CHICAGO — Embracing on the ice while celebrating their second Stanley Cup together, blossoming Chicago Blackhawks star Brandon Saad and general manager Stan Bowman already started looking forward to the next one.
“We gave a hug and I said, ’This is the first of many, we’re going to win a lot together,”’ Bowman said. “He gave me a big hug and said, ’Let’s go.”’
The Blackhawks’ core of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Marian Hossa is already up to three Cups in six years, an incredible feat in the NHL’s salary-cap era. While the cap was designed to prevent this kind of domination, Chicago has thrived with stars who shine in the playoffs and an ever-changing mix of role players and young contributors.
“It certainly is a credit to our leadership group on the team and also my staff has done a fantastic job drafting and developing players,” Bowman said Monday night on the ice at United Center. “The only way you make it work in this system is if you can have young players that you not only draft but you develop, or you find them as free agents and you develop them.”
It has worked so well that the Blackhawks are starting to hear the word “dynasty” a lot. Commissioner Gary Bettman, a proponent and supporter of league-wide parity, told the crowd and team they had a dynasty when presenting Toews with the Cup.
They’re not a dynasty by the traditional definition like the 1970s Montreal Canadiens or the 1980s New York Islanders or Edmonton Oilers, but like the Detroit Red Wings in the late 1990s and early 2000s, they’ve won multiple titles. In the cap-era they’re the NHL’s team of the decade.
Mark Messier, the captain of that Oilers dynasty, said during the final that a third Cup for the Blackhawks would be “an incredible feat.”
“They’re definitely a team on the cusp of being called a dynasty,” Messier said last week. “There is no question about it.”
Bowman said it’s not his job to determine if the Blackhawks are a dynasty. His players don’t care much for the chatter but don’t mind the champagne showers and parades that come with winning so often.
“We’ve got three in six years. I know that’s pretty good,” Kane said. “We have a good group in here, a lot of leadership, a lot of experience, a lot of guys who have been around the block once or twice to see a thing or two that has happened in this game.”
The Blackhawks have not won consecutive championships like the Red Wings did in 1997 and 1998, but they may have been a bad bounce away — the Los Angeles Kings scored off Nick Leddy’s backside in Game 7 of the 2014 Western Conference final. In a sport so dependent on luck and bounces, the Blackhawks have the talent to give themselves a chance to win.
Five trips to at least the conference final in seven years is show of such impressive staying power that they’re the model in the cap era. Bowman turned over the 2010 team amid cap problems, and Chicago has churned out enough young players to replace those who got too expensive to keep.
On the ice, there’s a whole different process.
“Teams are getting better and better and faster and faster,” Kane said. “We’ll have to keep doing some adjusting as time goes on. Three in six years is amazing. What more can you really ask for, and we were so close last year, too.”
Before the dust even settled from the Cup celebration, Bodog listed the Blackhawks as favourites to win the Cup again next year.
History says that’s unlikely for this group or for anyone in the NHL, and Bowman has work to do this summer shedding salary and re-signing Saad before that next challenge even begins.
But the Blackhawks have to be considered the best bet. Betting against them at this point would be foolish.
“I’ve never seen before a core group of guys who’ve been here for six seven years,” defenceman Kimmo Timonen said. “I’m not surprised if these guys might win it again next year.”