Skip to main content

The Boston Bruins are long gone. The Los Angeles Kings, too. No more Penguins or Red Wings either.

Of the five most successful teams in the NHL's salary-cap era, only one remains standing. And they're waiting – patiently, peacefully – for the final four to begin.

Five years after winning the franchise's first Stanley Cup in 49 years, the Chicago Blackhawks remain a juggernaut. They were supposed to have one of the toughest roads of any team in this postseason, with the league's new division-heavy format meaning they had to play through two excellent Central Division teams to get this far.

But they dumped Nashville, with 104 points, in six games.

Then they steamrolled Minnesota, with 100 points, in a sweep.

They make it look easy. Now the only team left from the toughest division in the NHL is the favourite.

Again.

Eight faces are the same, but these are not the plucky, young Blackhawks that stormed to that championship in 2009-10. Chicago was the oldest team to make the playoffs this year, with only three regulars who will be under 25 years of age by the end of this month: Andrew Shaw, Brandon Saad and Teuvo Teravainen.

In a league filled with upheaval (often because of the cap) and which continues to get younger and fleeter (sometimes because of the cap), Chicago isn't that. The Hawks' average blueliner in this postseason is more than 33 years old (until David Rundblad comes in for Michal Rozsival and his broken ankle); two of their five biggest minute forwards are already 35-plus.

 

Postseason success since 2010

 
 

Teams

Playoff games

Cups

1

Chicago

87

2

2

Boston

79

1

3

Los Angeles

76

2

4

NY Rangers

73

0

5

Montreal

59

0

6

Pittsburgh

59

0

7

San Jose

56

0

8

Detroit

54

0

9

Philadelphia

52

0

10

Vancouver

52

0

11

Washington

50

0

12

Anaheim

35

0

13

Nashville

34

0

14

Tampa Bay

34

0

15

New Jersey

29

0

16

Ottawa

29

0

17

Minnesota

28

0

18

Arizona

27

0

19

St. Louis

27

0

20

Buffalo

13

0

21

Colorado

13

0

22

NY Islanders

13

0

23

Calgary

11

0

24

Florida

7

0

25

Toronto

7

0

26

Columbus

6

0

27

Dallas

6

0

28

Winnipeg

4

0

29

Carolina

0

0

30

Edmonton

0

0

A big reason why it works is that the 2010 team was so young, so fantastic and, ultimately, so cost-effective. Keeping that together was different than locking up an older team – the way Boston has, for example.

The 2010 Blackhawks were also much more dynamic than those Bruins. They rang up 3.54 goals a game that postseason – what seems an impossible number given these every-game-is-a-one-goal-game playoffs – and won despite a pretty pedestrian performance in goal from Antti Niemi.

Even with good pieces shorn off and moved for futures – Andrew Ladd, Brian Campbell, Dustin Byfuglien and Dave Bolland going on to receive huge paydays elsewhere – the real strength of that group remains the strength of this one.

Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp up front. Duncan Keith, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Brent Seabrook on the blueline.

All seven with a cap hit between $4.1-million and $6.3-million (U.S.).

That's talent and value you don't see on any other roster in the league – and especially not for this sustained a period of time.

This will be the last hurrah for this group of seven. Toews's and Kane's salaries will nearly double, and their cap hits will become the highest in the NHL ($10.5-million), a consequence of the 2013 collective agreement eliminating front-loaded 10-plus-year deals and escalating stars' salaries.

With only 15 players signed, the Blackhawks already have $65-million committed to next year's cap, which isn't expected to rise to much more than $71-million.

(They also have a league-high $38-million dedicated to the 2019-20 cap five years from now, which may ultimately include Hossa's ugly cap recapture penalty should the 36-year-old retire "early.")

Someone is going to have to go make room for new deals for Saad and Marcus Kruger. Sharp is expected to be the odd man out, but even that may not leave enough wiggle room to keep the rest of the roster together.

And will what's left be good enough to get them back to a familiar spot in the final four, which they've now advanced to a ridiculous five times in seven years despite playing in the Western Conference?

With that kind of sustained excellence, it feels only fitting that the Blackhawks cap it with a third Cup, becoming only the second franchise since the 1980s Oilers to win three times in six seasons.

Would we call that a dynasty? Should we? Probably, given how parity-filled this era is – and how difficult it's going to be for general managers to keep an outstanding core together the way Stan Bowman has in Chicago.

But this feels like a line for this group, with the big contracts coming and at least one key cog about to be shown the door. They've defied age and the cap for so long, but this could well be their last, best chance to win it all for a while.

And certainly their last chance with this much of that 2010 core together and in a starring role.