This Looks Familiar: Two Model Franchises Have the Blueprint to Sustained Success

Dynasty. After their 2-0 Game 6 Stanley Cup-clinching victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday, the Chicago Blackhawks have cemented their position as a modern sports dynasty. The past seven seasons, these Blackhawks have made the playoffs every year, advancing to the conference finals five times and hoisting the greatest trophy in all of sports three of the last six years.  Duncan Keith, who has spent his entire career with the team, won a much-deserved Conn Smythe trophy as the Most Valuable Player of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, an award that he deserved even before netting the game winning goal (off his own rebound) in the clinching game. With Keith’s award, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Keith now each own a Conn Smythe trophy. This could not be more indicative of how the Hawks have had such sustained success in the National Hockey League over the past several years. By building around their young stars and excellent leadership while not being afraid to dispense of key contributors, Chicago has become a force to be reckoned with. Sound familiar?

No, I’m not talking about Game of Thrones. Instead, the Blackhawks have followed the lead of another modern dynasty, the New England Patriots (who received their latest–and most egregiously large–set of rings Sunday night). Both franchises have found a way to be consistently successful in an era of parity resulting from increased salary cap regulation, free agent mobility, and revenue sharing. In this climate, we’ve had to redefine what we consider to be a sports dynasty. The days of the 1950s-60s Celtics, 1930s (or 1950s, or 1990s) Yankees, or even the 1990s Chicago Bulls are done. There is too much parity in each of the four major sports leagues for teams to be as dominant as they have been in the past. So, we’ve had to reconsider what it takes to be a “dynasty”. With the amount of inconsistency in the NFL, a 14 year streak of winning seasons highlighted by 12 AFC East titles, 8 AFC championship games, 6 Super Bowl appearances, and 4 Lombardi trophies is unthinkable. The Patriots have become the model of success in the National Football League by building around Tom Brady and  Bill Belichick (under the diligent ownership of Robert Kraft), with nearly everyone else on the team an interchangeable cog in the trophy machine. The list of ruthless personnel moves by the Patriots is endless, from cutting Tiquan Underwood and his Iman Shumpert-level flattop (for the third time that season, after he got a Patriots logo cut into his hair, to make room for a defensive lineman off the practice squad who didn’t see the field) the night before Super Bowl XLVI to declining to resign fan favorite and long-time Patriot Vince Wilfork after winning this year’s Super Bowl (Don’t despair fans- the Patriots drafted his doppelgänger Malcom Brown just months later to replace him at DT).

Much like the Patriots, the Blackhawks’ success originates from the top down. Both franchises are incredibly well-run, from the ownership to the front office to the coaching staff. By examining the timeline of events, it’s pretty clear how these leaders have created environments of consistent success for their franchises. In 1994, Robert Kraft bought the Patriots, hiring Bill Belichick as Head Coach and de facto GM six years later in 2000. In his first year with the team, Belichick drafted a quarterback out of Michigan by the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior Thomas Brady, Jr. The team’s first ever Super Bowl championship came in 2001, starting their 14-year (ongoing) run of dominance. Rocky Wirtz, current owner of the Blackhawks, took over in 2007 following the death his father. Coach Joel Quenneville was hired in 2008 in an unprecedented joint deal with Coach Q and his majestic ‘stache. GM Stan Bowman joined him in 2009. On December 3 of that year, the club announced long (and lucrative) contract extensions for their young stars Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Duncan Keith (do those names ring a bell?). Their first Stanley Cup since 1961 came in that same season, to be the first of three in six years. Both teams suffered near-misses and could easily have even more championships. Tom Brady is two answered Eli Manning prayers away from having six rings, and the Hawks were a Western Finals Game 7 OT loss away from getting a chance at the New York Rangers in the Finals last year (a series that the obviously very evenly-matched Kings won in 5 games). By maintaining consistency in franchise leadership and doing whatever it takes to hold on to their stars, these teams have defied the pull of parity.

The Hawks, similar to their counterparts in Foxborough, have not been reluctant to exchange role players to get from one championship season to the next. After putting up 14 points in 22 playoff games, Kris Versteeg was traded following the 2010 championship campaign, only to be traded back this season and win another cup with the team. I eagerly anticipate his return as an MC this Thursday during the parade (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PM-UY2chaL8). The team also lost star defensemen-turned-forward Dustin Byfuglien and winger Andrew Ladd, in addition to goalkeeper Antti Niemi in the same offseason due largely to salary cap concerns. Despite starring as the hero of possibly the most stunning sports sequence I’ve ever seen (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zyxXL1G4dvM , goal at 1:08, but the worth watching the whole thing for the chills), Dave Bolland was traded to the Maple Leafs for picks following the 2013 Cup-winning season. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Bryan Bickell traded this offseason after essentially no-showing the entire postseason. The Blackhawks will be hard-pressed to keep veteran Patrick Sharp (another Hawk with an underwhelming playoff performance) due to cap considerations, and defenseman Johnny Oduya (the elusive black Swede) is likely on his way out as well. This difficulty in retaining key contributors is one of the biggest reasons why this run of championships is so impressive.

As many similarities as the two franchises have had in recent years, there are myriad differences in their extended periods of dominance. While Tom Brady is the only player to be on all four of the Patriots’ championship teams, many Hawks have been around for all three of their recent Cups (in addition to the Conn Smythe winners, Marian Hossa, Brent Seabrook, Patrick Sharp, and Niklas Hjalmarsson were each significant factors on all three squads). This is due both to the difference in lengths of the dynasties as well as the nature of football vs. hockey as a sport. While Brady carries an inordinate workload as the Pats’ quarterback, Kane and Toews depend on players like Hossa and Sharp to provide ancillary offensive production. The fact that the Hawks won the series with only a single goal from their best scorer–and worst taxi passenger–Patrick Kane, the very last goal of the series to put the game on ice, is demonstrative of how deep a team it takes to bring home the Stanley Cup. Nobody on the ice for the Hawks rivals Brady in importance to the team, with the possible exception of much-maligned netminder Corey Crawford. Pulled from the Hawks’ first playoff series, Crawford bounced back in the second round sweep of the Wild and posted his first clean sheet of the Stanley Cup Finals in the pivotal clinching game. The Blackhawks have depended on a wider cast of characters than the Patriots, although they haven’t had a hero as unlikely as Super Bowl savior Malcolm Butler. The two teams remain alike in their philosophy and long-term strategy, eschewing the myopic measures often taken by lesser teams.

After coming back from a deficit of three games to two in the Western Conference Finals as well as two games to one in the Final, the Blackhawks skated their way to another great season. The team finally got to clinch the Cup on home ice, a feat that had eluded them for 77 years. While this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for the fans in attendance, it was extremely unfortunate for the innumerable Wrigleyville bars that Patrick Kane burnt to the ground following the game. Although Kane did not get to be the hero that he was in the 2010 Final (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xdVn42-vOt8) or the 2013 Western Final (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lPi2a1u9a7Q), he broke his scoring drought by one-timing a nice Brad Richard pass past Ben Bishop to give the Hawks a two-goal lead, the first of the series for either team. Kane’s scoring was replaced by committee, with Antoine Vermette, Brandon Saad, and Teuvo Teravainen all providing clutch goals, as well as consistent scoring from the point by Brent Seabrook. The Hawks also dominated at the faceoff dot, led as always by Captain Serious Jonathan Toews, with a solid performance from Vermette as well. Corey Crawford also managed to carry the Hawks to a victory despite not getting more than two goals of support in any of the team’s wins. I’m sure he’ll have another hell of a speech prepared for the victory parade on Thursday (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NDVdJ_MmfYw), he’s certainly earned the right to get as drunk as he is in that clip. It sure seems like a long time ago that we were having the Scott Darling vs. Corey Crawford debate. The Hawks moved past that and continued on a journey that ended Monday night when the worst commissioner in sports (Thanks Goodell) Gary Bettman handed Jonathan Toews his favorite beer receptacle: Lord Stanley’s Cup. I have to say the room got a bit dusty when Toews handed off the cup to NHL veteran Kimmo Timonen, whose 16-year career ended with his first ever Stanley Cup. The 40 year old served as somewhat of a mentor to fellow Finn Teuvo Teravainen, a rookie half his age who has a bright future with the team. If the Blackhawks keep their current power structure in place, this won’t be the last time we get to see #19 with that beautiful trophy hoisted over his head.

According to VegasInsider.com, the Patriots have the third best odds at another Super Bowl next year at 8/1, while the Blackhawks are the favorite to repeat as Cup champions at 6/1. These teams aren’t going anywhere.

Count it!

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