Blackhawks

The challenges of repeating and building a dynasty in NHL

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USA TODAY

The challenges of repeating and building a dynasty in NHL

The Blackhawks and Capitals have each experienced great success in the salary cap era. They have combined for four Presidents' Trophy's and four Stanley Cups, showing they've done it both in the regular season and postseason.

But in this day and age, it's hard to sustain it over a long period of time. The Blackhawks were the closest to accomplishing that from 2009-15 — a "modern day dynasty" — when they appeared in five Conference Finals and won three Stanley Cups, but were never able to repeat as champions, something the Capitals are trying to do this season.

"We probably learned about it more after our first Cup," Patrick Kane said ahead of Wednesday's showdown in Washington. "The next season we had an up and down season, snuck into the playoffs at the end [in 2010-11]. ... It's difficult, you're so excited about winning, it's a long journey, and then a few months later you're back in training camp and trying to do it all over again. It was pretty difficult for us the first time around."

Chris Kunitz, the only active NHL player with four Stanley Cups, was a part of back-to-back championships in Pittsburgh when the Penguins won it in 2016 and 2017. But it took them seven years between the first of their three Stanley Cups in the salary cap era to their second.

"In Pittsburgh over those nine years, we may have won three times but the roster got flipped a few times," Kunitz said. "A few coaches, a few GMs. People look at the number and say it was successful, but every time we were there they were trying to put a team on the ice to win a Stanley Cup, it wasn't just to get to the playoffs. Expectations were high, and those years you didn't win were disappointments.

"There's a certain echelon of teams where that's their expectation and that's their goal. And if you don't do that, it doesn't matter if you had an individual successful season, if you didn't finish it in the end it wasn't looked upon very kindly and there were changes to be made."

The Blackhawks, Kings and Penguins are the only three teams to win multiple Stanley Cups since a salary cap was institued in 2005-06. Right now, however, the Kings and Penguins sit in the basement of the Western and Eastern Conference while the Blackhawks are on the outside of the playoff picture and recently parted ways with the second winningest coach of all-time in Joel Quenneville.

"Teams put runs together and the salary cap has a huge thing to do with that," Kunitz said. "When you win, you're successful, your players are usually playing their best hockey and deserve to get raises. It's tough to get everybody to stay together. Hopefully when the salary cap keeps going up it works in the players' favor to keep those teams together, but that's something management or ownership has to deal with, is picking the right players to keep and right players to move on and hopefully not changing that chemistry too much.

"From LA to Chicago to Pittsburgh, teams have been able to do it and sustain it and there's teams that have been close and always on the verge. It's something that you try to set your gameplan up and hopefully you have a certain window to have that success."

Even a team like the Toronto Maple Leafs, who are perceived to be the next franchise set up to have success over a long period of time, aren't guaranteed anything considering the Blackhawks took advantage of winning Stanley Cups with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews on their entry-level contracts and bridge deals. The Tampa Bay Lightning are still trying to break through, and they're loaded with superstars on team-friendly contracts.

For better or worse, we may be seeing the end of the dynasty eras in hockey, as long as the salary cap is around.

"You don't really see the so-called dynasty too much more in the NHL, that's probably geared more towards other sports," Kane said. "But I think it's good. There's a lot of parity in the league, any team can beat anyone on any given night, so it's a fun league to play in. A little bit different than when I first came into the league where, I don't want to say you had easy matchups, but going into some games, you knew that you were better than the other team. Now teams are so even, especially with the salary cap. It's a great league, it's fun to play in, and like I said, anyone can beat anyone."

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The thought process behind overloading one line for Blackhawks

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USA TODAY

The thought process behind overloading one line for Blackhawks

Depth scoring is key in today's NHL. If you can't roll four lines, it will eventually catch up to you over the course of an 82-games season and, if you get there, in the playoffs, where it will certainly be exposed.

But equally important in today's NHL is having one dependable line that can be a difference-maker on a nightly basis. We're seeing it more and more across the league where teams overload one line as a "try and stop us" mentality and it's working.

Colorado's top line of Landeskog-MacKinnon-Rantanen leads all trios with 19 even-strength goals this season. Three other lines are tied for second with 16 (Panarin-Dubois-Atkinson in Columbus, Skinner-Eichel-Pominville in Buffalo and Hyman-Tavares-Marner in Toronto).

Boston’s trio of Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak has controlled a ridiculous 60.1 percent of the even-strength shot attempts over the last three seasons and has a plus-20 goal differential, according to corsica.hockey. Over that same span, Nashville’s first line of Forsberg-Johansen-Arvidsson has an NHL-leading plus-29 goal differential.

All of these teams are seeing the benefits both in the short-term and long-term as it’s translating to overall team success. Rather than playing pick your poison, the Blackhawks are trying to do the same in putting Saad-Toews-Kane together (along with DeBrincat-Anisimov-Schmaltz), hoping to spark some steady offensive production.

"If we play them together, they've got to produce," coach Jeremy Colliton said. "But sometimes when you spread them out, no one produces. By loading them up, it puts some pressure on them, but hopefully they play so well that it doesn't matter who has the puck. They're making plays, they break through anyways, no matter who they're playing against. That's what we ask of them, and so far they're coming through for us."

Patrick Kane leads the Blackhawks with 12 goals. Jonathan Toews is second with 10. Brandon Saad has six (three in his past five games). In putting them on a line together, the goal for them is to continue scoring at a high rate, but doing so on a more consistent basis.

“We’re definitely hurting for offense right now, and that’s from top to bottom, the production has gone down,” Kane said. “You take it upon yourself as a player that’s supposed to score and produce, be able to do that every night. It would be nice to be able to do that more often.”