CHICAGO — It’s hard to believe now, but in 2007, when John McDonough was named president of the Blackhawks, the franchise had devolved into an afterthought in the Windy City.
Monday at the United Center, right before Jonathan Toews hoisted the Stanley Cup for the third time in the last six years, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman proclaimed to the fans, “I’d say you have a dynasty.”
Funny what assembling a core of four future Hall of Famers — Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, and Marian Hossa — can do for a franchise’s fortunes.
Add secondary stars like Patrick Sharp, Brent Seabrook, and Niklas Hjalmarsson, get a good coach, a smart general manager, draft well, develop well, throw in a little luck, and the result is the first team worthy of the “dynasty” label in the salary-cap era.
“We’ve had to fight through some things, but it was worth every second of it,” said McDonough, speaking to reporters at center ice while the players and their young families celebrated around him.
“To see these guys mature into young adults, into grown men. Most of our guys when I started here were single. Now there’s babies all over the place.”
There will be those who question whether these Blackhawks are truly a dynasty. They haven’t won four straight Cups, like the Montreal Canadiens did from 1975-79, or the New York Islanders from 1980-83. They haven’t won five in seven years like the 1980s Oilers. Twice in the past six years Chicago has been eliminated in the first round.
When asked to weigh in on the dynasty debate, Kane replied, “I don’t know what that means. We’ve got three in six years. I know that’s pretty good.”
Similarly, general manager Stan Bowman deferred to others.
“I don’t think that’s really for me to say,” he said. “That’s really for other people to make those proclamations. All I know is that we’ve got an amazing group here, they’ve accomplished a lot together, and I’m really proud of the effort they’ve given year after year. It doesn’t always go your way, but they’ve accomplished quite a bit and we’re not finished.”
Bowman has another tough summer ahead. The Blackhawks won’t be back in their entirety next season. Some will be forced out due to the salary cap. That’s the “reality” of the situation, as Johnny Oduya put it. That reality is why the likes of Andrew Ladd, Dustin Byfuglien, Brian Campbell, Dave Bolland, Troy Brouwer, and Antti Niemi are playing elsewhere now.
“I think we’re going to enjoy this one for a bit,” said Bowman. “I’ve been thinking of that stuff for a long time. It’s not like it’s going to surprise me. We’ll make it work. We’ve got a plan in place. That’s really for another day. Right now we’re pretty thrilled with this whole scene in here.”
A decade ago, the Blackhawks were playing games before a half-empty arena, an Original Six franchise ignored.
Monday, they kicked off one of the great sports celebrations in this city’s history.
They deserve to enjoy it.