There is no debate. After defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning and winning their third Stanley Cup in six seasons, the Chicago Blackhawks are a true dynasty in professional sports.
They now join the likes of the Montreal Canadiens, Edmonton Oilers, New York Islanders, Detroit Red Wings, and the Toronto Maple Leafs (in another lifetime), as the only franchises in the NHL to win three cups in six years.
What makes this win all the more impressive is that Chicago received less production from their star forwards, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, than one would expect in a Stanley Cup Final. Both players combined for two goals and six points in six games, and Kane did not score his lone goal until late in the third period of game 6. Brandon Saad, Antoine Vermette, and Teuvo Teravainen were Chicago’s primary threats in front of goal.
It’s also hard to argue with the selection of Duncan Keith as the winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy. Corey Crawford had a superb playoffs, after his first round hiccup against Nashville, and Jonathan Toews did a masterful job defensively on two of the game’s top centers, Ryan Getzlaf and Steven Stamkos, to go along with his 21 points. But make no mistake, Keith’s 21 points, which tied him for second best on the team this postseason, and his incredible +16 rating, is simply remarkable. The fact that Keith puts up numbers of this caliber, combined with averaging about five minutes more of ice time per game than his next closest teammate, establishes him as hockey’s best defenseman, since Detroit’s Nicklas Lidstrom was in his prime.
What’s next for Chicago? Stan Bowman will have another difficult offseason. Next season marks the start of Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews’ monster contracts, which were signed last summer, that will see them devour nearly 30% of the team’s cap space. Probably the most important item on Bowman’s offseason agenda is to re-sign power forward Brandon Saad, who will be a restricted free agent this summer. For the Blackhawks to build on their success, it is imperative that Bowman keeps Saad. With Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp nearing the exit, Saad and Teuvo Teravainen will only grow in significance for the team as viable top six wingers. The Blackhawks will undoubtedly spend a large portion of the summer attempting to shred salary through trades. Andrew Shaw, Patrick Sharp, Bryan Bickell, Kris Versteeg, and perhaps even Brent Seabrook could be trade pieces in exchange for picks or prospects.
Free agents Andrew Desjardins, Kimmo Timonen, Michal Rozsival, Antoine Vermette, Daniel Carcillo, Johnny Oduya, and Brad Richards are a likely to be released. As of right now Duncan Keith, David Runblad, and Niklas Hjalmarsson are the only blue liners assured of being in Chicago next fall. However, like all championship organizations, the Blackhawks have demonstrated their ability to retool effectively. Chicago is currently in pole position to sign highly touted Columbus Blue Jackets prospect Mike Reilly, a First Team All-American defenseman from the University of Minnesota, when he becomes an unrestricted free agent later this month. They also have Ville Pokka, one of the NHL’s top defensive prospects, in the pipeline of what’s been proven to be one of the league’s most consistent minor league systems.
As long as Chicago possesses the core of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Duncan Keith, they will be at the forefront of the postseason picture in the NHL. Despite topping Vegas’ Stanley Cup odds for next season, it’s hard to imagine the Blackhawks heading into next season as the favorites with the considerable revamping this roster will undergo in the months ahead. Although the drop-off will most likely not be as steep, next season will have a similar feeling to 2011, the season directly following the organization’s first Stanley Cup in over 50 years. Before the start of that season, Bowman unloaded key contributors Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd, John Madden, Tomas Kopecky, Troy Brouwer, Antti Niemi, Kris Versteeg, and Brian Campbell. While the Blackhawks have demonstrated the capability to remain competitive in the midst of retooling, the road back to the Stanley Cup Finals will be formidable. Chicago plays in the league’s toughest division, and the Los Angeles Kings, after a much-needed offseason rest, will be a major obstacle to the ‘Hawks’ ability to repeat.
Despite all of the nagging questions surrounding the team heading into the offseason, I would imagine the city of Chicago couldn’t care less about the offseason at the moment. They’re too busy enjoying another championship in a city that has seen to few of them in other sports. Chicago should celebrate this one. They richly deserve it.