After an Eastern Conference-heavy start to the season, the Chicago Blackhawks will be spending all of November in the Western Conference, and it should prove interesting, but not just because of the matchups.
As anyone sporadically keeping up with developments in the NHL knows, the 2013-2014 season is the first to feature the newly realigned Western and Eastern Conferences. Changes were made to better coincide with teams’ geography and TV broadcasts; sending the Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg in the Western Conference to become the newly-reborn Jets and the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Detroit Red Wings (pause for fist clench) were moved from the Western into the Eastern Conference. The realignment, though seemingly simplistic and practical, in fact, has created significant ramifications for the Blackhawks, which are just starting to materialize.
A post realignment reflection: with departure of the Red Wings, the Blackhawks are now the lone Original Six team in the Western Conference. This fact may just appeal to history and bragging-right buffs, but the Hawks’ hockey franchise legacy dwarfs the other Western Conference teams. With a grand total five Stanley Cup championship titles (tied only by the five the Edmonton Oilers amassed with their dream team in the 1980’s) the Hawks are by far the most victorious team in the Western Conference; the Colorado Avalanche being the distant second with two Stanley Cups. Perhaps equally impressive is the fact that the Blackhawks franchise is a whopping 41 years older than the next oldest teams in the Western Conference (the LA Kings, St. Louis Blues, and the then Minnestoa, now Dallas Stars, each entered the NHL in 1967). When it comes to NHL intuitions, the Blackhawks are by far a big fish in the small pond that is the Western Conference.
Yet there is more to this distinction in the Western Conference than just stats and statistics. The Chicago Blackhawks are on the cusp of a dynasty, as you may have heard, but not because they’ve won two Stanley Cups in four years, but rather for the first time in franchise history, the Hawks are built to win, repeatedly. Someone who is often overlooked is the behind-the scenes senior advisor to the Blackhawks: Scotty Bowman (the best mind in hockey, period), who came to Chicago at the end of prominent career coaching multiple hockey dynasties, the most recent being for the Red Wings in the 1990’s, as most Hawks fans who are currently worrying about the state of their hair know. Scotty Bowman knows what an enduringly successful NHL franchise should look like, and it comes as no surprise that this prowess has rubbed off on his son/protégé, Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman. Bowman the Younger has made moves with the Hawks roster that at times have not been popular with the fanbase, but have demonstrated he’s constantly looking out for the long-term cumulative success of the Blackhawks, and thus far the results speak for themselves.
Factor into this the youth of the Blackhawks: the majority of the current roster is barely in their mid-twenties, which means many long and promising careers to come in Chicago, most of which already include two Stanley Cups and an Olympic medal. When a team has longevity and its management is longevity-minded, great things usually happen.