The NHL season ended Monday night in a rather defensive affair, as the Chicago Blackhawks are once again Stanley Cup champions and achieved dynasty status by beating the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-0 to win the series 4-2, claiming their third Stanley cup in six years.
Although the Chicago Blackhawks have won their third cup in six years, this time around was especially tough as they were pushed extremely hard by their competition. Never mind the fact that the Lightning were up 2-1 in the series, but the Blackhawks also had to go through a marathon like 7-game test of endurance versus the very tough Anaheim Ducks in the Conference Finals. The part of that no one is touching on enough, is that the Chicago Blackhawks are proving time and time again how to be successful in a very tough salary cap system like the NHL's.
However, how soon fans forget that ten years ago, the Blackhawks were basically the poster boys of what not to do in the NHL. In fact, until the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2010, they had the worst Stanley Cup drought which lasted from 1961-2010. Technically speaking, that time period is the longest any team has gone without winning the cup (the Toronto Maple Leafs are a year away from tying the record, which they will). Everyone who watches hockey is probably wondering how did the Chicago Blackhawks go from garbage and unable, to winning a Cup (although it should be said that in some years Chicago was very good especially in the late 80s to early 90s), to being named as one of the better dynasties in NHL history. Well like most people, I cite the last 10 years of the Chicago Blackhawks history.
It is a story of finding good talent, good player development, successfully managing of the salary cap, patience in a system and great fan support. Flashback to the 2005 lockout; prior to the lockout the Chicago Blackhawks from 1997-1998 to 2003-2004 had been to the playoffs, but it was during the lockout where people can point to a tide changing in the franchise.
Both Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook have been drafted in previous drafts (Keith 2002 draft, Seabrook 2003 draft) but are playing in the Chicago minor system to develop their game. The Blackhawks call the two up in the season following the lockout to play significant minutes. They suffer through three years of ineptitude, but steady improvement before hope arrives in the form of Johnathan Toews (drafted third overall in the 2006 draft) and Patrick Kane (drafted first overall in the 2007 draft). The Blackhawks in the 2008-2009 season would go on to make the playoffs and lose in the Conference Finals to the Detroit Red Wings.
With all this set in motion the Blackhawks needed one more piece of the puzzle to be a Stanley Cup team and that was a consistent everyday goaltender. The Chicago Blackhawks called up Antti Niemi sparingly until the 2009-2010 season when he was a full time member of the Blackhawks and was fire between the goalposts. Keith, Seabrook, Toews, Kane and Niemi along with role players like the eventual all-star Dustin Byfuglien led the Chicago Blackhawks to win the 2010 Stanley cup. However, because of the salary cap, the Blackhawks had to unfortunately let players slip through their grasp and Niemi along with Byfuglien were a couple of them. However, the Blackhawks in typical fashion filled those holes and in came Corey Crawford. Crawford was in the Chicago Blackhawks system since he was drafted in 2003 but never really played significantly with the team until 2010 when Niemi left and the Blackhawks didn't skip a beat. They would eventually win two more Stanley cups in 2013 and Monday night.
The point of this history lesson is to show that the Blackhawks had a 10-15 year plan to rebuild with defense first in Kane and Seabrook, then found talent that can score in Toews and Kane. Next they allowed those players to develop into virtual all-stars like they are now, and in the case of Toews, he has grown into a fantastic leader and could be one of the greatest leaders of all time in any sport. Finally the Blackhawks have done a great job surrounding the core with talent. Guys like Niemi, Sharp, Shaw, Hossa, Saad, Byfuglien, Ladd etc. have come into Chicago's system and executed their roles to perfection.
This is evident when some of these players left and become great role players and or all stars. However, there is one thing that Chicago Blackhawk franchise go through all of this and that was patience. Too often teams will give up on a player too early or not use them right. The Blackhawks have shown the ability to be patient with the development of thier players. It took Keith and Seabrook about 5 years to be good and now Duncan Keith is the playoffs MVP. A team like the Toronto Maple Leafs or Edmonton Oilers would have given up on a Keith or Seabrook long before 5 years.
Last but not least, the fans deserve a pat on the back for sticking with this team for so long. It may be the “Madhouse” now but it was hard to go crazy about this team in the early 2000s. Despite television ratings not being good because Chicago has a vast number of sport teams, the fans have shown up to every game in support for this franchise and now are reaping the rewards. Congrats to the Blackhawks and the city of Chicago.