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Blackhawks weigh which of three Cup teams was best

Players, coach ponder whether 2010, 2013 or 2015 roster would win round robin

by Arpon Basu @ArponBasu / LNH.com Senior Managing Editor

Editor's note: As part of the NHL's Centennial Celebration, fans can pick the NHL's Greatest Stanley Cup Championship Team by using a unique interactive and digital mobile program.

The 96 NHL teams that have won the Stanley Cup are in the running. LNH.com Senior Managing Editor Arpon Basu asked members of the Chicago Blackhawks' past three championship teams (2010, 2013, 2015) which version would win a round-robin tournament. Make your Greatest Team picks.

Their initial responses showed how difficult a question it is to answer.

Three members of the three most recent editions of the Chicago Blackhawks to win the Stanley Cup -- in 2010, 2013 and 2015 -- were asked which of those teams would come out on top in a round-robin tournament.

"That's a very good question," Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said. "I don't know. I can sit here and kind of pick that one apart for a while."

"Wow," was forward Marian Hossa's initial reply. "That is not an easy question."

"Wow," coach Joel Quenneville said, bursting out laughing. "There you go. What a great question."

It is, admittedly, not an easy task, just as it will not be easy for fans to select the greatest Stanley Cup champion team of all time in the Greatest NHL Teams program that runs from April 13 to May 25.

The Blackhawks' three championship teams had different makeups and challenges, but the same core group of players: Toews, Hossa and Patrick Kane up front; Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson on defense, and, of course, Quenneville behind the bench.

"It would be really, really even, you know?" Hossa said. "Maybe one tournament it would be one team and another tournament it would probably be another team. It's really tough to choose only one team because every one of those teams had something special. I think the most size we had was in 2010, when we were more powerful, more physical. So I think that was the most physical team. But maybe on another day the 2013 team could win, you know?"

Much of that core group was very young in 2010, with Toews (21), Kane (20) and Hjalmarsson (22) still learning how to win in the NHL. But it was indeed a bigger, more physical group with Andrew Ladd, Dustin Byfuglien, John Madden, Troy Brouwer, Tomas Kopecky and others creating space on the ice.

The Blackhawks defeated the Philadelphia Flyers in six games in the 2010 Final, with Toews winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the playoffs with 29 points (seven goals, 22 assists) in 22 games.

"I think 2010 might have been the deepest of all the teams," Quenneville said. "2013 was an amazing year; that start was incredible that kept going. The unpredictable one might have been 2015 when we had a lot of things turn out at the end where we got through a lot of real tough series and then found a way.

"I think the deepest team might have been '10, but then everybody had a different ingredient."

Video: 2010 Cup Final, Gm6: Hawks end 49-year Cup drought

The lockout-shortened 2012-13 season could not have started much better for the Blackhawks, setting an NHL record by earning at least a point in their first 24 games (21-0-3). It created a sense in Toews that the team was bound for something special.

"Obviously winning your first Cup, I don't think you realize how good we really were because there was a huge lack of experience in that room," Toews said. "But we were young, we had a lot of chemistry, there was a lot of excitement, we were a good team all year. But I would say in the lockout year we seemed to just come out on a mission. We had a great, short regular season. It just felt like nothing was going to stop us there. So if I had to pick one, I'd say that's it."

Ladd, Byfuglien and others were gone from the 2010 Cup team as salary cap casualties; they were replaced on the 2013 team by Brandon Saad, a rookie that season, Andrew Shaw, the emergence of Bryan Bickell and Corey Crawford taking over from Antti Niemi in goal.

The 2013 Blackhawks defeated the Boston Bruins in six games to win the Cup, with Kane winning the Conn Smythe Trophy.

"It was unbelievable," Hossa said. "I think we set some record at the start. It was a short season, everyone was kind of refreshed, it was a beautiful run and we went all the way. It was one of the, I wouldn't say easy seasons, but everything went our way."

Video: 2013 Cup Final, Gm6: Late goals propel Hawks to Cup

In 2015, the Blackhawks finished third in the Central Division, having lost Kane with a broken clavicle for the final 21 games of the regular season, only to have him recover somewhat miraculously in time for the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and produce 23 points (11 goals, 12 assists) in 23 games.

But this time it was Keith who was the big difference-maker in the playoffs with 21 points (three goals, 18 assists) in 23 games and averaging 31:06 of ice time to win the Conn Smythe in a unanimous vote.

Seabrook (26:17), Hjalmarsson (26:02) and Johnny Oduya (24:45) also logged massive minutes on defense to allow the Blackhawks to win the Cup in six games against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

"The last one, in 2015, it didn't start the best, it was up and down and up and down," Hossa said. "But after that we found a way, the chemistry and everything, and after everything started rolling. Our defense, four guys played so many minutes in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. I think that was amazing. All four rounds. That was huge for us."

When it came down to it, none of the three could definitively choose one team over the other, which is to be expected. It would be like deciding which one of your kids you love the most.

Luckily, much like with your kids, none of them were forced to make a decision.

"It's almost like [just as] we didn't have to play a Game 7 in those three [Final] series," Quenneville said, "I'm glad we don't have to find out in that round robin either."

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