The Chicago Blackhawks are in a familiar spot in this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs. After handling the St. Louis Blues and the Minnesota Wild with relative ease in the first two rounds, they find themselves in the Western Conference Finals against the Los Angeles Kings. Chicago’s continued success over the past few years shows a stunning turnaround for the historic franchise, and it is that same success that brings to mind a question that has been the talk of the hockey world of late: How much longer before the Chicago Blackhawks can be considered a modern day dynasty?
It was not too long ago that Chicago was considered a joke among hockey circles and in the sports world in general. In 2004, ESPN declared the organization “the worst franchise in professional sports” after some questionable tactics by then-owner Bill Wirtz left the franchise floundering. In addition to the sky-high ticket prices, among the highest in the National Hockey League, Wirtz also refused to televise the Blackhawks’ home games in the Chicago area. He claimed it was because it would be “unfair to the season ticket holders”, but it is widely accepted that this was done simply to raise the struggling attendance in the United Center.
Though the years of finishing near the basement of the NHL standings left the organization in shambles, it did set up the success the team has today. During the Bill Wirtz era, Chicago drafted Jonathan Toews third overall in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft and Patrick Kane first overall in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. The duo would make an almost immediate impact for the team, finishing their respective rookie seasons at No. 1 and No. 2 in rookie scoring. Since Toews and Kane became the faces of the Blackhawks franchise, the team has had almost consistent success in the standings and in the playoffs.
In 2010, Chicago won its first Stanley Cup in almost 40 years after defeating the Philadelphia Flyers in six games. Just three years later, the team again topped the league by defeating the Boston Bruins in six. If the Blackhawks win the Cup this year, they will not only be the first team to win consecutive Stanley Cups since the Detroit Red Wings did it in 1998, but they will also be the first team to win three Cups in five years since the great dynasty teams in the 70’s and 80’s. Another Cup win this year will make it difficult not to consider the Blackhawks a modern day dynasty.
The “modern day” modifier is an important one, as Chicago simply cannot compare to the overwhelming dominance of NHL dynasties in the past. The Montreal Canadiens won four consecutive Stanley Cups from 1976 to 1979. The New York Islanders followed that with four Cups of their own from 1980 to 1983. After that, the Edmonton Oilers used the leadership of Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier to win five Stanley Cups in seven years, from 1984 until 1990. Compared to those great teams, the Blackhawks’ recent success seems almost paltry.
However, it is important to note that the league has changed a lot since then. The NHL now has more teams, new rules, and much more parity in the league. It seems almost impossible to win consecutive Stanley Cups in today’s league, let alone four or five in a row. The success the Blackhawks have shown has broken the “one and done” pattern that seemed to happen to champions since the turn of the millennium.
Chicago’s job, however, is not done. They must first defeat the Los Angeles Kings, who have had a recent string of success themselves. This will be the third consecutive time the Kings have made the Western Conference Finals, having won the Cup in 2012. If Chicago cannot make it past Los Angeles, any talk of dynasty will disappear, instead being regarded as simply “a really good team.” However, if Los Angeles does prevail over Chicago, and uses that series victory to win the Cup, they can make their own argument in the talk of modern day dynasties.
Commentary by Jonathan Gardner