Jonathan Toews says the 2010 Chicago Blackhawks were “oblivious” to how well they were playing on the way to capturing the Stanley Cup.
The 2013 Cup took some more thought.
“This time around we know definitely how much work it takes and how much sacrifice it takes to get back here,” the Blackhawks captain said after the Blackhawks beat Boston in six games to claim their fifth NHL title.
It also took more work for general manager Stan Bowman to rebuild from scratch. Salary-cap constraints meant saying goodbye to goaltender Antti Niemi, left-wingers Andrew Ladd and Kris Versteeg, forward/defenceman Dustin Byfuglien and others.
Bowman simply changed his roster on the fly, watching draft picks like goalie Corey Crawford, forwards Bryan Bickell, Brandon Saad and Dave Bolland blossom, signing defenceman Michal Rozsival and trading for centre Michal Handzus and defenceman Johnny Oduya. The result was a championship that he has his fingerprints on.
“It’s hard to win and you have to make some changes, sort of retool a little bit,” Bowman said. “I’m proud of everybody. It’s been a long road to get here and this is sort of the culmination of a lot of hard work for a lot of people.”
Bowman, named for the Cup by his legendary father, Scotty, was around the trophy plenty throughout his life. Even though Scotty won it nine times, that never devalued the long road of getting there.
“He’s a calm guy. I think he realizes how tough it is,” Scotty Bowman said. “That’s the thing about the Stanley Cup is it’s so tough to win that when you do win it, you’re delirious.”
Perhaps not delirious, but coach Joel Quenneville was more candid than usual as he stood on the ice at TD Garden while his players posed for pictures with the trophy that already has his name on it once.
“It’s always the greatest feeling in the world,” Quenneville said. “Once you do it, you can’t wait to do it again. The stories, the ups and downs and the process of trying to win a Cup, that’s what makes it so special.”
The Blackhawks only had eight players back from that 2010 Cup team: Toews, Conn Smythe-winner Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Marian Hossa, Dave Bolland and Niklas Hjalmarsson.
The core group, led by Toews, Kane, Sharp and Keith, lost in the first round in 2011 and 2012. Chicago ran into a Vancouver Canucks team that was one win away from the Cup and then a hot goaltender in Mike Smith of the Phoenix Coyotes.
“I thought we had two good lessons to learn,” Quenneville said of those playoff exits. “The core put it all into place. Those guys that were there before, their guidance, their leadership at critical times made the difference.”
It would’ve been easy for Bowman to be reactionary and fidget with his core after not winning a playoff series in the two years following a championship. But the hockey lifer wisely chose to maintain the course.
“I knew we had a very good team here,” he said. “We do an analysis and break it down and there were so many good things that happened that you don’t want to throw everything out the window.”
Instead, Bowman tweaked around the edges. Draft picks like Crawford, Bolland and Bickell from the previous regime under Dale Tallon turned out, mixing well with Saad, Andrew Shaw and those Bowman and his scouting staff selected.
“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 feel proud to be part of this organization and to win it again.”
Even after watching as the Blackhawks started the season with an NHL-record 24-game point streak, Bowman wasn’t satisfied. His final move was to get Handzus from the San Jose Sharks before the trade deadline, and the 36-year-old was the second-line centre and the first player to get the Cup from Toews on Monday night.
Handzus could immediately appreciate what it all meant.
“It shows it’s great core here, a lot of leaders,” he said. “The guys they brought in, they play great. I was the last guy, but I was just trying to fill in. The whole year, they play great.”
This championship was all about a changing roster and consistent performance this season. The Blackhawks became the first Presidents’ Trophy winners to also capture the Stanley Cup since the 2008 Detroit Red Wings.
Kane said before the Cup final that he and his teammates wanted to thank Bowman for not blowing up the core. Even with the increased pressure that came with the streak and the most points in the NHL, the Blackhawks got it done.
“I think it’s pretty much the same group as last year with maybe a couple differences,” he said. “We wanted to prove ourselves all year, especially to maybe our own organization that kept us together, that we’re here, we can do some special things.”