When it comes to thinking about what is needed to build a championship team like the Chicago Blackhawks, it seems so simple. You need star players, a great defence core, a good goalie and of course a solid coaching staff. But actually executing this plan is far from easy. Many franchises have tried to follow this blueprint to build a contender, but fall short in the process. It is especially difficult in the salary cap era, which was created to instill parity in the league. The Chicago Blackhawks have created a modern day dynasty with three Stanley Cups in six years, becoming a model franchise when it comes to the on-ice product and front office management. But how did they get it right when so many other teams get it wrong?
How The Chicago Blackhawks Became a Modern Day Dynasty
The Pittsburgh Penguins were initially pegged as the post-lockout NHL dynasty with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin as building blocks up the middle. After their Stanley Cup win in 2009, it appeared that prediction would come true. However, their lack of depth, questionable decisions by management and an inability to step up their play when it mattered most prevented Pittsburgh from living up to hype. The Chicago Blackhawks and the Los Angeles Kings have since been dueling it out over who deserves the dynasty label but with Chicago winning their third Stanley Cup and the Kings missing the playoffs, it is now advantage Chicago.
It wasn’t always this way as the Chicago Blackhawks were once the joke of the NHL. They couldn’t attract fans, as former owner Bill Wirtz had alienated much of the local fanbase. The attitude changed once ownership shifted from Wirtz to his son Rocky who set out to repair bridges, ending a misguided home game blackout policy, bringing back former Chicago Blackhawks legends to the building, and creating a winning atmosphere that would make fans and the city of Chicago proud of the Blackhawks once again. The franchise changed on the ice with the arrival of young superstars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. Toews would become Chicago’s captain at age 20 while Kane is one of the NHL’s most skilled players. They are both Conn Smythe trophy winners and have been integral parts of the team’s three most recent Stanley Cup wins.
The defence core of Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmersson have been defensive pillars for all three championships and are homegrown draft picks. Keith was exceptional this year and was unanimously voted the Conn Smythe winner. He is also a two-time winner of the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s best defenseman. Seabrook has been second fiddle to Keith at times but he has scored some clutch goals for Chicago in the playoffs and plays a ton of minutes for a team that relies heavily on its top four defencemen. Hjalmersson flies under the radar but is consistently solid for the Hawks, as is Johnny Oduya, who could walk this summer due to cap constraints.
What is most amazing about Chicago’s management is how they manage the cap and their drafting success. In 2010, Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd and Kris Versteeg were all jettisoned to make room under the cap, though Versteeg would make his way back for the 2015 Cup win. In 2013, Michael Frolik and David Bolland were traded, while Nick Leddy was traded earlier this season. With Toews and Kane’s new contracts kicking in at $10.5 million each, Chicago will have to get creative especially with Brandon Saad in need of a new contract while others like Antoine Vermette and Brad Richards likely to walk this summer. A trade or two could be in the works and Patrick Sharp’s name has been in the rumour mill all year long.
When it comes to drafting, the Chicago Blackhawks have been to fill holes in their roster with youngsters who make impacts. Toews, Kane, Keith, Seabrook, Hjalmersson and goalie Corey Crawford are core members that were drafted by the Hawks while Marian Hossa was a key free agent addition back in 2010. But in the last several years, other homegrown Blackhawks players have made significant impacts. Saad and Andrew Shaw have been become fixtures in the lineup while Teuvo Teravainen looks like a future star.
Some will hesitate to attach the dynasty tag to the Chicago Blackhawks because they haven’t won consecutive Stanley Cups, or won as many in a short amount of time as past dynasties such as the Montreal Canadiens, the New York Islanders and the Edmonton Oilers. One must remember that those came in a completely different era without widespread free agency, super escalated salaries, or a salary cap. Considering how little separation there is between teams and the challenges of managing the salary cap properly, the Chicago Blackhawks are a template for the rest of the league.
When the Boston Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2011, there was reason to believe their combination of size and physical play would be copied by other teams. But the Chicago Blackhawks are one of the smaller teams in the league and consistently finish near the bottom in hits. They play fast and skilled hockey with an emphasis on puck possession. In goal, Crawford has been criticized heavily at times but all he seems to do is win. He isn’t an elite goalie like Carey Price or Henrik Lundqvist but Crawford gets it done for the Chicago Blackhawks, not unlike Chris Osgood who spent the majority of his career with the Detroit Red Wings when they were at their best. Osgood was never really considered an elite goalie but he got the job done and has three Stanley Cup rings to show for it.
Head coach Joel Quenneville is not an easy man to play for but he consistently gets results. Mike Babcock is often said to be the best coach in the NHL, but Quenneville deserves to be in the conversation. He has a lot of talent at his disposal but he gets this team to play to their potential and their style is fast and aggressive. Quenneville has been at the helm for all three Stanley Cup wins but doesn’t always get the accolades he deserves.
No doubt there is luck when it comes to winning. Anything from a beneficial call from the referees, to an opposing team hitting the post, a fluke goal and of course staying healthy is crucial to success. The Chicago Blackhawks have had their fair share of luck but it isn’t the reason why they win. Their core understands how to win and be leaders in the process. It has become a habit for Toews to pass the Cup off to a player who has never won. This year, it was Kimmo Timonen. Timonen almost didn’t play this year due to blood clots and once he got healthy the Philadelphia Flyers sent him to Chicago to chase the Cup. Timonen’s reaction to winning was priceless as he announced prior to the game it was his last year in the NHL. Ditto in 2013 when Michal Handzus and Jamal Mayers won their first championships.
After winning their third Stanley Cup in six years, it is time to call the Chicago Blackhawks a modern day dynasty. The on-ice product is strong while management has created an organizational attitude that makes players want to play in Chicago and one that teams want to emulate. Despite the likelihood of players leaving or being traded, Chicago will still be a contender next year. This is a team that understands how to win and considering how good the team looks now and in the future, there is no reason to think this generation’s edition of the Chicago Blackhawks doesn’t have a few more championships left in them.