I picked against the Blackhawks in the Western Conference Finals (Ducks in 7) and the Stanley Cup Final (Lightning in 6). I was wrong both times. I'm not upset to be wrong. I hold nothing against the Blackhawks; they shoved their dominance in my face, in the NHL's face, in everyone's face. The Hawks won the Cup again, doing what they've always done in their three cup runs: grinding teams away in the later stage of the series, pulling away when everyone else is pulling back.
There are a lot of amazing fact and facets to the Blackhawks dynastic last 6 years - and there is no argument, this is a modern dynasty. There's the facet of their core 7 guys, the top seven players that were on each team - Toews, Kane, Keith, Seabrook, Hossa, Sharp, Hjalmarsson. That's one top center, two solid two-way wingers, one dynamic winger, and three great defenseman that fit together perfectly. There's the facet of their goaltending, with Corey Crawford now twice outplaying goalies who were Vezina finalists in recent times in the Final without truly being trusted. There's the facet of Coach Q, who's incessant line-switching not only reenergized that team series after series; a game of line switching that he got so good at he at times started dictating matchups on the road. But my favorite as a fact, this fact: In this era, when tied 2-2 in a series, the Blackhawks are 18-1. So not only have they won all those series, only once did they even have to go to Game 7.
The Blackhawks have no real weakness. They aren't the biggest team, but they have the speed and will to get by without being hit happy. The Blackhawks can do basically everything else. They can dominate possession, they can light up the scoreboard when pressed to do so. They can win without their top offensive guys scoring goals. On the other side, they can squeeze offenses down about as well as any other team that prides itself on defense. Note that the last two times the Blackhawks won the Cup they ranked 2nd and 16th in goals scored, but 1st in goals allowed both times. The Blackhawks really could do it all, the logical and geographical heir to the Red Wings from 1995-2008.
The top names have become familiar enough that it underrates how well the Blackhawks have done filling out that roster a few times over. The tear-down the Hawks had to endure after their first Cup is pretty legendary by this point. Back then, before Toews and Kane started getting 'Paid', the Hawks loaded up their roster and built a super team. The 2010 club was amazing, it ran through the playoffs 16-6 (three times sweeping games 5-6 after being tied 2-2), but they knew they were entering cap hell. Gone that offseason were Dustin Byfuglein, Brian Campbell, Andrew Ladd, John Madden, Troy Brouwer, Thomas Kopecky, and Brent Sopel. That is a lot of depth to lose. It showed as the next two years the Hawks struggled with depth issues, and lost in the 1st round to Vancouver and Phoenix. But in those two years they started developing the new depth that would take over the 2013 and 2015 teams.
Brandon Saad, Brian Bickell, Michael Roszival, Andrew Shaw, Johnny Oduya, those are the names of draftees and signings that made up the depth today. They supplemented these with hired guns like Brad Richards or Antoine Vermette. It all worked, though. Toews and Kane were largely shut out of the 2015 Stanley Cup Finals, but Tuevo Teravainen and Antoine Vermette decided to go on a scoring binge. They rotated in the bottom two defenseman, and while they didn't ask much of them they were able to not be totally overmatched in the 15 minutes they had to play. Everything worked, again, for a team that seems to know no bounds when it comes to manufacturing wins.
That last line 'know no bounds when it comes to manufacturing wins' was once said about my New Jersey Devils after they beat the Ottawa Senators in the 2003 Eastern Conference Finals. That Ottawa team won the President's Trophy as the top team in the NHL. They had the league's top offense, and a solid defense. The Devils beat them in Game 7, on the road, after blowing a 3-1 series lead. It truly was the Devils manufacturing a series win. That year capped off a 9-year stretch when they won three Stanley Cups and an additional trip to the Cup Final. The Devils were these Blackhawks. I know what it is like to root for that type of team. And not matter how business-like the Devils were then or the Blackhawks are now, it is still special when they pull this type of thing off.
People are saying that the Blackhawks are unlikely to get back next year with another impending cap crunch coming up, and in a way that is true as the Core 7 will almost definitely be broken up for the first time, whether it is Sharp getting moved, or even Seabrook. Some of the other rentals will likely leave, but will it really matter? Sharp was basically a 3rd line player. They can just move Shaw up, or hope, and more likely than that expect, guys like Teravainen to just get better and make up for it. And of course they still have Toews and Kane.
The franchise's fortunes basically depend on them tanking early in the 2000s, drafting Patrick Kane 1st overall in the 2007 draft, a year after picking Jonathan Toews 3rd overall in the 2006 draft. That 2006 draft is ending up like another famous draft that ended with a Chicago team picking an all-timer with the #3 pick. Right before Toews, the Pittsburgh Penguins, having already gotten Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in the previous two drafts, decided to pick Jordan Staal - a nice player, but in no way Jonathan Toews. I don't know if Toews would have become the player he did if he went to Pittsburgh, but Chicago definitely wouldn't have become Chicago if they had to take Staal instead.
You can say then that Chicago tanked and got lucky, but it is more than that. Apart from Hossa and Sharp, the core 7 was drafted and developed (and Sharp was nowhere near the player pre-Chicago). They built that team a lot like the 1996-2000 Yankees, which were about as good of a dynasty as I've seen in my lifetime. Those Yankees had their core that they drafted and developed, and then had a bunch of depth and rentals that they bought beacuse they could. It worked a little too well, as the Yankees then turned into a team that basically bought and rented everyone, but the 1996-2000 run was special, and 15 years later this hockey fan has seen another special run.