CHICAGO – John McDonough looked around the ice at his celebrating Chicago Blackhawks, moments after they captured a third Stanley Cup in six years, all of them while he’s been team president.
“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,” he said.
Little babies, wearing headphones to block out the pulsating bass from the party music. Wives and girlfriends. Parents that are a little grayer than they were the first time the Blackhawks won the Cup in 2010.
And yet the same names on the back of the sweaters: Toews, Kane, Keith, Seabrook, Hossa, Sharp, Oduya, Hjalmarsson. Eight players, plus head coach Joel Quenneville and general manager Stan Bowman. The foundation on which three championship teams were built, including the one captured on Monday night in Chicago. The chassis on which the Blackhawks’ even-expanding bandwagon in Chicago rides.
"We wanted it. We wanted it for each other, for the city. In so many ways, winning a championship like this in your own city in some ways transcends the sport,” said captain Jonathan Toews, who won the Conn Smythe in 2010. “Everyone wants to be a part of it. It's amazing. You can feel the energy. I'm trying my best to explain it but it's pretty tough. It's definitely overwhelming."
Overwhelming was the word for Patrick Sharp as well, who first joined the Blackhawks in 2005 after being traded by the Philadelphia Flyers.
“It’s pretty special. It’s pretty special to look back at the last 10 years here in Chicago and remember what it was like seeing my parents in the stands in their own section. Now, preseason games are sold out. We just won our third championship in six years. It’s a special place to be,” said Sharp, who reveled in seeing yet another member of the core, defenseman Duncan Keith, win the Conn Smythe.
“Duncan, Brent, those guys are my brothers, my best friends in hockey. We’ve been together for 10 years. We’ve won three championships together. We’ve won gold medals. To watch Dunc accept that trophy meant a lot to me and I’m really proud of him,” he said.
Keith said it’s this group that makes it worth skating 700 minutes over four rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
“It’s been really special. Obviously, 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,” he said.
Keith had the game’s opening goal, thanks to a smart and patient play by Patrick Kane to spring him in the offensive zone.
Then it was Kane, the 2013 Conn Smythe winner, with the dagger in the third period for the 2-0 win.
"You saw my celebration. I had it all going. It was a little bit of relief and a lot of excitement,” said Kane, who shocked the hockey world with his recovery from a broken collarbone to play in Game 1 of the playoffs. "It seems like it was the hardest one. Teams are getting better and better and faster and faster. 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?”
Well, four in seven, of course.
“We talked about after we won our second won we said ultimately if you could ever win one here in Chicago that would be the ultimate Stanley Cup. I think they’re going to be celebrating in Chicago the entire summer,” said McDonagh.
“But we’re not done. We’re not done.”
That’s easier said then done in a salary capped league, of course. The Blackhawks have just under $5 million in cap space with only 14 players under contract for next season. Brandon Saad, a bright young player, needs a contract as an RFA. Antoine Vermette, Brad Richards, Johnny Oduya and Michael Rozsival are all UFAs. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews will have reached their $10.5 million cap seasons. All of this could mean someone like Sharp is traded. Or, perhaps, that Seabrook is moved at $5.8 million and a year away from a new contract.
"It's a challenge. I mean, obviously it's a system we all play under so we've gotta find a way to make it work. 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. 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,” said Bowman.
"I think we're going to enjoy this one for a bit. I've been thinking of that stuff for a long time. It's not like it's going to surprise me. We'll make it work. We've got a plan in place. That's really for another day. Right now we're pretty thrilled with this whole scene in here."
And thrilled at the idea that this group could still produce another one before it’s done.
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