Chicago Blackhawks: How Are They So Good?

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It’s not easy to win a championship at NHL level. The amount of grit, pride, skill, smarts, and pure luck involved is absolutely unbelievable, not to mention how competitive the League has become. Not many teams can claim the label of “dynasty team”, but with just one win away from their third Stanley Cup championship in just six years, the Chicago Blackhawks are on the verge of becoming just that. That’s not easy at all, but the Hawks — being perennial Cup contenders — have consistently found a way to win games and go deep in the playoffs. So, how are they so good?

Acquiring the Players

You have to know what the standard is in the League if you’re the General Manager of the team, and GM Stan Bowman seems to know that extremely well. I think he’s done a tremendous job in working with the front office and scouting staff in knowing who to draft on Draft Day and which players to acquire at what time. I was reading an article on CBS Sports on how this team has been built, and it never ceases to amaze me how they got this far in the salary cap era. For example, you have the two franchise players in captain Jonathan Toews — drafted third overall in ’06 — and Patrick Kane — drafted first overall in ’07. Those two remain not only one of the two most dominant forces on the Chicago Blackhawks, but also in the NHL.

Here’s a look at a few of the other players drafted by the Blackhawks, taken from CBS Sports.

(Note: Only players that have played at least one game in the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs are included in these tables.)

Players Drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks
Player Year Drafted Round, Pick Playoff Points
Patrick Kane 2007 1st, 1 17 GP, 10-10–20
Jonathan Toews 2006 1st, 3 17 GP, 9-9–18
Duncan Keith 2002 2nd, 54 17 GP, 2-16–18
Brent Seabrook 2003 1st, 14 17 GP, 6-4–10
Andrew Shaw 2011 5th, 139 17 GP, 4-5–9
Brandon Saad 2011 2nd, 43 17 GP, 6-2–8
Niklas Hjalmarsson 2005 4th, 108 17 GP, 1-5–6
Teuvo Teravainen 2012 1st, 18 12 GP, 2-4–6
Bryan Bickell 2004 2nd, 41 17 GP, 0-5–5
Marcus Kruger 2009 5th, 149 17 GP, 2-1–3
Joakim Nordstrom 2010 3rd, 90 3 GP, 0-0–0
Corey Crawford 2003 2nd, 52 14 GP, 9 wins, .919
TOTALS (11 skaters) 42 goals, 61 assists, 103 points

 

They’ve also managed to sign the right players via Free Agency(for the most part), namely Marian Hossa who still has six more years left on his 12-year contract. According to NHL.com/Stats and hockey-reference, he’s been among the top 20 point-getters both this postseason and last, garnering 17 and 14 points respectively, and was among the top 10 in 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs with 16 points. Hossa’s also been in the top 10 and top 20 for three postseasons in assists (13 in 2015 postseason, 12 in 2014, and 9 in 2013).

Last but not least, they’ve traded well. Here’s another table taken from the article on the CBS Sports website.

Players Traded for by the Chicago Blackhawks
Player (Traded From) Year Traded Key Expense(s) Playoff Points
Patrick Sharp (PHI) 2005 3rd Round Pick 17 GP, 4-8–12
Antoine Vermette (ARI) 2015 Klas Dahlbeck,
1st Round pick
14 GP, 2-3–5
Johnny Oduya (WPG) 2012 2nd Round Pick
3rd Round Pick
17 GP, 0-4–4
Andrew Desjardins (SJS) 2015 Ben Smith 16 GP, 1-2–3
Kris Versteeg (FLA) 2013 Jimmy Hayes
Dylan Olsen
7 GP, 1-0–1
Kimmo Timonen (PHI) 2015 2nd Round Pick
4th Round Pick*
15 GP, 0-0–0
David Rundblad (ARI) 2014 2nd Round Pick 3 GP, 0-0–0
TOTALS (7 skaters) 8 goals, 17 assists, 25 points

* – Timonen was acquired for a 2015 second-round pick and a conditional fourth-rounder. Since the Blackhawks reached the Stanley Cup Final, that 2016 fourth-round pick becomes a 2016 second-round pick.

Of course, a few noticeable players on that list are Patrick Sharp and Johnny Oduya. Trades for both Antoine Vermette and Andrew Desjardins may have been met with skepticism, however so far both Desi and Vermette have shown their worth for the team. Desjardins provides that gritty and offensive support on the fourth line while, after last night’s win over the Tampa Lightning, Vermette now has 3 game-winning goals (GWGs) on his career playoff stats sheet with the Chicago Blackhawks.

Leadership

There’s no doubt about the leadership core of captain Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane (the two cornerstones of this franchise), and Patrick Sharp. Aside from the fact that they have a terrific coach in Joel Quenneville, all three of them have played solid hockey and play for each other with Toews leading the way. They have a strong belief system among each other and amongst themselves that really make for a successful team in general.

Skill, Hockey Sense, & Work Ethic

The skill set for the Blackhawks is undeniably incredible. Both Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are world-class athletes. We all know Kane’s got the hands to deke and finish, and excellent playmaking ability along with Toews, who loves to go after the puck and crash the net hard for those scoring opportunities. However, they’re not just great offensive players. They’ve also developed into great two-way players, meaning they can read and react defensively as well create and capitalize on scoring chances. Most importantly of all, almost every Hawk in the line-up has the work ethic and ability to beat their opponents on the forecheck, apply pressure, and convert on scoring opportunities, no matter if they get out shot in a game or if they’re leading on the shot clock. It’s the willingness to compete and play a complete team game with the right players on the ice that make this team so successful and so hard to play against.

On the Verge

According to Jason Byun, who writes for FanSided’s Anaheim Ducks blog, Pucks of a Feather, great NHL teams in general have a number of common characteristics:

  • A no. 1 center and anchor.
  • A no. 1 defenseman and blue-line anchor
  • Strong depth– a solid top-four on defense and the ability to roll four lines
  • The ability to possess the puck
  • A goaltender capable of stealing games
  • Key contributers on cheap contracts

The Blackhawks have all of the above. As Jason sums it up:

They have a terrific center and anchor of their team in Jonathan Toews. Their defense is anchored by one of the league’s best in Duncan Keith. Both Toews and Keith are premier two-way players at their position in the league, something which is necessary (two-way is the best-way). The Blackhawks are a deep team, with four defensemen and four lines who can play in any situation (four and four). They have a goalie who can steal a game for them and does not shrink in the big moments. They play a terrific puck-possession style that lets them control the game and get more shots and scoring chances than their opponent. Their play style also limits the number of shots that Crawford has to face, leaving him to make the saves he has to and only occasionally bail out his team from defensive miscues. They also get contributions from players on cheap contracts: after all, stars win games, but role players win series.

One thing to keep in mind that this League is a copycat League. Obviously, everyone and every team wants a shot at the Stanley Cup. But to earn one, those teams would have to possess at least one or more of those elements listed above to really become a legit Cup contender and have a chance to go deep in the playoffs, not to mention the amount of puck luck required; as the popular hockey saying goes, you have to be good to be lucky and lucky to be good. The Chicago Blackhawks are a model of that, and that’s why they’re the model of success in the modern NHL.

Like I’d pointed out at the beginning of this article, the Chicago Blackhawks are on the verge of winning their third championship in six years, that is barring a miracle from the Tampa Bay Lightning with Nikita Kucherov probable for Game 6 from injuries (slightly up from the uncertain status that I had written earlier), as part of the Triplets Line. The Blackhawks are just too quick, skilled, and too experienced of a team to beat, with starter Corey Crawford making the big saves at critical times. With all the consistencies on this team, they’re going to be successful for a long time.

 

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