Two Stanley Cups in four years. In the salary cap era, that’s almost a dynasty. Since 2005-06, no team has won the Cup twice, let alone twice in four years.
But for the Chicago Blackhawks, a franchise that not so long ago was named the worst in professional sports, they’re just getting started.
A week following their remarkable Cup-clinching Game 6 victory in Boston, GM Stan Bowman was already looking ahead to next year. The team’s Stanley Cup purge following their 2010 run has been well-documented, and changes were coming again this year too.
Bowman’s first priority was to re-sign playoff hero Bryan Bickell, but to do that, he had to trade forwards Dave Bolland and Michael Frolik on draft day. Veterans Viktor Stalberg and Ray Emery also sought more playing time and both headed elsewhere.
While it’s always hard to say goodbye to fan favorites, other players have the opportunity to become new ones. Defensemen Nick Leddy and Michal Rozsival were both re-signed, and even former goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin re-signed for one year as Crawford’s backup.
Stan Bowman already appears to have his roster ready for 2013-14, and with the off-season already shorter than usual thanks to the lockout, that should benefit the team next season.
Speaking of next season, the NHL will have a different landscape, one that might benefit the Blackhawks in the long run. The new four-division plan featuring a new playoff format will be implemented, which means longtime division rivals Detroit Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets will both move to the Eastern Conference, while the Blackhawks remain in the West.
The move makes sense, as it allows teams to play the majority of their games in the same time zone. For this same reason, the Winnipeg Jets are on the move to the Western Conference, where they will be in the same division as the Blackhawks.
What will the Blackhawks’ division look like without Detroit and Columbus? For one, previous Central division foes Nashville and St. Louis both remain, and the Hawks also welcome Winnipeg, Colorado, Dallas and Minnesota, whom they defeated in the first round of the playoffs this year.
As defending Cup champions, the Blackhawks will certainly be favored to win their new division and expected to advance deep into the playoffs again. It’s not unreasonable; Colorado finished in dead last to earn the No. 1 pick in the draft (Nathan MacKinnon), and Nashville and Dallas both finished well out of contention. Detroit put the Hawks on the brink of elimination in May, and they’re moving to the East.
Two Cups in four years is certainly a remarkable achievement for a franchise that was down and out not so long ago. Now the tides have turned, and Chicago will hopefully be known as “Hawkeytown” for years to come.