“Well Chicago, that’s three Cups in six seasons. I’d say you have a dynasty.”
Oftentimes we scoff at the words that come out of Gary Bettman’s mouth – the man now acclimated to the cold-as-ice reception he receives at practically every arena in the league, even as he’s handing out the Stanley Cup to a team in front of their jubilant home fans – but this time, the boos were quelled, the scoffs muffled.
Could Bettman actually be right? Could we be in agreement with the man who is constantly mocked and possible better known by his “Bon Cap, Bad Cop” parody moniker “Harry Buttman?”
On the surface it’s hard to legitimately compare the Chicago Blackhawks to the Canadiens of the 50s, 60s and 70s, or the Oilers and Islanders of the 80s. Those teams tossed opponents aside with relative ease and made more use of the word four-peat and five-peat than they ever did the word “repeat.”
The exact definition of the word “dynasty,” specifically used in the sporting context, is something along the lines of a “sequence of rule” – in essence, being the best over a period of time; and while the Blackhawks have not “in fact” been the best over a continual period of time, they’ve also been playing (and succeeding) under much different circumstances than those of their dynastic predecessors.
Many will make the rather bland argument that the Blackhawks are not a dynasty because they haven’t won consecutive championships over their run of dominance – but ignoring the factors that have gone into the success they have had, combined with the obstacles they’ve had to overcome and the factors that must be taken into account in the era of hockey is irresponsible and unfair to a team that is not only a modern dynasty, but also as close as we’ll likely get to a traditional dynasty in the “new-NHL.”
10. The “What If’s?”
If you think back, the scary part (if you’re anyone but a Hawks fan) about Chicago’s run since 2010 is that they could be wearing even more rings than they already have had a couple of things gone their way.
In the season following their 2010 Cup win, the Hawks nearly pulled off a miracle comeback against the eventual Western Conference champs, the Vancouver Canucks. Down 3-0 in the series, the Hawks stormed back to tie the series and forced a Game 7 that went to overtime, ultimately losing on Chris Campoli’s bad turnover that led to the winner by Alex Burrows – a game that not only advanced Vancouver into the second round, but also exorcised their proverbial Chicago demons. Who knows what would have happened had Chicago advanced? The lazy argument is that they themselves would have made the finals – and while we will never know, it’s not that far-fetched of a thought.
Then there was last year, where Chicago seemed poised to repeat as champions, until they ran into the magical Los Angeles Kings. The Hawks were again dangling from the edge of the cliff, but they rallied from down to 3-1 to tie the series up before falling in overtime of Game 7.
If you think about it, two bad bounces may have very well gotten in the way of us talking about Chicago having won five of the last six Stanley Cups.
Nothing is for certain – but what if?
9. Knowing How to Win
You get a bit of a glimpse into Chicago’s ability to perform come crunch time in the previous entry. Whenever a series seems out of their grasp, whenever defeat (and ultimately, elimination) seems imminent, they find a way. They know how to stay alive when they seem all but dead, but they also have a seemingly unstoppable killer instinct – an uncanny ability to put away the opposition.
In 2010, the Hawks won the Cup in Game 6, on the road (the Patrick Kane “Is It In?” goal) – they made sure to end the series at the first chance they had. In 2013, the Bruins appeared to have Game 6 locked up, and everyone was ready to head back to Chicago to settle the winner in the ultimate Game 7. Within a span of less than two minutes, the Hawks had every beat writer in the arena erasing their stories as they not only tied the game but took the lead thanks to a dazzling rush by Patrick Kane that ended in a Bryan Bickell goal and followed by a remarkable second effort by Dave Bolland to silence the Boston faithful and deliver the Hawks their second Cup in four seasons.
This year is still fresh in everyone’s mind, so you’ll remember that the Hawks had their foot on the Lightning’s throat and didn’t take it off. The greatest of teams know how to win – period.
8. The Most Recent Comparable
While many will use the beginning of the “New NHL” era to signify the start of the modern era, we saw the raised difficulty in building a dynasty begin in the 1990s. With NHL expansion eventually growing the league to 30 teams, parity was present regardless of whether there was a salary cap or not.
With that in mind, a look back at the winners of the last twenty years show that only one team, the Detroit Red Wings of the late 90s and early 2000s, came anywhere close to what the Hawks are doing right now. That Wings team won back-to-back Cups in ’97 and ’98 and followed those up with a drought that only ended in 2002. Three Cups in six seasons – just like Chicago, albeit in a different order.
If those Red Wings were the new benchmark for what constituted a dynasty, then there’s no arguing that the Hawks are just as deserving of the title – and that’s without mentioning the similarities between the two; vindicated goaltenders (Corey Crawford and Mike Vernon), all-time leaders (Jonathan Toews and Steve Yzerman), elite offensive talent (Patrick Kane and Brendan Shanahan) and Hall of Fame defensemen (Duncan Keith and Nicklas Lidstrom).
7. Beating the Best
No matter how good you think the Hawks are, or have been, since 2010, it would be ignorant to forget some of the top-tier teams and players they’ve had to get through over their three Cup runs.
In 2010, the Hawks took down the feisty Nashville Predators, the stacked Vancouver Canucks, and ran roughshod over the first seed San Jose Sharks. They were heavily favored going into the Final against the seventh seed Flyers, but they still had to get through the likes of Claude Giroux, Chris Pronger and arguably the hottest goaltender in the 2010 playoffs outside of Jaroslav Halak, Michael Leighton.
In 2013, they had a bit of an easier time, running right through Minnesota and Detroit before knocking off the defending champions (Los Angeles) and the 2011 champs (Boston), both who were able to keep their core together and remain very tough opponents.
This spring, Chicago had to get through one of the best goaltenders in the league in Pekka Rinne (who was also insulated by arguably the best defensive corps in the league), the hottest goalie going into the playoffs in Devan Dubnyk, and had to battle to the bitter end in an epic series against the mighty Anaheim Ducks, who could have just as easily been the ones raising the Cup instead of the Hawks.
Lest we forget the high-octane Lightning, who put up a valiant effort against a much more experienced Hawks team.
In sum: the Hawks had to work for all three of their Cups – there were no cakewalks on their road to success.
6. Long-Term Success
This argument is fairly simple – the Hawks didn’t just “turn it on” during their three Cup runs. They’ve been an elite team since 2008-2009. They’ve been to five conference finals since then, advancing three of the five times and going undefeated thus far in the Cup Finals.
It’s hard to pinpoint what’s more remarkable – the fact that the Hawks haven’t missed a beat in nearly a decade, or that they’ve managed to do it despite several major roster overhauls (more on that later).
We can also throw in the potential for more great years into this argument. The Hawks have their core of Toews, Kane, Hossa, and Keith for several more seasons. Add Brent Seabrook into that mix, too, as it’s highly unlikely they’ll let him get away. The likes of Teuvo Teravainen and Brandon Saad will also be around for awhile – both still on the cusp of their full potential and both still under 23 years of age.
5. The Pillars of Consistency
Every dynasty has one thing in common: consistent greatness, from consistently great players – the same great players. When you think back on past dynasties, you notice the same familiar faces on every winning roster. In the 50s, the Habs dynasty was led by the Rocket, among others; that dynasty was followed by the ones led by Béliveau and Lafleur. The Oilers were led by the likes of Gretzky and Messier. The Islanders had Bossy and Trottier. If we count the Wings, we can tack on the names of Yzerman, Shanahan and Lidstrom.
This Chicago team may have changed drastically several times since 2010, but the “ones who got them there” have always been the same: Toews, Kane, Keith, Seabrook. Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp have also been instrumental, and Joel Quenville has been behind the bench for all three championships.
So no matter how much things changed in Chicago, the fact is that nothing really changed – and it probably won’t for several more years, at the very least.
4. The Salary Cap Effect
Barring a ridiculous run by a white-hot goaltender, no NHL roster can win a championship without a properly constructed roster. This is even more important when we talk about the NHL’s modern era, what with the salary cap, the rising salaries demanded by stars, the heightened difficulty in making trades and the immeasurable importance of drafting well.
The Hawks have found a way to do everything right on that end since 2010. After their first championship, their roster was gutted, with names like Dustin Byfuglien, Kris Versteeg, Andrew Ladd and Antti Niemi gone due to a cap crunch.
The 2012 roster wasn’t hit as hard, but this summer might signify the end for several big-name Hawks, notably Patrick Sharp, Bryan Bickell and maybe even Corey Crawford. The price of success is high in this league, but the Hawks are second to none when it comes to retooling and reloading.
Need more convincing? The other two teams to win the Cup since 2010 (the Kings and the Bruins) both missed the playoffs this year.
3. Legendary Talent
The theme has been recurring throughout this piece, but now we can really get into the crux of this point. Dynasties aren’t just remembered as great teams – they are, if anything, defined by the players who lead said team to multiple championships.
This particular dynasty already boasts three superstars who have resumes impressive enough to make it into the Hall of Fame if they decided to retire tomorrow. Jonathan Toews has already drawn comparisons to the likes of Mark Messier and Steve Yzerman, both hallowed legends in the annals of hockey history. Patrick Kane is arguably the most purely exciting offensive talent in the league (outside of Pavel Datsyuk) and could go down as one of the great puck-handlers of all-time (among other things).
Somehow, Duncan Keith gets overshadowed by those two, but he’s likely the best of the bunch. Never overly spectacular, but always insanely effective, Keith has established himself not only as one of the best in the game today, but is approaching the level of all-time greatness at a rapid pace.
If you need more reason to buy this as a legitimate argument, consider that when the Kings won their two Cups, people were already dangling the dynasty label – even though only one player on their roster (Drew Doughty) could be mentioned in the “legendary players” discussion.
2. Overall Dominance
Instead of boring you with a long-winded explanation, let’s let the numbers speak for themselves.
Since 2009, the Hawks have won two division titles and have broken the 100-point barrier four times. But it’s not the regular season numbers that we’re necessarily concerned with.
Including their first Cup run, the Hawks have a total playoffs record of 64-36 and have won 10 of the 13 series they’ve played in – and when the games have mattered the most, the Hawks have been nearly unstoppable, with a staggering 38-11 record in Games 4 through 7.
Dominant might even be an understatement.
1. The Feel of a Dynasty
Even without the stats, or the records, or the names on the back of the jerseys, above all there’s one thing that really makes you believe that this edition of the Chicago Blackhawks is a true modern day NHL dynasty – they feel like one. Like dynasties of years past, they are confident, resilient and have a certain swagger about them that no other team in the league can come close to matching. All of the pieces, as mentioned, are there (in terms of personnel), but there are plenty of teams that seemingly “have it all” but can’t win it all. This team has done it time and time again, and will likely continue to do so.
It’s fair to say the feeling is not unique to this pundit alone – without having access to the numbers I’d be willing to wager that the Hawks were the most popular Stanley Cup pick going into the 2015 postseason. The Hawks come with a certain aura, a reputation as winners that they’ve built over the past few years that is not only worrisome to opponents, but downright intimidating. Besides winning championships, the other thing a powerhouse (see: dynasty) is able to do really well is strike fear into the hearts of their opponents – which is exactly what these Blackhawks have done, and will likely continue to do.
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