A 49 year wait was finally over, and Lord Stanley and a few of his friends were headed to Chicago. After scoring seven goals with 22 assists in the playoffs, Jonathan Toews was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy. Also headed to the Windy City was the Norris Trophy, which was awarded to Duncan Keith at the end of the season. Just when everything was looking up for Chicago, sweeping changes altered the course of this team.
A Decade of Dominance:
Part One: The Foundation
Part Two: Turning Point
Part Three: One Goal Achieved
In December of 2009 the Chicago Blackhawks inked Toews, Keith, and Patrick Kane to contract extensions. Toews and Kane signed matching five-year $31.5 million contracts, while Keith signed a 13 year $72 contract. While these contracts locked up key members of the team for years to come, they also put the Blackhawks up against the cap. Shortly after celebrating a Stanley Cup Championship, many members that played a big part in the playoff run were shipped to shed cap.
The first shoe to drop was a big one. On June 24th, 2010 playoff hero Dustin Byfuglien was traded to the Atlanta Thrashers along with Ben Eager, Brent Sopel and Akim Aliu for Marty Reasoner, Joey Crabb, Jeremy Morin, a 2010 1st round pick (#24 overall), and a 2010 2nd round pick. That same day Collin Fraser was sent to the Edmonton Oilers for a 2010 6th round pick.
Six days later Kris Versteeg was shipped to Toronto in exchange for Viktor Stalberg, Chris DiDomenico and Phillipe Paradic. The ‘Hawks made one more trade during this purge, trading Andrew Laad to Atlanta for Ivan Vishensky.
Chicago had to clear one more hurdle before the purge was over. On July 9th, the San Jose Sharks signed restricted free agent Niklas Hjalmarsson to an offer sheet. Viewed as a core member on the team, Hjalmarsson’s offer sheet was quickly matched by Chicago on July 11th. Hjalmarsson’s four-year $14 million contract once again pushed the ‘Hawks against the cap ceiling, forcing them to cut ties with goaltender Antti Niemi. Niemi, who filed for arbitration earlier in the offseason, went on to sign a one year $2 million contract with the very team that offered Hjalmarsson, the Sharks.
To replace Niemi, Chicago signed Marty Turco, formerly of the Dallas Stars, to a $1.3 million contract.
The Hangover Year
The 2010-11 Chicago Blackhawks would look very different than the one that had just won the Stanley Cup. After the purge, the Blackhawks put together a patchwork roster filled with players like Mathias Olimb, John Scott, Turco, Fernando Pisani, Ryan Poultny, and Ryan Johnson. Along with the players that were traded, Chicago lost John Madden, and Adam Burish to free agency.
Backed by Patrick Sharp’s 34 goals, Kane’s 46 assists, Toews 76 points, and the surprising play of young goaltender Corey Crawford, the Blackhawks scraped together a respectable season. Posting a 44-29-9 record, eight wins fewer than the previous season, the ‘Hawks finished just two points ahead of the Dallas Stars for the final spot in the Western Conference playoff chase.
The Blackhawks took on a familiar foe in the opening round of the playoffs, the Vancouver Canucks. This wasn’t the same Canucks team the ‘Hawks dispatched in the second round the previous two seasons, as these Canucks won 54 games amassing 117 points on their way to the Presidents Trophy.
Vancouver jumped on Chicago early, winning the first three games of the series by a combined score of 9-5. The ‘Hawks found their stride in Game 4, putting the Canucks down 5-1 going into the third period. Sharp put the dagger in Vancouver in the third period, scoring two goals to extend the lead to 7-1. Crawford earned his first career playoff win, but his next game gave Chicago a glimpse of what was in store. Crawford stopped all 36 shots that came his way in Game 5, earning his second playoff victory and first playoff shutout. The Blackhawks went on to win the game 5-0, backed by a two goal performances by Keith and Marian Hossa.
Clinging to a 3-2 series lead, Vancouver came out swinging in Game 6 putting the ‘Hawks down 2-1 in the first period. After a David Bolland goal in the second period, Kevin Bieksa put Chicago on the brink of elimination 58 seconds into the third period. Just under two minutes later the Blackhawk evened the score up on a Michael Frolik penalty shot goal. The score held, sending the game into overtime. Fifteen minutes into the frame, Ben Smith followed a Hjalmarsson shot from the point, to beat Roberto Luongo. After going down 3-0 in the series, Chicago had forced a Game 7.
Alexander Burrows dashed any hopes Chicago had of a repeat championship. After scoring Vancouver’s only goal in regulation, Burrows blocked a failed Chris Campoli clearing attempt in overtime, and beat Crawford over his blocker side. Vancouver finally conquered their playoff demon.
After signing Brent Seabrook to a five-year $30 million contract extension, Sharp to a 5-year $29.5 million extension, and Crawford to a 3-year $8 million extension, Stan Bowman once again was forced to shed cap.
Bowman’s first trade involved one of former General Manger Dale Tallon’s prized acquisitions in 2008, Brian Campbell. Campbell, who signed an 8-year contract that paid him $7 million a year, was sent to Tallon’s new team the Florida Panthers for defensemen Rostislav Olsen.
Two more members of the 2010 Stanley Cup team were traded in the offseason. Forward Troy Brouwer was sent to Washington for a 2011 1st round pick, a pick Chicago used to select forward Phillip Danult. The ‘Hawks then traded Tomas Kopecky to Florida in exchange for a conditional 7th round pick in 2012. The Blackhawks also acquired some depth that offseason, picking up Steve Montador from Buffalo for a 2011 7th round pick.
Chicago improved on their wins (45) and points (101), they only finished sixth in the conference. Sharp once again led the team in goals scored with 33 goals, while Hossa led in assists with 48 and points with 77.
Making the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season, the Blackhawks took on the Phoenix Coyotes in the first round. In what could only be described as one of the closest playoffs season in history, the first five games of the series were all decided in overtime. Unfortunately for the ‘Hawks they were on the losing end of three of them, dropping Game 1 in Phoenix as well as Game’s 3 and 4 on home ice. After winning a 2-1 overtime contest back in Phoenix, the ‘Hawks ran out of steam in Game 6 falling 4-0. Chicago faiedl to win a single home contest in the series, failing to advance to the second round for the second straight year.
While Chicago may have lost, the front office made a few under the radar moves that would pay major dividends in the coming years.
In the 2nd round of the 2011 draft Chicago drafted a young winger from Pennsylvania by the name of Brandon Saad. In that same draft three rounds later, the ‘Hawks selected another forward named Andrew Shaw. On February 27th the team acquired defenseman Johnny Oduya from the Winnipeg Jets for a 2013 2nd and 3rd round pick.
They had no idea, but history was right around the corner.
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