know, no real pressure to perform that much. Guys are just out there and joking around. That’s kind of nice. The All-Star game, depending what goalie you are, it could be fun or it could be miserable.”