Their achievement of three Stanley Cup titles may not match up to the achievements of the Edmonton Oilers or New York Islanders in the 1980s, or the Montreal Canadiens in the 1970s, or even the 1960s Toronto Maple Leafs (sorry to remind you Leafs fans). However, the Chicago Blackhawks deserve to be considered among all of the NHL’s greatest historic dynasties as the first true dynasty of the salary cap era.
It’ll always be difficult to compare teams from different eras; it’s difficult enough to compare the 2010, 2013 and 2015 champion Blackhawks. However, winning three championships in six years (they might not be done yet) in an era where parity has broadly been successfully enforced.
It has been a period, where superstar players Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin have claimed just one Stanley Cup between them. The New York Rangers, San Jose Sharks and Philadelphia Flyers have just not quite been able to get over the edge in spite of spending big money and making big trades. Meanwhile, teams like the Boston Bruins and Anaheim Ducks have come close to doubling their Cup titles since the 2004-05 lockout. Even teams that were perennially consistent in the 90s and early 2000s like the Detroit Red Wings and New Jersey Devils just haven’t been able to maintain that success, they appeared in a combined three Cup finals in the salary cap era, but have just one title to show for it between them.
It’s harder to enjoy consistent success. Teams like Chicago cannot exploit their market advantage and sign up their core for the long-term like they might have done once.
Indeed, the turnover in Chicago’s roster between their first championship and their third is extraordinary. There are just eight players who played on both the 2010 winning team and the 2015 winning team. Of those, Kris Versteeg wasn’t on the roster in 2013.
The identities of the other seven players provide a pretty good first indication for the source of Chicago’s success. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjmarlsson, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp. That’s a terrific foundation for any forward group and blue-line.
The second key has been the ability of first Dave Tallon and then Stan Bowman to consistently re-tool this roster around those core players. Most Stanley Cup winning teams are built at least in part around a group of young players on entry-level contracts that provide ‘value for money’ on the cap restricted roster.
Somehow, Chicago has managed to keep changing the roster. The 2014-15 version of the Blackhawks epitomizes the combination of effective drafting and savvy free agent moves that have helped this team enjoy such consistent success.
Veterans Brad Richards and Kimmo Timonen played critical roles, while Antoine Vermette was an expensive, but vital trade deadline acquisition. However, second round pick Brandon Saad and late first round selection Teuvo Teravainen played critical roles in the long postseason run. Both were selected in drafts after Chicago’s initial 2010 championship success.
The art of quality drafting is difficult to quantify. There’s clearly an element of fortune involved and an effective professional set-up is also critical to developing young talent. Chicago’s greatest success has been in identifying their ‘type’ of players. Very few teams have been as good at picking up young, skilled players as Chicago. Even fourth liners Andrew Shaw and Marcus Kruger are pretty good players with the puck on their sticks.
Even after the 2011 and 2012 playoffs when Chicago lost in the first round on each occasion, there was still an organisational commitment to a philosophy of having a line-up built around speed and skill.
A big part of that consistency is rooted in Toews. The captain gets more credit than any other player for Chicago’s success and it’s deserved. His will, determination and leadership make him the vital driving force for this franchise.
Another part of the equation who perhaps doesn’t get the credit that he deserves is head coach Joel Quenneville. It is somehow assumed that anyone could lead Toews, Kane, Keith and Seabrook to three championships. The reality is very different. Quenneville has consistently adapted Chicago’s special teams and their set up at both ends of the ice to keep the Blackhawks relevant. You do not make three long postseason runs without elite coaching.
Chicago’s dynastic era could still be extended. Toews is just 27 and Keith is the oldest of the team’s core at just 31. One more championship during their prime years would surely elevate this team’s success to being in contention with some of the true great teams, like the 80s Islanders and Oilers.