Three Stanley Cups in six seasons in the salary cap era has put the Hawks in heady company. And they’re hungry for more – their Conn Smythe-winning defenseman just needs to do a bit of laundry first.
The pee wasn’t even dry on David Keith’s Chicago Blackhawks sweater when the questions started. There he was, holding his two-year-old grandson, who had undoubtedly gotten caught up in all the excitement of his dad, Duncan, winning the Stanley Cup and forgot to take a washroom break. “We changed his diaper, but when the pants are wet, the pants are wet,” the Keith family patriarch said. “What are you going to do?” Apparently, putting your baby in the Stanley Cup is quite the rage these days. Every time you turned around on the United Center ice there was another little one with a triple chin and a pot belly, sitting obliviously in the Cup while the rest of the family posed for pictures. It looked as much like a daycare as it did a Stanley Cup celebration. As team president John McDonough noted, when he first joined the organization in 2007 most of the guys were single. “Now there are babies all over the place,” he said.
The Blackhawks, the seven of them who have won three Cups, have transformed from boys to men. Duncan Keith, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane have become the undisputed lynchpins of the franchise. Brent Seabrook, Marian Hossa, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Patrick Sharp have been an incredible supporting cast and, depending on how GM Stan Bowman continues to master the salary cap, one or more might be gone.
There are a couple reasons why nobody on the Blackhawks wanted to get caught up in the debate about whether or not the team is a dynasty. The first is pretty obvious. You allow others to call you a dynasty, you don’t go around trumpeting it yourself. The second was far less apparent. That is, Chicago isn’t even close to finishing its legacy yet. Why try to put a label on something when it’s still in progress? The past four seasons, Bowman has taken turns wearing the crown of champion with Los Angeles Kings GM Dean Lombardi. Uneasy though it is for the head that wears the crown, as Shakespeare once said, wearing a Stanley Cup champion ball cap can be rather habitual. “I don’t make proclamations,” Bowman said when asked whether the Blackhawks are a dynasty. “But we don’t have any intentions of slowing down. This is why you play the game. When you accomplish this, you want to do it again. By no means do we expect to take a step back. We’re going to push to be better next year.” First, let’s quickly deal with the dynasty question. It comes down to who you trust more: Gary Bettman or Wikipedia. Bettman said when he awarded the Cup to the Hawks that they are indeed a dynasty. Wikipedia disagrees. It doesn’t have the Blackhawks listed among its sports dynasties. The Moorehead State coed cheerleading team? Now, that’s a dynasty. From 1988 to 2010, it won 19 championships, including a run of 10 straight years. Wikipedia defines a sports dynasty as, “a team that dominates (its) sport or league for an extraordinary length of time,” and goes on to say that, “The word ‘dynasty’ should not be used for a string of several dominant years in a row,” instead saying, “it implies an extraordinary length of time, like a decade.” After all of that, it then goes on to say, “In many cases, whether a team has achieved a dynasty is subjective and can be a frequent topic of debate among sports fans.” Well, uh, gee, thanks for that. The dynasty debate is a good one because it can be a moving target. To win three Stanley Cups in six seasons is impressive, but is it any more impressive than winning five championships in a row? After all, if that were so easy, why were the Montreal Canadiens the only team to do it? If it was supposed to be so easy to win the Stanley Cup during the Original Six era, why did the Blackhawks only win it three times? Let’s say for a moment the Los Angeles Kings get their situation straightened out and take their turn winning the Stanley Cup next year. Well, that would give the Kings three Cups in five seasons. If that makes them a dynasty too, is it possible to have concurrent dynasties in the NHL? Doesn’t the word “dynasty” imply only one team at a time can be a dynasty? Questions, questions. Now on to the more pressing matter, which is whether or not Chicago can maintain this kind of consistency when it comes to winning championships. Two days after the Blackhawks won, a site called MyTopSportsBooks.com installed them as the favorite to win the Stanley Cup in 2016 at 6:1 odds. The fact no team has won consecutive NHL titles since Detroit did it in 1997 and 1998 would make that a risky bet. Chicago might not repeat in 2016, simply because it seems impossible in today’s NHL to put together successive championship seasons. By the time the Blackhawks hoisted the Stanley Cup June 15, almost half of the league had been on summer vacation for more than two months. That’s an enormous leg up for a team such as the Kings. But the Blackhawks aren’t going anywhere. Yes, they have $64 million committed to a salary cap that isn’t expected to exceed $71 million, and they still have to sign
Brandon Saad, a restricted free agent who is becoming a bigger part of the picture. You look into a crystal ball and see a line of
Teuvo Teravainen with Saad playing left wing and Kane on the right side. “Hey, that sounds good to me,” Bowman said. “Joel (Blackhawks coach Quenneville) has a great feel for how to make those things work. That’s more his arena than mine, but it sounds good. Teuvo is going to be a big player for us for years to come.” Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland, who knows a little bit about building and maintaining a contender, said that the best any team can hope to do from year to year is to be a contender for the conference final. There are too many variables – untimely injuries, a run of sub-par goaltending, facing a team on a roll – to expect anything more. Set yourself to be a top-four team and hope for the best. In that context, it’s not difficult to envision the Blackhawks as one of those teams for the foreseeable future. Any team that has Toews, Kane and Keith as its nucleus is going to remain elite. Quenneville has established his credentials as a Hall of Fame coach, and he still has two years left on his contract before he can command Mike Babcock-type money. Fans in his suburban Chicago neighborhood have a tradition of toilet-papering his house after the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup. It might be a good idea to stock up on bathroom tissue, because they’re going to need it. The Blackhawks don’t have a first-round pick (to Arizona for
Antoine Vermette) or a second (to Philadelphia for
Kimmo Timonen), but they get a compensatory second-round pick from the NHL for losing 2010 first-rounder
Kevin Hayes, who signed with the New York Rangers. The Hawks will also miss out on their second- and fourth-rounders in 2016 to complete the Timonen trade. And they’ve dealt young defensemen
Klas Dahlbeck and
Adam Clendening, so the well of prospects is running rather dry. But Chicago has a potential star in Teravainen and a serviceable third-pair defenseman in
Trevor van Riemsdyk. Most importantly, the Hawks have become a desired destination for veterans looking for a chance to win. They’ll have to take a pay cut for the privilege, the way Brad Richards did. “Players who are drafted here, college free agents, they’re realizing this is a very special place to play,” McDonough said. It’s easy to be a special place to play when you win the Cup every other year. Anybody would want to have a picture of his infant progeny sitting in the Stanley Cup. It’s just so darn cute. And the Blackhawks, in the words of McDonough, “are going to try like hell to keep it going.” And with this core, there’s a good chance a lot of those babies will be able to have a childhood photo album that has a lot of pictures of them sitting in a tall, beautiful and silver 34.5 pound piece of hockey hardware.
This feature appears in the 2014-15 Season Commerative edition of The Hockey News magazine. Get in-depth features like this one, and much more, by subscribing now.