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Blackhawks have strong case to be called 'dynasty'

by Dan Rosen

CHICAGO -- With no official guidelines for what a dynasty is, the debate about which teams belong in that category are often the topic of intense debate among fans.

"It's one of those things that makes great conversation," Hockey Hall of Fame center Bryan Trottier told

Trottier should know; he was a key player on one of the NHL teams universally called a dynasty. His New York Islanders won Stanley Cup four straight years, from 1980-83.

Those Islanders are joined by the Montreal Canadiens of 1970s, with four championships from 1976-79; and the Edmonton Oilers, with five championships from 1984-90. The Detroit Red Wings won three championships in six seasons (1997-98, 2002) and are labeled a dynasty in many hockey circles.

Where do these Chicago Blackhawks fit among hockey's greatest teams?

They have won the 2010, 2013 and the 2015 Stanley Cup. They clinched their third championship in the past six seasons with a 2-0, Game 6 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning at United Center on Monday.

The Blackhawks have been involved in the Stanley Cup Playoffs every season since 2009. The only other North American major professional sports teams with the same credentials are the Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins; the San Antonio Spurs, Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat in the NBA; and the New England Patriots and Green Bay Packers in the NFL.

The Blackhawks have reached the Western Conference Final five times and the Stanley Cup Final three times in those seven seasons. They were within an overtime goal of being a favorite to win the Stanley Cup against the New York Rangers last season. Instead, the Los Angeles Kings defeated New York in five games.

So, are the Blackhawks the NHL's newest dynasty?

"Dynasty is a pretty strong word, but I'll tell you what, in today's era with the free agency and how hard it is to keep star players around and the money that's being thrown out there, if it's not a dynasty, it's pretty darn good anyway," said Larry Robinson, a Hall of Fame defenseman and six-time Stanley Cup champion with the Canadiens. "It's a pretty darn good job of keeping everybody in the same place and winning games."

Robinson raises an important point by mentioning free agency. The Blackhawks are the first team in any of the four major sports to win a championship three times in an era with a hard salary cap.

The Red Wings could spend more than every team when they won their three titles in six seasons. Free agency, and money in general, weren't considerations when the Oilers, Islanders and Canadiens went on their historic runs.

"We were like, 'Boy, we could stay here forever and keep this thing going,'" Trottier said. "The trend now is free agency, movement, the salary cap, and Chicago has been capable of keeping it together."

The Blackhawks have eight players who have been on the three championship teams, and 14 who have been on the past two. That is a remarkable feat because byproducts of the NHL instituting a salary cap in 2005 have been League-wide parity and salary restrictions that invariably require roster turnover on an annual basis.

Sixteen points separated the first-place team from the 16th-place team this season; 32 points separated first from 16th in 2005-06. The average differential prior to this season was 26.

"It's harder now to even get to the playoffs, and I can speak firsthand with San Jose," said Robinson, who was an assistant coach with the San Jose Sharks this season. "The difference between being in the playoffs and being out of the playoffs is a three-game losing streak."

The Blackhawks have made it despite turning over more than 50 percent of their roster from their first championship to their second because of salary-cap restrictions and other factors. There were first-round eliminations in the two seasons following the first Cup, but general manager Stan Bowman was rebuilding Chicago into the team it has been for the past three.

"When you have to do it on the fly, like Chicago did it, you're looking at the players having to adjust and the coaching staff having to figure things out and find roles for players, and the players have to feel like they have worth," Trottier said. "Those small-minute guys have to feel like they're contributing as much as the 20-minute guys. There is a sense of worth. To do it within the basement and the ceiling of the salary cap, teams have to juggle a lot. It's impressive."

The Blackhawks have sustained their success the same way the Canadiens, Oilers, Islanders and Red Wings did: with a stable and special group of players and some of the best coaching in NHL history.

"Their core nucleus here is incredible, starting with their captain (Jonathan Toews) and everything he does," said Mark Messier, who won the Stanley Cup five times with the Oilers and with the New York Rangers in 1994.

Toews is to the Blackhawks what Steve Yzerman was to the Red Wings, Messier was to the Oilers, Trottier was to the Islanders, and Yvon Cournoyer was to the Canadiens.

Similarly, defenseman Duncan Keith is to the Blackhawks what Nicklas Lidstrom was to the Red Wings, Paul Coffey was to the Oilers, Denis Potvin was to the Islanders, and any one of the "Big Three" (Robinson, Serge Savard and Guy Lapointe) were to the Canadiens.

It can be argued that forward Patrick Kane is to Chicago what Sergei Fedorov was to Detroit, Jari Kurri was to Edmonton, Mike Bossy was to New York, and Guy Lafleur was to Montreal.

The Blackhawks also have Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp and Brent Seabrook. The Red Wings had Brendan Shanahan, Tomas Holmstrom and Kris Draper. The Oilers had Glenn Anderson, Esa Tikkanen and Kevin Lowe. The Islanders had Bobby Nystrom, Clark Gillies and Butch Goring. The Canadiens had Bob Gainey, Doug Jarvis and Jacques Lemaire.

"I think, for Chicago, all the pieces have kind of laid in the right place for them," Robinson said.

Including the coaching, because Joel Quenneville is to the Blackhawks what Scotty Bowman was to the Red Wings and Canadiens, Glen Sather was to the Oilers, and Al Arbour was to the Islanders.

It's not a coincidence that the top three coaches in regular-season wins are Bowman (1,244), Arbour (782) and Quenneville (754). Sather is 22nd on the all-time list (497), but he coached 13 seasons, five fewer than Quenneville.

"The coaching has been like a mastermind, the standard with great continuity to it," Trottier said.

But does it make the Blackhawks a dynasty, or simply three-time Stanley Cup champions?

That remains in the eye of the beholder.

"There's a lot of bouquets to throw to a lot of different people," Messier said. "The organization as a whole should be applauded. They retooled, won again, and here they are again. That's really incredible."


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