So the Chicago Blackhawks have now become the first team to win three Stanley Cups in the 10 seasons of the NHL’s Salary Cap Era. They have done it in a six-season span.
Next season, the Los Angeles Kings have a chance to one up the Blackhawks’ efforts. A 2016 Cup victory for the Kings would give them three championships in five seasons. Just think, a team that didn’t make the playoffs this season has a chance to accomplish that! For further consideration, if the Kings hadn’t beaten the Blackhawks on an OT goal in Game Seven of last season’s Western Final, the Blackhawks would have had their own shot at three Cups in five seasons, not to mention two straight!
Let’s keep in mind the Salary Cap part of all this. The cap is intended to even out the playing field and to make it more difficult to repeat or sustain excellence. It appears to have accomplished that, with seven different teams winning the Cup since the cap became a part of NHL life.
Today’s NHL does not feature teams winning five straight Cups, as Montreal did from 1956-60. Not to diminish their titles, but the Canadiens took those in the six-team League. Nor are we likely to see something like the New York Islanders of 1980 through 1984 (with 21 teams in the League), who won the Cup in the 1980-1983 seasons and went to the Cup Final in 1984, having established a mark of 19 consecutive playoff series victories. Picking up directly from those Islanders were the Edmonton Oilers, who won the championship five times in seven seasons.
Clearly, this is the zenith of the Blackhawks’ 89 year history, which began in 1926. Prior this run, they have hoisted the Cup three times – in 1934, 1938 and 1961. In the early years, they were defeated in the Final in 1931 and 1944. After winning in 1961, they learned that it wasn’t easy to “get there,” with losses in 1962, 1965, 1971 (with 14 NHL teams), 1973 (16 teams) and 1992 (22 teams).
That 1961 team, playing in an era when only two series victories were required to win the Cup, never recaptured the magic. Consider the Hall of Fame talent on those teams: Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita, Pierre Pilote, and Glenn Hall. Hull was only 21 and Mikita, 20, while Pilote and Hall were the “old timers” at 28! Perhaps a lesson here for the Tampa Bay Lightning, as Brent Seabrook told an interviewer after the Final concluded: “We’d better keep an eye on the Lightning to see what they do over the next six years.”
The year before the Predators began play in 1998-99, the Hawks did not make the playoffs. As a matter of fact, they only made it once in 10 seasons, and that was a first-round exit for them. The United Center wasn’t always the “Madhouse on Madison II.” In those days, sometimes visiting broadcasters would hear their own words echo back at them.
As the Predators joined the NHL, the dominant pre-salary cap team was the Detroit Red Wings. The Wings’ great run began in the lockout-shortened 1995 season. They lost the Cup Final that year to New Jersey and lost the Conference Final the following season to Colorado – at the very beginning of the Red Wings/Avalanche rivalry. (Who said rivalries need time to establish themselves? They definitely hated each other from the first puck drop! The Avs – originally the Nordiques – didn’t move from Quebec City to Denver until the summer of 1995).
In that pre-cap era, if a team had the money and was willing to spend it, the only thing holding them back was their imagination. The New York Rangers spent wildly, yet did not make the playoffs for seven straight seasons (1998-2004). But it can work both ways, of course. Since the institution of the cap, the Maple Leafs have made the playoffs just once in 10 years.
By the fall of 1996, the Red Wings were ready. With Steve Yzerman and the “Russian Five,” they became the last team to win Cups in back-to-back seasons in 1997 and 1998. The 1997 championship represented the end of a 42-year drought without a Cup in Detroit, just like the 2010 Cup ended 49 years for Chicago. The Wings beat Colorado in the 1997 Conference Final, then Dallas in 1998. Colorado derailed them in both the 1999 and 2000 Conference Semis.
Examine the roster, for example, of the 2002 Red Wings: it featured nine members of the Hockey Hall of Fame, including Coach Scotty Bowman, and players Brendan Shanahan, Brett Hull, Nicklas Lidstrom, Luc Robitaille, Steve Yzerman, Igor Larionov, Chris Chelios and Dominik Hasek, who are already enshrined. You can make a pretty good argument that Sergei Fedorov and Pavel Datsyuk will make it as well. The payroll for that team was roughly $65 million. The cap limit this past season was $69 million!
Following a first-round upset at the hands of Los Angeles in 2001, the Wings beat Colorado in another Western Final, then took out the Carolina Hurricanes to win the 2002 Cup, equaling the Blackhawks’ feat of three titles in six seasons. In 2007, Detroit lost the Western Final to the eventual champion Anaheim Ducks, followed directly by a Cup triumph over the Pittsburgh Penguins, then a loss in the 2009 rematch with Pittsburgh. Since then, they have lost three Western Semifinals and have been eliminated three times in the first round (including 2012 versus the Predators).
Great teams can drive other great teams to success. The Avs and Red Wings were good for each other. Colorado got through Detroit to win their first Cup in 1996. Detroit beat Colorado in 1997, 2002 and 2008 enroute to championships.
The Kings and Chicago have been good for each other as well. After winning their first Cup in 2012, the Kings lost in the Western Final to Chicago the following season. Los Angeles prevailed over the Rangers in that seven-game extravaganza in 2014, on the overtime goal by Alec Martinez. This season, 95 points were not enough to gain a playoff berth for the Kings. That left them three points behind Calgary in the division and four points back of Winnipeg in the Wild Card race.
So, what happens next? With the summer months upon us, we know rosters will be juggled, that’s for certain!