It was just days after the reborn Chicago Blackhawks won the 2010 Stanley Cup when general manager Stan Bowman had to make some hard roster decisions, thanks to the limits of the NHL's salary cap.
The starting goaltender, Antti Niemi, departed as a free agent and was replaced by a less expensive option, Corey Crawford. Versatile role players such as Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien were sacrificed to the Atlanta Thrashers, collateral damage in Chicago's bid to get cap-compliant by the start of the next season.
It was the same after the Blackhawks' 2013 title. Dave Bolland, who scored the decisive goal to beat the Boston Bruins in that dramatic final game, was lost to free agency. The useful Michael Frolik, one of coach Joel Quenneville's favourites, was sent to Winnipeg.
As a result, there was conjecture that teams capable of competing year after year for the Cup would disappear in the NHL's salary-cap era. And yet the Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings, who between them have won five of the past six titles, are proof that dominance isn't necessarily dead.
When the Blackhawks launch their Stanley Cup defence in October, they will still have a great nucleus built around Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith. Toews and Kane will just be starting new contracts worth $10.5-million (all figures U.S.) a season, and that will force Bowman into making another round of unpopular lineup adjustments to get his payroll within the 2015-16 limit – somewhere around $70-million a team.
No matter how hard they work the math, the Blackhawks will not be able to retain all the pieces of their championship puzzle. They know that. Bowman's father, the legendary coach Scotty Bowman, now a Blackhawks adviser, called the necessary postchampionship purges the hardest task a manager has to undertake in this day and age.
In the same way Byfuglien and Ladd were the casualties six years ago, the player on the hot seat now is Patrick Sharp, with a $5.9-million annual salary-cap hit. The Blackhawks hit the jackpot when they acquired Sharp for next to nothing from the Philadelphia Flyers in 2005. One of only seven players remaining from Chicago's first Cup team, Sharp is now 33 and still fleet of foot, which might make him easier to move, though not easy.
Sharp was a critical piece in their first two championships, but less so in the latest. If they can move his contract and pass on signing Antoine Vermette to a contract extension, the Hawks might be able to keep integral defencemen such as Johnny Oduya and Brent Seabrook; Quenneville doesn't want to part with either of them.
It is reasonable to ask what separates the Blackhawks from other NHL teams using roughly the same formula to succeed – a handful of high-end forwards, a collection of mobile defencemen and bend-but-don't break goaltending. The only logical answer is that Toews provides them with leadership that few teams can duplicate. His exuberant will to win seems to lift the Blackhawks to victory in tight games that could easily go either way.
And his thoughtful gestures, such as handing the Stanley Cup first to the retiring Kimmo Timonen, even though Timonen made only a small contribution to the title, endear Toews to teammates and opponents alike. Class will tell, and Toews consistently demonstrates, by his actions, his play and his results, what a singular, unique presence he brings to a team.
Late Monday, after the 2-0 shutout win, Toews made a reference to teammates past and present when assessing what three championships in six seasons really means.
"We have a great group of guys who've been here for seven or eight years, but we also have some amazing teammates who've come and gone and contributed to our different championships, so we owe it to those guys as well," Toews said. "There are so many key factors that come into play in winning a Stanley Cup championship like this."
And as for the dynasty talk, which NHL commissioner Gary Bettman referenced just before handing him the Stanley Cup Monday night, Toews said: "You guys can decide that; I'm not going to be the one saying that."
"But," Toews continued, "in this day and age, it's really tough to do what we've done. We're proud of ourselves in having a lot of character and working really hard to get to where we are.
"It's pretty special [that] we're even being mentioned along those lines. I think at this point, in our game, this is pretty rare. And we all know that."
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