CHICAGO – After celebrating his team’s latest championship achievement, three-time Stanley Cup champion Patrick Kane was asked the question that’s been debated, argued and analyzed everywhere from the press box to the back of the pub during the Chicago Blackhawks’ run this postseason:
Is this now a dynasty?
“I don't know what that means,” said Kane. “We've got three in six years. I know that's pretty good."
With due respect: Winning in 2010 was “pretty good.” Adding a second Cup in 2013 was fairly remarkable, as was coming within a game of making back to the Final last season. Capturing a third Cup in 2015, in Game 6 against the Tampa Bay Lightning … well, considering the context of a salary-capped NHL that attempts to force parity at every turn, that’s dynastic, right?
“I don’t want to use that word. I think it’s a little self-absorbed,” said team president John McDonough, in a moment of humility. “It’s for someone else to say. I don’t ever want to speak in hyperbole. We’ve had a really good run. If someone else wants to say it, that’s fine. I won’t.”
So we found someone else who would say it.
Someone that knows a thing or two about dynasties in hockey.
“Oh yeah, it’s a dynasty,” said Scotty Bowman, Senior Advisor of Hockey Operations for the Blackhawks. “To win three in six years, and lose a seventh game in another year.”
Scotty Bowman was the head coach behind the Montreal Canadiens’ five-Cup dynasty from 1973-1979, and for the Detroit Red Wings’ Cups in 1997, 1998 and 2002 – three Cups in six seasons, just like his son Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman has now accomplished.
(Stan Bowman, incidentally, was named after the Stanley Cup. Which is only appropriate given that all he does is win them as a GM.)
The elder Bowman said it’s a different league than the one in which he built those dynasties.
“The competition now is so tough. You have five teams in the division that make the playoffs. “It’s not easy, because you have the cap. You have to keep your best players. You can’t keep them all,” he said.
But the Blackhawks have managed to keep together a core group of seven players from all three Stanley Cup teams, and then a few more that played vital roles on the 2013 championship squad like Corey Crawford, Andrew Shaw and Brandon Saad. That’s thanks to the team’s on-ice success acting as a magnet, Bowman’s cap management and the Blackhawks’ deep pockets courtesy of owner Rocky Wirtz.
So are they a dynasty?
“I’m not sure,” said Wirtz, during the Stanley Cup Final. “Years ago, without a salary cap you could’ve afforded to keep the players from 2010 to today and I think then it would be a dynasty. What I would really like to say is I’m so proud of Stan for re-inventing. He invented the 2010 team, he invented the 2013 team, and I think this team is a re-invention too. So it’s more of a re-invention and being able to have a process in place to be successful. Our goal is, we know we can’t win the Cup every year, but we certainly can be in position to win the Cup every year and if we’ve done that, I think we’ve earned our paycheck.”
Which brings us back to Stan Bowman.
Much like his coach Joel Quenneville, it hasn’t always been the smoothest ride for Bowman, despite the team’s success. He took massive criticism for not being able to reload properly after the team jettisoned much of its supporting cast after the 2010 Stanley Cup. His overall cap management has been questioned in some of the team’s long-term deals as well, deals that might make this the last ride for the Core of Eight for the Blackhawks.
And yet like those Red Wings teams that Scotty Bowman helped lead to championships, the Blackhawks are suddenly one that’s reloading on the fly. Players like Saad and Teuvo Teravainen are the next wave, and they’re incredible. Plus Kane and Jonathan Toews are squarely in their prime.
So is this a dynasty, Stan Bowman?
"Kind of thought I'd get asked that question,” he 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.
“We don’t have any intention of slowing down. We’re hungry," he said. "There are going to be some changes for next year, but we don’t intend to take a step back.”
So is this a dynasty?
My criteria typically center around three factors:
1. Was there consistency on the roster? Was this the same group essentially winning these championships?
2. Did they win consecutive titles?
3. Where they mitigating circumstances, perhaps generationally, that make their run unique?
The Blackhawks obviously fail to meet that second criteria, but they have an out due to that last standard: This is a salary-capped league. This is a league where players aren’t simply available for teams like Montreal to collect like trading cards like in the 1970s. This is a league with a regular season that’s rigged for parity. This is a league whose ever-evolving playoff format also works against dynastic teams.
This is a different league than when the Canadiens, Islanders and Oilers had their runs; it’s a different league than when the Red Wings did their thing over six years.
To that end, I agree with what Barry Petchesky of Deadspin was getting at this morning:
“What the Blackhawks have done here—win, cull, win again—is a hands-on accomplishment that couldn’t have existed in the NHL before the lockout, and is a lot harder to achieve than any old pre-cap fourpeat.”
Just look at the players on the ice each time the final buzzer sounded and the Chicago Blackhawks were crowned Stanley Cup Champions:
2015: Andrew Desjardins, Jonathan Toews, Andrew Shaw, Duncan Keith, Niklas Hjalmarlsson, Corey Crawford.
2013: Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Michal Handzus, Brent Seabrook, Johnny Oduya, Corey Crawford.
2010: Patrick Sharp, Patrick Kane, Andrew Ladd, Nick Boynton, Brian Campbell, Antti Niemi.
Many of the names stayed the same during that six-year run. But Bowman’s ability to find the right personnel fit after stumbling a little post-2010, and then retaining the talent that formed the core of these teams, is remarkable. He knew what to trade, and for whom. He knew where to look for talent, and how that talent fit. (The team's analytics department might be it's hidden Conn Smythe winner, three Cups running.) He took players that might have been seen as gambles -- Brad Richards, ladies and gents -- and made them vital cogs.
It's about having a coach in Joel Quenneville that was able to ask for and receive their best in three different Stanley Cup Final series is remarkable.
It's about having players that, time and again, find a way to come through in pressure situations in ways that other stars simply do not is remarkable.
Perhaps some day we'll have a team that rolls three straight Cups under the salary cap and what the Blackhawks have done here will be redefined.
But right now, as of Cup No. 3 on home ice last night, the Chicago Blackhawks are a dynasty.
Even if they are the last ones that’ll ever admit to it.
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