My Most Hated Hawk – Bob Probert

Even though Bob Probert was a complete cro-magnon of a hockey player, he managed to be ahead of his time in many regards, and has become a case study in what not to do from a player management standpoint.

Even in the mid 90s, before progressive thought began to thoroughly permeate the hockey landscape, the Hawks’ signing of Bob Probert away from the Red Wings was flawed in logic. Bob Pulford saw a behemoth of a man in Probert terrorize his club in the mid to late 80s both with physical violence and occasionally on the scoreboard, though Probert’s two 20 goal seasons were statistical anomalies of the highest order. Undeterred, Pulford thought that the Hawks needed at the very least that level of enforcement on a team with stars like Jeremy Roenick, Chris Chelios, Tony Amonte, Gary Suter, Bernie Nicholls, and Ed Belfour, none of whom could ever be accused of not being able to take care of themselves. But the rationale of “this guy kills us so we need to sign him” almost always bites general managers in the ass, and Probert wasted no time in proving that correct.

Even with past legal and substance troubles which resulted in a federal prison sentence and nearly in his deportation, the Hawks remained undeterred and signed Probert anyway, 8 days after an arrest wherein his BAC was triple the legal limit, and the Red Wings walked away from him. Probert was promptly rendered “inactive”, if not outright suspended, by Gary Bettman following another drunk driving incident, and missed the entirety of what would have been his first season as a Hawk.

Probert’s troubles are well documented, and his battles with substances and addiction are not to be taken lightly. But even aside from these points, which a 12 year old can’t even really comprehend as they’re unfolding, Probert’s entire involvement with the Hawks was enough to make my stomach churn from the beginning.

First off, this not only was a Red Wing, but one of the most violent, hated Red Wings ever to don a blood soaked sweater, and now I was expected to root for him. And then to make such a first impression as to miss his first year here, Probert always had an uphill battle with earning any kind adoration from this adolescent hockey fan. And that his production from his hayday in Detroit dropped precipitously while in a Hawks sweater, providing nothing material that helped the team win while receiving chance after chance after chance only amplified my ire at him.

When the Hawks began to crumble under the weight of their own ineptitude, with star after star leaving or being traded, it was a true barometer of how bad things had gotten when even at the ages of 35 and 36 for a guy who could not really move to begin with, Brian Sutter would consistently trot Probert out on a wing with Tony Amonte and Alex Zhamnov on the top line, ostensibly to provide protection and give them room, even though Probert did so only through his name at that point and no actual action. And seeing that now into my 20s was a clear reminder of just how bad things had gotten, and how hopeless they felt, because Probert, no matter how many times he would squander it, would always seemingly get another chance.

But, there are many lessons to be learned from the whole Probert saga with time and perspective afforded. Some statistical, like not signing a guy hoping he’ll reproduce shooting 23% for an entire season. Some medical, as Probert’s brain has been donated to science after his death, and there was significant evidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (brown brain protein), revealing the damage that a career of taking bare knuckle punches to the skull has long term negative effects. That Probert had the game pass him by at such a rapid pace was perhaps one of the early inciting events that led GMs (at least not named Pulford) start to believe that players had to actually be able to skate to succeed has now led to the fastest product the game has ever seen in the present day. And all of these things are net positives.

However, none of this can fully choke down the bile that begins to rise up in my throat whenever someone begins to wax poetic about what Probert brought to the game, and that it’s what’s missing from the league and from the Hawks at this time. The fact of the matter is that that player never existed here, and was nothing more than a recurring sideshow.

  • Jalamanta

    I hate him for not slugging Rick Telander when he had the chance.

  • Funny, for most of my life I’ve loved hockey fighting. But over the past, say, 7 or 8 years I’ve watched my affinity wane to the point that’s it’s completely gone now and I actively hate it, wish it was banned entirely, and am completely embarrassed by how much I used to support it.

    I never thought much about where this might have begun or how, but Probert’s last 2 or 3 years as a Hawk is a good candidate. And he definitely deserves to be the emblem, but he was followed by a revolving door of somewhat similar players, which made me sicker and sicker … Chris Simon, Scott Nichol, and Matthew Fucking Barnaby.

    Good choice.

    • Andrew Cieslak

      Imagine people knowing they were watching a guy die slowly. We didn’t then (I was a kid) but seeing that now, knowing about his extracurriculars on top of it? Heartbreaking.

      • This is pretty much it, eh? That’s a good way of putting it.

      • Commit88

        Imagine going through it.

      • Joe Banks


  • fullmetalninja

    Yes I know this is troll bait, but my question for you is how old were you when Probert first played in Chicago? Because the notion that Bob Probert would have no place in today’s NHL is laughable.

    • Andrew Cieslak

      You’re right – Calgary would love him

      • fullmetalninja

        Is there a team that wouldn’t want him? You do not have to personally appreciate or value the concept of intimidation– but it is real. Probert brought it more than anyone in his day and despite the characterization Probert could play while doing so. My guess is only that the person who wrote this saw only the tail end of his career (admittedly when he was a bit of a mascot) and believes Probert was like watching John Scott play. He wasn’t.

        • Andrew Cieslak

          What’s trollish about the post? It’s the guy he hates the most. My guy is different but I suppose if there are any hardcore Radim Vrbata fans around here they can fuck themselves.

          • fullmetalninja

            It’s the Chicago Hockey equivalent of the Iron Shiek and Nikolai Volkoff waiving flags before a match with Hulk Hogan. Nobody really likes the “fight-fight” guy at a game, and “fight fight” guy almost certainly idolized Probert. In my opinion, the post is trying to troll that particular type of fandom.

          • Fortunately no one cares about your opinion.

          • Sometimes when you join the threads, Matt, I find myself thinking of Tony Clifton.

          • raditzzzz

            you seem to have hit the bulls eye to me!

          • AirTrafficAJ

            Holy shit, that’s perfect.

          • fullmetalninja

            Well my mom thinks I’m pretty cool and tells me that she cares… Anyway, instead of snark perhaps you could answer the very simple question about your age so that we mortals could understand the foundation of your most sacred opinions. I have a hard time believing he would be the guy from that era that one would hate. The difference in ability between Probert, and say Ryan Vandenbussche, was pretty large.

          • I just spent 767 words telling you exactly why. Reading is a skill.

          • fullmetalninja

            Well it seems to me that your reasons were stated in pretty vague terms. What I specifically picked up on was your stating “And seeing that now into my 20s was a clear reminder of just how bad things had gotten, and how hopeless they felt, because Probert, no matter how many times he would squander it, would always seemingly get another chance.”
            What I don’t know is if you are in “into my 20s now” or whether you were into your 20s when Sutter was putting Probert on the ice with Zhamnov and Amonte.

          • MySpoonIsTooBig

            McClure made it pretty clear that he was ~12 when Probert came to the ‘Hawks. You might have picked that up if you’d bothered actually reading instead of having an aneurysm about the fact that someone hated Probert

          • fullmetalninja

            Ah yes, I didn’t “read it” closely enough… I think he was probably closer to 12 in 2002 during Probert’s last season.

            I should note that I am 100% happy to be wrong and I initially asked out of genuine curiosity. Because my memories of Probert and those teams are just so different than his. Probert was quickly adopted by Hawk fans by my memory (this could be way off) and his first season was a pretty dominant performance for a bottom 6 guy [40 pts, 200 pims].

          • Jr Rein

            He had 19 goals his first year as a Hawk. I’m not sure that meant much to McClure when he claimed Probert was “nothing more than a recurring sideshow”. So his “statistical anomalies of the highest order” theory doesn’t really make sense either. I thought his blog was otherwise well thought out, and he is entitled to his opinion. Although, judging from his response to your post, where he stated, “nobody cares about your opinion”, I would guess he is one of the, in my opinion, immature hockey fans who don’t have an ounce of understanding, compassion, or respect for the type of player Bob Probert was; or how much heart, guts, and talent it took to play the game the way he played it.

          • Joe Banks

            I love you, man

          • Andrew Heitman

            And FUNdamental

          • Andrew Cieslak

            Read the post. It is mentioned quite clearly.

          • fullmetalninja

            It is not clear. What is clear is that he really didn’t watch the guy he claims to have hated most. At least you have the honesty to admit you were too young. I don’t consider myself an “old-timer” because at the time I was the one arguing Zhamnov was not a flaming bag of shit against the guys who did want a team of 12 Proberts up front.
            But there is a HUGE tip-off in that piece that clues someone in that he probably didn’t watch many Hawk games when Probert was on the team.

          • Joe Banks

            I have NO problem hating Probert as a Hawk

          • raditzzzz

            i dont think its any secret that the guys who own this blog don’t care for the role of a true enforcer. that said, i didn’t overtly detect any real trolling of those who do like enforcers in his post. it seemed like a well explained view on why probert was his least favorite hawk. id characterize mcclure less as a troll and more as a disrespectful retort-er. oh, look, theres one now!

          • Andrew Cieslak

            So an opinion isn’t valid unless it placates your belief system? It’s trolling if you disagree? That’s narrow.

          • ahnfire

            I don’t know, I don’t think it’s trolling unless the writer insists that you feel the same way they do.

            The only way it could be trolling is if you’re so insecure in your opinions that you need others to validate it and then get upset if they don’t.

  • Yachtsman

    I really get upset when I see Probert jerseys at the UC. That guy was the antithesis of what hockey was/is supposed to be. He ironically turned out to be the antithesis of what he was supposed to be himself. Good choice.

  • mazer_rackham

    Fuckin’ Probie. He was legendary, and his downfall was tragic. It’s hard for me to hate him.

    It seems like most of the vitriol in this post is toward Bob Pulford, though. Probie was just the symptom, not the cause…

  • HossasPierogi

    Well written.

  • The Nutbrown Hare

    Enjoyed reading this, though I personally hold a small soft spot for the man (rather than the player)–dude brought a lot of damage on himself, but it was still a sad thing to watch.

    I seem to remember him doing some radio work for the Hawks when he was done playing. Am I imagining this, or did that actually happen?

  • bsatestb

    “…which a 12 year old can’t even really comprehend as they’re unfolding…” followed by “…And seeing that now into my 20s was a clear reminder of just how bad things had gotten…”. OP was 12 when Probert got here and in 20’s at the end of Hawks career. Simple.

  • Brain Sprain

    Boy i hated this #:%=×÷!$%= when he was with Detroit. early on, he was like watch Rasputin on the ice. Nothing could hurt him. No goon or drug known to man could beat him. Poison him, stab him, punch him, he wouldn’t stop punishing the opponent. In later years, it became sad. I felt sorry for him as he was clearly a tortured soul.

  • Commit88

    I can’t argue with the article although I liked Probert and liked fighting as well. I loved that era of hockey, although compared to the pace of today’s game, I might be bored with it now.

  • jordyhawk

    I remember Proby at the end still having to fight the punks coming up who wanted to make a reputation off of his back. He was clearly done as both a fighter and a player, but he answered the bell even though he’d had enough. I respected him for it and felt bad that he had to do it.

    I read his book (lacklustre) and saw him interviewed many times. Even had a buddy who played against him coming up in Windsor. He always seemed a likeable guy off the ice. I think it’s fair to hate what he brought to the game, but I certainly don’t hate him. I won’t let him entirely off the hook either though, he was a flawed character but he also needed to do a better job of dealing with his demons.

  • John Czahor

    Well, my 1990s Hawks memories are too hazy to actually compose one of these, but this would have been mine.

  • Bannerman

    I picked Probert too back on Friday, what do I win?
    Imagine if the Bears signed Ndumakin Suh 7 years from now, long after he stopped being good. That’s what signing Probert back then was- at least to me. Probert wasn’t always bad when we played for the Hawks but he was still a bucket of dicks.

  • Research Analysis

    Bob Probert in Detroit was the equal of Montreal’s John Ferguson and that is some measure of a man and hockey player. Probert’s 1988 playoffs have never been equaled by another of his kind.

  • Stockroom Snail

    Ugh. Probert. He has “probe” in his name. And he was him.