After the 2013 Stanley Cup win, the Chicago Blackhawks were on their way to becoming a dynasty team. They neared the likes of the 1979-1983 Islanders, who won four Stanley Cups in four consecutive years.
They went on to win the cup again in 2015, for the third time in six years. But after that, everything sort of fell apart.
Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane each signed 8-year contracts for $84 million each. There’s no doubting that they’re worth that kind of money, but it’s a huge salary cap burden on the team, and they’ve struggled.
The team was once the epitome of young, raw talent who performed like veterans. The problem with that model, is that players get older and these players kept winning, and they expected more out of their contracts. Brandon Saad, Andrew Shaw and Patrick Sharp looked elsewhere for a contract that better suited their worth.
This season began with more promise than the last season ended. After winning the Cup in 2015, the postseason fell apart for the Blackhawks. They’ve been eliminated in the first round the last two years, and they were even swept by the Nashville Predators this past playoffs.
There’s no doubt that this team can win, but they need to start making significant changes on their own terms. They can’t continue to lose players because they aren’t being paid enough. Chicago needs to be the enforcer when it comes to rebuilding their team.
Toews and Kane have done so much for the Blackhawks and the city of Chicago. They brought hockey back to the city. They created a mob of Blackhawks fans in a sports city that hadn’t seen a championship in a long time. But if these two want to win another Stanley Cup, they’ll either need to break up, or go to another team.
They may have collectively been worth the kind of money they’re being paid, but certainly not now. Their salaries together are affecting the wiggle room the Blackhawks have when it comes to bringing in new players.
Sharp and Saad came back to the Blackhawks after a stint with the Dallas Stars and the Columbus Blue Jackets, respectively. These were two teams that was supposed to make it as far as the Stanley Cup Finals, but failed to do so.
Saad was part of a trade that sent 2016 Calder Memorial Trophy winner Artemi Panarin to Columbus. Chicago also got backup goalie Anton Forsberg out of that trade, a position they really needed to fill.
The trade wasn’t awful, but it shouldn’t have been the team’s most pressing issue. If anything, Chicago needs to be amping up their defense. Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith were instrumental in the hard, aggressive defense Chicago used to be known for, but with age they’ve fallen back a bit. Both Seabrook and Keith have been with the Blackhawks since 2005.
It’s great for a fan base to be able to look at the ice and see familiar faces year after year. It’s great for morale, and it helps foster a family and community aspect. It’s also great for players to be able to skate with the same guys year after year. It’s comfortable, and the team dynamic really thrives on that sense of knowing exactly how the other guys on your line are going to play.
But this model that Chicago has molded is actually hurting their players when they’re sent off to other teams. Saad, Sharp, Shaw, Teuvo Teravainen and Johnny Odyua go unnoticed when they’re not on the Blackhawks.
Ultimately, something has to change. Two or more big stars need to be traded. Keeping the same core group of guys on the team was good for a while, but now it’s fading. If Chicago wants to get past the first round of the playoffs or even win a cup again, they need to send guys packing.
It’s doubtful that Chicago will trade Kane and Toews while they’re still in these huge contracts, but after they’re up, one or both of them have to go.