Unlike 2010 – the last time they won the Stanley Cup – the Chicago Blackhawks may not need to immediately dismantle this year’s version of their championship team because of salary cap reasons.
Remember how that badly that went? From the time they celebrated the parade until the entry draft in Los Angeles later that June, the Blackhawks had either traded away or were putting into motion deals that would eventually force out key members of their supporting cast: Dustin Byfuglien, Troy Brouwer, Andrew Ladd, Kris Versteeg, No. 1 goalie Antti Niemi and high-priced defenceman Brian Campbell.
It was a massive blood-letting on an organizational level and it took the Blackhawks two full seasons to rebuild.
If there was a single overriding reason why Chicago held made it back to the winner’s circle this season, it was depth, shrewdly assembled by general manager Stan Bowman, with one eye on today and another on tomorrow. Organizationally, the good news is Bowman will have a far easier time keeping his team intact this time around.
The one notable exception might be winger Bryan Bickell, who is an unrestricted free agent this summer, and had a breakout playoffs. It was not immediately clear if Bickell would chase the richest possible contract, or sign again with the Blackhawks for a discount, in order to stay and continue to play with the likes of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.
Bickell, according to head coach Joel Quenneville, was one of the Blackhawks players who was able to hide a significant injury right up until the end, a second-degree ligament tear that ultimately had Quenneville juggling his lines to protect Bickell’s health as much as he could.
Toews and Kane are signed for another two more years at a reasonable cap hit of $6.3-million (U.S.), while Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, plus the top four defencemen (Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya) are all locked up for various lengths as well.
Goaltender Corey Crawford has one more year left at a cap hit of $2.67-million and the Blackhawks will endeavour to get him signed as soon as they can – any time after July 5 is permissible under the collective agreement – but his new contract won’t count against the cap until 2014-15, when Bowman can reasonably expect it to go up again.
The NHL has two golden geese on the horizon that should bump up revenues soon: the prospect of six money-making outdoor games, sprinkled all around the league, and the renewal of Canadian television rights. Even without any Canadian content after the second round ended, the sheer entertainment value of these playoffs meant TV ratings were respectable in Canada and record-setting in the United States.
Usually, the quality of the show declines substantially as the playoffs move along and the players run out of gas, but somehow the Boston Bruins and Blackhawks kept their collective feet on the accelerator all the way through to the end.
It was a memorable, well-played final and the June 24 finish tied with the 1994-95 season for the latest the NHL has ever played. It was, as Bruins forward Tyler Seguin so aptly put it, a “long short” season and it may have an effect on both teams at some point next season.
Bickell (knee), Hossa (back), Toews (head) were all playing hurt on the Blackhawks side and nobody endured more pain than Bruins centre Patrice Bergeron, who played the deciding Game 6 on Monday with a broken rib and torn rib cartilage and then proceeded to separate his shoulder as well. The final list of the walking wounded will spill out in the next 48 hours and for Bergeron, Toews, Keith and some others, the summer will be short.
Canada’s Olympic training camp is scheduled for Calgary in the last week of August, and so they will receive invites. Crawford might as well.
Several factors conspired to keep the Blackhawks out from repeating the last time they won the Stanley Cup, but the most notable were personnel departures and the relative unpreparedness to handle the Stanley Cup hangover.
This time, the team should survive with its core intact.
How they deal with the effects of winning again and the celebrations that will inevitably follow will test that new-found maturity we kept hearing about throughout the postseason. Check TMZ and YouTube for updates there.