There has been a lot of talk that a Stanley Cup finals berth earns the Chicago Blackhawks a seat at the dynasty table. As they prepare for their third finals series in six years, this one against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Scott Burnside and Craig Custance debate the matter. Blackhawks: dynasty or not?
Burnside: Hello, Craig. Have your bags packed for a little Tampa-Chicago travel tango, once the Stanley Cup finals begin on Wednesday? How good is Team ESPN.com coming up with the two Cup finalists as part of our consensus pick jamboree at the start of the playoffs? You’ll notice how I’m strangely (or not) silent on my whining about not giving the Anaheim Ducks any love. In the end, Chicago was just too much, well, Chicago for the Ducks. And that brings me to a hot discussion this week: Does a Blackhawks team vying for a third Cup since 2010 and a team that has gone to at least the conference finals five times since 2009 count as a dynasty?
Maybe we should backtrack a little, too, in terms of what we consider a dynasty and whether that terminology has a new meaning in the salary-cap world, given what were readily accepted as dynasties in the 1970s, '80s and '90s by the Montreal Canadiens, New York Islanders and Edmonton Oilers. So let’s start there. What is a dynasty, and do the Blackhawks qualify?
Custance: To me, that’s the big question, because "dynasty" appears to mean different things to different people. To me, a dynasty is a team that continues winning championships for an extended period of time that stretches through roster changes. John Wooden's UCLA basketball teams? A dynasty. The Blackhawks winning two Stanley Cups since 2010? Nope, sorry. Not yet. Now, I certainly think we could be witnessing the start of a dynasty, especially if the Blackhawks win this year, but even then, I’m not ready to crown them. This is just the start of them making their dynasty case. By my rough count, 15 players are gone from the 2010 Chicago team, so there has been roster turnover. We’re going to see even more this offseason. If a new generation of younger Blackhawks such as Brandon Saad and Teuvo Teravainen keep this going another five years as Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane get older, we can settle this. Until then, the only argument I might accept is that Chicago is competing in a salary-cap era and that "dynasty" should be redefined to reflect as much. You?
Burnside: Well, let’s just say this: I agree with you, although it's interesting that by your definition, would you count the Habs, Oilers or Islanders as true dynasties? Because without doing a scientific evaluation of roster turnover, all three of those teams, considered the greatest of all time in hockey and among all of pro sports, did so with pretty much the same core group of players. Wayne Gretzky did leave Edmonton and they won another Cup after that, but I think most people think of repeated championships if not in a row, then certainly close to each other, as constituting a "dynasty." And if the Blackhawks do come up with their third Stanley Cup championship in six years, I would give them that proximity element (sort of like in horseshoes). And I guess when we’re talking "dynasty," we’re talking in those rare terms of a team that can manage its house financially and still keep winning.
We’ve already seen the Blackhawks have to undergo significant turnover after winning in 2010 because of salary-cap issues. Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd and Kris Versteeg all left (although Versteeg is back) and there were a couple of years of recovery when the Blackhawks lost in the first round in 2011 and 2012 before they righted the ship. Is there another team that approaches what the Blackhawks have done since 2009?
Custance: No, there isn’t. The Los Angeles Kings are the only team in that conversation and they missed the playoffs this season. The Blackhawks are regarded with a universal respect around the league that other teams don’t have. In working on preview stories for this series, you could hear it from the executives, scouts, coaches and players. I posed the dynasty question to one player who has been competing against Chicago for years and he said another Stanley Cup absolutely puts Chicago in the dynasty category. “Yeah. 100 percent,” he said Monday afternoon. “A dynasty is winning championships, multiple championships over a certain period of time. This would be the third in six years. Five conference finals. If they win another, it’s four in a span of 10 years. Of course it’s a dynasty.”
But to your original question, if the Kings come back next season and win the Cup, couldn’t they make their own dynasty claim? Can you really have two dynasties in the same conference during the same era?
Burnside: Dude. We can’t decide if we have one dynastic team and you want to introduce another one into the mix. You are a man whose glass is always half-full. The Kings will be interesting because even when the Blackhawks wobbled post-2010, they still made the playoffs. The Kings missing entirely after winning it all last year. Their various off-ice issues with Slava Voynov and Jarret Stoll are going to make their 2015-16 season very interesting. But let me leave you with this question: Why do we care? I hear a kind of lament that there isn’t or hasn’t been a dynasty since a generation ago, in the 1980s. I know growing up as a Canadiens fan there was something comforting in knowing how good those Habs teams were going to be in the 1970s, but I doubt fans of the other teams took much comfort in it. And maybe that’s part of it. Dynasties raise the emotional bar whether it’s your team that’s constantly in the mix for a Cup or whether you’re rooting with all your heart that Chicago or Montreal or the Islanders or Oilers failed, just to put a stop to the winning. But I think there’s nothing wrong with a league that every year gives you five or six elite teams to consider and wonder if this is going to be their season. If a team like Chicago or Los Angeles, or a couple of years ago we would have considered Boston in this group, happen to be in the mix every year, OK -- but I don’t the league is a poorer place if we can’t slap a "dynasty" tab on the Blackhawks or anyone else.
Custance: I just think we want to witness greatness. It’s not good enough to watch a champion crowned for that individual season, we want to see something that will outlive one year. Regardless of whether Chicago is a dynasty, we are witnessing greatness in the players on that roster, especially Toews. “He’s the Derek Jeter of hockey. He’s the LeBron James of hockey. He’s the Tom Brady of hockey,” one longtime scout said. “I put him in the top four of all professional sports. He’s there.” Factor in all the other stars to go with him in this series -- Kane, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith, Steven Stamkos, Tyler Johnson, Victor Hedman -- and that should be enough.