Forget the inevitable semantic argument about a dynasty; the attitudes of players on the ice celebrating the team’s third Stanley Cup in six years Monday night were at most indifferent about the label and generally uninterested in discussing the idea after beating the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-0 in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final.
“I’m just thankful,” said Marian Hossa, the final addition to this string of championships that began in 2010 with his arrival. “I’m glad, third time winning the Cup in six years. It’s unreal. I was hoping to get one, coming to Chicago, and now I’ve got three. What a feeling and what a great group of guys.”
The salary cap is designed specifically to create parity and prevent lengthy dominance by one team. The Blackhawks have been annihilating that notion for six seasons on the strength of the “great group of guys” at the core of this success.
This is the third title for Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson, all drafted by the Blackhawks during the organization’s lean years when the United Center had plenty of seats available on a nightly basis. At 31, Keith is the eldest of the group, a terrifying thought for anyone hoping for the Blackhawks to fade in the near future.
Blackhawks president John McDonough arrived in 2007 and helped turn a moribund franchise into the one every NHL club wants to emulate. Former general manager Dale Tallon laid the groundwork, and successor Stan Bowman fortified it through more outstanding drafting, leaving this city with a hockey team that’s had unrivaled success for six seasons and is poised to remain atop the league for years to come.
It’s that grassroots movement that had McDonough on the ice speaking like a proud dad who has watched his children grow up before his eyes.
“It’s gratifying in so many ways, both personally and professionally,” he said. “We’ve had to fight through some things, but it’s been worth every second of it. To see these guys mature into young adults, into grown men…most of our guys when I started here were single. Now there’s babies all over the place.”
After every Blackhawks championship, the talk turns to how they can keep winning in the face of difficult salary-cap decisions. The roster has been turned over and turned over so often that you’d think Andrej Sustr or Matt Carle was responsible for it. Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd, Antti Niemi, Dave Bolland and Nick Leddy are just some of the cap casualties the Blackhawks have endured since 2010.
Yet here they are again, kissing their wives and girlfriends, hugging their kids and spraying champagne on one another while the media horde thrusts microphones in their faces to ask about how this shouldn't happen in this day and age of salary-cap hockey.
The Blackhawks aren’t supposed to do this.
“Well, who says that?” Seabrook quipped before doing his best to explain it. “I just think we have guys that just don’t quit, guys that have played in these situations before, guys that know what it takes to win. We have a lot of guys here that have played in big games, big Stanley Cup games, Olympics, World Championships.
“Any time you win a championship with a group of guys, it bonds you and makes you tighter as a group.”
The recipe is simple yet so difficult to create—draft well, retain the talent as it develops and continue to draft well around the maturing talent. The faces around the core have changed over the years, but it’s the future Hall of Famers in their primes who comprise the engine that should continue to hum in the next few years.
Toews, Keith, Kane and Hossa are all surefire bets for enshrinement, with Seabrook serving as a long shot to be No. 5. Surround those five stars with Hjalmarsson and Patrick Sharp, add new blood in the form of Brandon Saad and Teuvo Teravainen and drop in Brad Richards for one season on a bargain contract, and it’s easy to see how this championship, in particular, happened.
There will be changes again this summer as a result of the salary cap—Sharp is likely to find himself elsewhere, Richards almost definitely won’t be back and a few other role players will find new homes.
How do the Blackhawks continue to laugh in the face of parity?
“We’ve got the best captain in the National Hockey League and a really, really young core,” McDonough said. “This is now a destination for free agents that want to come here. Players that are drafted here, college free agents that come here, I think they realize this is a special place to play.
“But it’s more the consistent philosophy of the organization. They recognize every day there’s a task at hand. We’re going to enjoy this and get back at it later this week.”
Keith joined Kane and Toews by winning the Conn Smythe Trophy and fittingly scored the winning goal in Game 6 with an incredible individual effort. Kane iced it late in the third period with his first goal of the Final, doing what this core has done so many times over the years: delivering in the big moments.
“It’s been really special,” Keith said. “You play with the same guys for a long time and you develop a bond, and then when you can win a championship, it just reinforces that. To be able to do it three times, we’re all proud of it. We all talked about what it would be like, and like I said, we’re just super proud to be part of a group like this.”
So is this a dynasty? Three Cups, six years, and there’s no reason to think the Blackhawks won’t be contending for a fourth in seven years in 2015-16.
“Kind of thought I'd get asked that question,” Bowman said. “I don't think that's really for me to say. That's really for other people to make those proclamations. All I know is that we've got an amazing group here, they've accomplished a lot together and I'm really proud of the effort they've given year after year.
“It doesn't always go your way, but they've accomplished quite a bit, and we're not finished."
"I don't want to use that word," McDonough said. "I think it's a little self-absorbed. It's for someone else to say. I never want to speak in hyperbole. We've had a really good run."
A really good run. That's the understatement of the past six seasons.
All statistics via NHL.com.
Dave Lozo covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveLozo.