Once the Chicago Blackhawks were uncharacteristically swept out of this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs, the only thing I cared about was that the Pittsburgh Penguins did not repeat. Clearly that did not pan out either, and I’m stuck contributing to the narrative I hoped to avoid. Are the Pens more dynastic than the ‘Hawks, and what can we take from them?
Saying the Pens are the first team to repeat since the Red Wings in ’97 and ’98 still leaves a sour taste in my mouth. The taste is especially bad since I feel the Chicago Blackhawks had a real shot at threepeating had it not been for an unfortunate bounce off of Nick Leddy in 2014’s Western Conference finals Game 7 tilt with the L.A. Kings. It’s a bounce that still leaves me waking up with cold sweats.
Regardless, as much as it pains me to say it these Pens are just as much a dynasty as our own Blackhawks. I know the Blackhawks won their three most recent Cups in a shorter period of time, and I know they are separated by two different decades, but the Blackhawks have never won back to back.
Like the Blackhawks, the Pens have had a stable core and filled in the gaps with reliable role players from the minors. The only difference is the Pens still look like a contender and the Blackhawks are currently struggling to remain relevant.
As much as it pains me to say it, if the Blackhawks want to remain relevant, and Stan Bowman’s angry end-of-season presser says they do, they must take a page out of Pittsburgh’s book.
Learning from an Eastern Conference opponent
The Penguins of 2010-15 mired themselves in high-level mediocrity. They did not go for the full-scale rebuild tanking for picks, neigh like the ‘Hawks now. The ’10-’15 Pens had a high-level core that was losing support from a depleted farm system.
They did not need top-10 draft pick stars, but they couldn’t get by with fill-ins from the KHL, later draft rounds or the waiver wire, like Chicago’s Michal Kempnys, Gustav Forslings and Vinnie Hinostrozas. This is not to say that players from those places never fit roles or develop into studs (see Artemi Panarin), but if those are your main sources for team building, you’ll be stuck between a rock and a hard place for some time.
For the next few years, and hopefully it’s just a few years, the Blackhawks need not miss the playoffs for lottery picks. But unless this team that just got swept in the first round magically is firmly in the lead of the NHL at the next trade deadline, there is no reason to trade picks for rentals.
The past few years, the ‘Hawks have been maybe the biggest player at the deadline. Their risk-taking has worked and it has failed, and for as wonderful as the 2015 Cup was and as important as Antoinne Vermette’s contributions to that Cup were, the two seasons following that the team’s deadline deals fell flat, and left the Blackhawks stuck with a weak farm system and limited picks (barring the 10 they have this year; one can only hope they use those to trade up in the draft).
The Blackhawks already have one of the best cores in place and if Jonathan Toews can find his superstar form again, which is not a guarantee, then the Blackhawks have no need for high picks brought by tanking.
Granted the core is taking hit after hit with trades, but the team has also been able to find young talents like Panarin and Richard Panik to fill in the scoring hole vacated by Patrick Sharp — or Ryan Hartman, who if his first season is any indication can play the grinder role with higher offensive output and less penalty minutes.
To me, the rumblings that Panarin should be the one to be traded is asinine to me. He is young and to me has more than made his mark as a member of the core, and while Marian Hossa had a resurgent season this past year, I think his time is coming up and trading his salary or letting him retire would be a welcome move in my eyes.
Like the Penguins did, the Blackhawks should continue to compete at their highest level possible, draft well and strike when they are truly contenders again. I don’t think the 2015 Cup was Patrick Kane and Toews’ last with the Blackhawks.