Blackhawks

How the Blackhawks' 2009-2010 season was like the 1998 Bulls' 'Last Dance'

How the Blackhawks' 2009-2010 season was like the 1998 Bulls' 'Last Dance'

2010 Stanley Cup champion Kris Versteeg and 2010 head coach Joel Quenneville joined NBC Sports Chicago's "Be Chicago: Together We Can" fundraiser benefitting the Chicago Community COVID-19 Response Fund on Wednesday night, and discussed why the team may have felt the 2009-10 season was their last shot at Stanley Cup glory in the Windy City.  

Seeing as the 2010 Stanley Cup championship team sparked the golden age and yielded three Stanley Cup titles for Chicago, it's hard to imagine they thought of themselves as having one last hurrah similar to the 1998 Chicago Bulls, but they did.  

Not only did the group think the 2010 postseason could be "the last dance'" (and yes, that crew would make an epic ESPN docuseries), but they correctly feared that some of their top players could be gone the following year.

Currently being chronicled in ESPN's "The Last Dance," the Bulls knew they had one more shot at a title in 1998. General manager Jerry Krause announced it was Phil Jackson's last season as coach, prompting Jordan to say it was his. There was also friction between Krause and Scottie Pippen.

No, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane hadn't achieved the same zip code as Jordan status in just a couple of NHL seasons, and there wasn't much friction behind the scenes. But the team knew they had something special, and it would more than likely be dismantled after the year. 

"I would have liked to seen it have an opportunity, but obviously, at the same time, we're all in this, too, to make a living, and you got to get paid as well," Versteeg said of the team breaking up. "It is tough the way the cap works out, but I'm just glad we got to do it. Because we had one year to do it. That's what was tough. 

"There was a lot of pressure on us internally too. We talked about it. We all knew it was going to be it and we had to try to do it in one year, and that's why I was pretty proud of that group."

RELATED: Quenneville reflects on return to Chicago: 'It was special'

The Bulls were putting a bow on their dynasty in 1998, and the Blackhawks were just starting theirs in 2010, but several players had their "last dance" with the Hawks as Stanley Cup champions.

Versteeg and other valuable, up-and-coming 2010 Cup champions like Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien were traded shortly after winning due to salary cap constraints. The Hawks also had to match an offer sheet from the San Jose Sharks for Niklas Hjalmarsson, forcing them to part with starting goalie Antti Niemi.

Shot-blocking veteran defenseman Brent Sopel was also traded away that offseason, as were gritty forwards Ben Eager and Colin Frasier. Scrappy defenseman Adam Burish signed with the Dallas Stars after his contract expired, and veteran center John Madden joined the Minnesota Wild after his deal with Chicago was done. 

Versteeg and Ladd rejoined the Hawks for stints later in their careers, but only Versteeg would lift Lord Stanley's Cup again with the Blackhawks in 2015. 

NBC Sports Chicago's Pat Boyle asked former Hawks head coach Joel Quenneville about the "Last Dance" comparison during Wednesday's telethon.

"To an extent there," Quenneville replied. "We were so deep and talented. It was all these guys in every position. When we went four lines deep. We had to sit some guys out that you knew are going to be good players that were not going to be happy with your decisions. 

"And we had all these young guys that were on entry level contracts that were going to be impact players on other teams. We'd obviously like them on our team. Buff was included in that group. And we had to make some decisions and some real tough ones as well. 

"It wasn't because of the talent, it was based on money. And those decisions were made, and the fact that the players knew it at that time was something that, as a coach, you're not even thinking about that. You're only thinking about winning and doing everything we can to get everybody to compete and push one another in a positive way."

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Why Blackhawks will face significant financial challenges for years to come

Why Blackhawks will face significant financial challenges for years to come

There's good news and bad news for the Blackhawks as the NHL and NHL Players' Association agreed to a new six-year Collective Bargaining Agreement extension that runs through the 2025-26 season and includes an escrow provision that could add one additional year to the deal.

The good news is, hockey is back and the Blackhawks have a shot at making a Stanley Cup run after the league generously included them in the 24-team Return to Play format. And if they get eliminated by the Edmonton Oilers in the qualifying round, the Blackhawks will have a 12.5 percent chance at landing the No. 1 overall pick and drafting stud winger Alexis Lafraniere. Not a bad consolation.

The bad news? The upper limit of the salary cap will stay flat at $81.5 million for the 2020-21 season and remain that way until hockey-related revenue reaches $3.33 million, and only increase by more than $1 million per year until HRR surpasses $4.8 billion again, which could take several years.

For reference: One week before the league put its season on pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly announced the salary cap for the 2020-21 campaign would be in between $84 and $88.2 million. Now it won't come close to the low end of that mark for at least three or four years, which is a tough pill to swallow because teams were preparing for the ceiling to reach a different level following a new U.S. television deal and the addition of Seattle as the 32nd team for the 2021-22 season.

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Only six other teams had fewer cap space available at the regular season's pause than the Blackhawks, who had $175,558 to spare. And their financial situation is about to get way more complicated.

Dominik Kubalik and Dylan Strome are among the most notable restricted free agents who are due fairly significant pay raises, along with Drake Caggiula on a smaller scale. And then there's Corey Crawford, who's set to become an unrestricted free agent. The Blackhawks may have some difficult choices to make, but ones that won’t happen until the offseason.

“My conversations with them have been more checking in, see how they’re doing,” GM Stan Bowman said on June 11 of the pending RFAs and UFAs. “As far as future signings and contracts and whatnot, I’ve told their agents that at this point, it’s premature. There are too many uncertainties to know what the salary cap or what the format for the future will be. So we’re just going to wait until we have more information.

"In my conversations with other managers around the league, everyone’s taking the same approach. It’s really difficult to be signing contracts for the future when we haven’t even finished this season yet, and we don’t know what the next year’s going to look like. I imagine that’s all going to happen in the offseason, whenever that might be.”

While the Blackhawks are trying to navigate through their financial challenges for next season, equal attention must be placed on the future during these unprecedented circumstances.

Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are all scheduled to become UFAs at the end of the 2022-23 season, which is the same year Alex DeBrincat will be seeking a new deal as a pending RFA. Top prospects Adam Boqvist and Kirby Dach, both of whom were slide candidates, played in more than nine NHL games this season, which means the first year of their entry-level contracts were burned and will be due new contracts following the 2021-22 campaign instead of the 2022-23 season. 

Here's another hurdle: Unlike in 2013, there will be no compliance buyouts handed out to provide cap relief for teams in desperate need of it. The Blackhawks would’ve certainly welcomed that.

Yes, it’s exciting that hockey is finally back. And yes, it’s exciting that the Blackhawks have a chance at making a Stanley Cup run, no matter how slim their odds may be.

But for the long-term future of the Blackhawks, it's more important than ever for the front office to precisely map out what the roster could look like for next season and beyond and break down how the puzzle pieces can financially fit under the salary cap for years to come.

What's Blackhawks' key to victory over Oilers in NHL play-in series?

What's Blackhawks' key to victory over Oilers in NHL play-in series?

If you've caught him on the NHL Network or saw him help lead the Carolina Hurricanes to the Stanley Cup Final in 2002, you know that as an analyst and a former goalie, Kevin Weekes is dialed in to hockey and knows what it takes to win.

NBC Sports Chicago recently caught up with Weekes over the phone to get his thoughts on the Blackhawks' play-in series with the Oilers for the NHL's 24-team playoff tournament beginning on Aug. 1.

The Blackhawks are the No. 12 seed from the Western Conference heading into Edmonton to take on the No. 5 Oilers in the qualifying round.

"I think for the Hawks, they can lean on that experience, they can lean on those superheroes in their group and if they can play a tight enough game, because Edmonton has certainly improved the way they play defensively and their team defense, as (seen) in their penalty kill... But if the Hawks can play a tight enough, structured enough game and defend the middle of the ice... That's my key for the Hawks is defending the middle," Weekes, who played in the NHL for 11 years, said.

Related: How Blackhawks can beat Oilers with 'wealth of success' in qualifying round

"Because if they don't, Edmonton's speed led by (Connor) McDavid, who's basically a fighter jet on ice, the young legs of (Kailer) Yamamoto and some of the other guys they have in their group now and (Leon) Draisaitl of course... if the Hawks don't defend the middle of the ice, it could be a tougher series for them. But if they lock down and they play well defensively and they force Edmonton to have to play a game that they don't really want to play, then that plus the Hawks' experience can be the biggest advantage for the Hawks."

Related: How will long layoff affect goalies in NHL's 24-team postseason?

The Blackhawks will be back in action for training camp on Monday.

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