Are the 2013 Chicago Blackhawks part of a dynasty?
Pick your jaw off the floor. Clean the coffee from your screen. But please, do continue to consider what hallucinogens the individual asking this question must have dabbled in.
We’re hockey fans. We know dynasties. The Montreal Canadiens of the 1970 begot the New York Islanders of the early 1980s who begot the Edmonton Oilers for the rest of the decade who begot the back-to-back Pittsburgh Penguins champions in 1991 and 1992.
From 1976 to 1992, six teams won the Stanley Cup.
From 1996 to 2012, 12 teams did.
We’re sports fans. We know dynasties. The Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1970s and the New England Patriots under Tom Brady. The New York Yankees of the late 1990s. The Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics, then the Jordan Bulls, then the Lakers and Spurs, and now the Heat.
Under that definition, the Blackhawks can’t qualify.
But this being the National Hockey League in 2013, it’s probably time to redefine what a dynasty necessitates.
Here are the facts: The Chicago Blackhawks have captured two Stanley Cups in a four-year span, becoming the first team after the 2005 lockout to win multiple Cups. In 2009, before Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane helped Chicago end a 59-year Cup drought, the Blackhawks made the Western Conference Final.
So that’s three trips to the Final Four in five years, and two championships. That wouldn't be a dynasty in the NBA Final or March Madness, but then again it takes more than three good players to win the Stanley Cup.
The Red Wings did four in five years from 1995-1998; that’s considered by many to be a dynastic stretch, bolstered by two more Cups and another Finals appearance by the time 2009 rolled around.
Of course, that was a different era, the 1990s. Fewer teams than today. No salary cap. No shootout. No other mechanism of forced parity that has become a hallmark of the post-lockout(s) NHL.
To that end, dynasties have been redefined. But don’t take my word on good faith, take that of Red Wings architect Ken Holland, to Rory Boylen of The Hockey News on dynasties on 2012:
“Nobody is winning three or four championships in a row anymore, those days went out with the Edmonton Oilers,” said Wings GM Ken Holland. “If you’re winning two in a row you’re doing something no one else did. Dynasties are teams you talk about years after because they did something different. I don't know how you define a dynasty anymore.”
Is a traditional dynasty achievable in the modern age? The salary cap and a concerted effort by the NHL – and other top professional leagues – to level the playing field has granted optimism to every franchise at the cost of uninterrupted domination by the few monetarily capable of it. It’s a philosophy that has given every team a chance and, more to the point, every fan hope. The soft-touch is a thing of the past.
It’s here that the Chicago dynasty talk gets intriguing, because they haven’t been a team “monetarily capable” of keeping their squad together. Gone immediately from the 2010 Cup team were Kris Versteeg, Dustin Byfuglien, Antti Niemi, Andrew Ladd, Brent Sopel, Ben Eager and John Madden; gone the next season were Troy Brouwer, Brian Campbell and Tomas Kopecky; again, out of cap concerns.
That led to stumbles in the 2011 and 2012 playoffs – quarterfinal losses to the Vancouver Canucks and Phoenix Coyotes.
“It’s hard to win. You have to make some changes, retool a little bit,” said GM Stan Bowman, moments after his team won the Stanley Cup on Monday in Boston. “We were close after last year. We found a way to get off to a great start.”
That start wasn’t great – it was history-making, as the Blackhawks went 24 consecutive games from the start of the season without a regulation loss. That led to a dominating regular season that Steve Silverman put in perspective for CBS:
The Blackhawks became the 40th team in NHL history to have the best regular-season record and also come away with the Stanley Cup. But that doesn’t begin to tell the story.
The Blackhawks had the third-best record of those President’s Trophy winners who hoisted the Cup.
The Blackhawks were 36-7-5 in the regular season, a record that earned them 77 points and an .802 winning percentage. The only teams to compile a better winning percentage were the 1977 Montreal Canadiens (60-8-12, .825) and the ’78 Canadiens (59-10-11, .806).
To put this in perspective: The Hawks were on pace for 132 points, which would have tied the 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens for top point total of all-time (they did it in 80 games).
So the 2010 Blackhawks were the better team in paper, and the 2013 Blackhawks may have been the better team on the ice.
But do two Cups and a conference finals loss make a dynasty in the post-post-lockout NHL?
Rick Telander of the Chicago Sun-Times uses a different term: mini-dynasties.
It’s possible right now that any of the four teams left in the playoffs — the Hawks, Kings, Penguins and Bruins — may be starting mini-dynasties. That’s because they’re the last four Stanley Cup champions. Win this one, and, well, at least you could make a claim for something special starting.
Dynasties are all about the when and the how high.
Had the Penguins won the Cup this season, they would have had two in five seasons and three trips to the Cup Final. Is that a dynasty in the modern NHL?
Had the Bruins won, they would have had two Cups in three years. Is that one?
Had the Kings won, they would have had back-to-back Cups, becoming the first team since the dynastic Red Wings to do so? So is that a dynasty?
The Blackhawks have three final four appearances and two Cups in four years.
Is that a dynasty?
If you don’t define what they’ve accomplished as one – and again, under the current demands of the salary cap and other parity mechanisms, I might – the Blackhawks are still poised to enter one, but that’s on management.
“You can't win without great players and it's so hard to get them. Once you do get them, you've got to keep them.”
Well, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Corey Crawford are unrestricted free agents in 2014. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews – the last two playoff MVPs for the Blackhawks – are unrestricted free agents in 2015. Patrick Sharp is up the following year, as is Brent Seabrook.
The core was what allowed the Blackhawks to rebuild from the decimation of their 2010 roster to a Stanley Cup in 2013. The core is, frankly, dynastic; but it’s on Bowman to provide the support and fill-in the blanks.
When he finds the right mix, magic can happen. Look no further than the ice in Boston on Monday, and hockey’s Holy Grail being passed from role player to role player, as it was in 2010.
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