With the Chicago Blackhawks making the Stanley Cup Final, much will be made of history. The franchise hasn't won since 1961. It's made five finals appearances since that time, the last in 1992. Before last season's Western Conference Finals appearance, the it had but one playoff appearance since 1997: a five-game rout at the hands of the St. Louis Blues in the first round of 2002.
To say the locals have waited a long time for a team of this caliber is an understatement. The Blackhawks haven't really been relevant since the mid-nineties, and all those fans who went into hiding are back in full force.
The Blackhawks' renaissance is intriguing to me, though, from a forward-thinking standpoint. They have combined several elements -- both on the business side and on the ice -- to build a model franchise for today's NHL game. Maybe it was the classic case of a perfect storm -- a young, upcoming marketable team with a change in management personnel and philosophy -- but the Blackhawks' regime acted swiftly. It did more, rather than less, increasing television and ancillary programming, improving community visibility and interaction and upping the output and focus from an-in-house public relations standpoint.
The organization didn't wait to let the team sell itself all by itself. From top-to-bottom, the Blackhawks set best-in-class practices in motion, matching the development of a quickly improving team. Theirs was an all-in business plan that pushed the "spend money to make money" maxim although simply committing cash is never a guarantee of success. But aggressively getting out in front of their product with a sense of purpose has made all the difference and it will reap benefits for years to come.
Have the Blackhawks made mistakes? Sure, but not many. Will they have to remake their roster next season due to cap considerations? Yes, but so will every other team at some level, whether the cause is free agency, budget, or lack of performance. In today's game, though, the Blackhawks have crafted a roster that makes complete sense. From coaching to core players to style of play to positional emphasis, they have hit the right note. They may not have invented the on-ice formula -- much of that credit goes to the Detroit Red Wings -- but the Blackhawks have refined it at the right time.
In identifying their core group of
Placing emphasis on a puck-moving, mobile defense led by Keith,
The Blackhawks didn't believe the other Red Wings' postulate to never overpay for goaltending. One of their errors was to commit over $5.6 million a year to
Finally, creativity in surrounding the core group is essential and something the Blackhawks have done exceptionally well. They have size in
No, they can't keep all those players next year. That doesn't matter now, and when some of the faces and names change come October, it won't matter too much then, either. The Blackhawks from top to bottom are on a roll and will continue in the Western Conference for a long time.
It has been a long time coming, but the Blackhawks finally have it right.