Strong core makes Blackhawks longtime contenders
BY MARK LAZERUS email@example.com June 25, 2013 9:56PM
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Updated: June 26, 2013 4:18PM
At the ripe old age of 24, Patrick Kane spoke often over the last two months about soaking in the Stanley Cup playoff experience this time, about how the 2010 postseason was all a blur that maybe he and his precocious teammates took for granted.
And some 20 minutes after the Blackhawks leapt into each other’s arms following their exhilarating comeback victory in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday night at TD Garden — smears of blood marking nearly every sweater, about shoulder high, thanks to Andrew Shaw’s shredded cheek — Kane was asked if he had been able to indeed take it all in this time.
“Not a chance,” he said, laughing. “I don’t even know what just happened.”
What just happened was the Hawks had won their second Stanley Cup in four years, putting the disappointment of two straight first-round exits behind them and sparking talk of a budding dynasty, a franchise built to compete for the Cup for years to come.
“We want to win every single year,” said captain Jonathan Toews, the heart, soul and best player who had another signature game in Game 6, coming back from injury to score a goal and set up Bryan Bickell’s equalizer in the fabulous finish. “That’s the tough thing to do in this sport. We gave ourselves the opportunity here, and we didn’t want to waste it.”
The opportunity should be there again next year. And the year after that. And beyond. This core — around which the 2010 championship was built, then which was clung to in the summer salary purge, then around which the 2013 championship was rebuilt — isn’t going anywhere any time soon. Toews and Kane will be getting monster contract extensions in the next year or so. Marian Hossa is locked up until he decides to retire. Duncan Keith, Patrick Sharp and Brent Seabrook have long-term deals.
They all have a lot of hockey ahead of them, too, Hossa the oldest at 34, Sharp next at 31, and the rest still in their 20s. And as long as that core exists, the Hawks can find the spare parts and depth guys and role players needed to build another championship-caliber team. General manager Stan Bowman proved it with this team — the first in the salary-cap era to win a second championship after having to reconstruct more than half of its roster.
“The fact that Stan had to make so many decisions right after we won makes this one even sweeter,” Sharp said. “He decided [to keep] myself and a couple of other guys around. I think we can be confident in what we can do as an organization. That goes for the guys behind the scenes in the front office and to our leadership group. I’m proud to be a Blackhawk.”
There’ll be changes again this summer, but it won’t be nearly as drastic as 2010 was. There are no superstar extensions that have to get done immediately, no million-dollar bonuses for postseason accomplishments to squeeze out another roster spot. The core will be back. And with the core, the Cup is always a possibility.
Of course, the core was here the previous two seasons, too, seasons that ended in first-round disappointment. But that’s life in the big leagues. In 2011, the Hawks pushed the top-seeded Canucks to seven games after falling down 3-0. In 2012, they ran into a hot goalie and lost in six games to the Coyotes in a series that saw five games go into overtime. In hockey, good teams lose all the time.
There’s a reason the Stanley Cup is known as the toughest trophy to win in sports.
Asked if Bowman got more satisfaction from this Cup run because his fingerprints were all over the team, whereas in 2010 he inherited the roster from Dale Tallon, Bowman demurred.
“I don’t know if it’s that so much as you appreciate the difficulty,” Bowman told the Sun-Times. “We’ve had a good team here for a number of years, but just because you have a good team and you play well doesn’t mean you’re going to win.”
No, nothing’s guaranteed. Toews and Kane might play another dozen years in an Indian-head sweater and never lift the Stanley Cup over their heads again after this summer. That’s hockey. But it’s a safe bet they’ll be in the hunt year in and year out, and that’s all a player can ask.
“There’s something about our core,” Kane said. “Hopefully, we can stay together for a long time because that’s two Cups in four years, and we seem to only be getting better and better as players as time goes on here.”