The Blackhawks’ Conn Smythe Core: Toews, Kane, and Keith

There’s a common adage in the world that significant things come in groups of three. In the world of writing, there’s a principle known as the “Rule of Three” that states that “things that come in threes are inherently funnier, more satisfying, or more effective than other numbers of things.”

In writing, it’s the “rule of three.” In comedy, it’s called the “comic triple.” In hockey, we just call it “Toews, Kane, and Keith.”

For the Chicago Blackhawks, good things have certainly come in threes. Over the last six seasons, the team has won three Stanley Cups. In each of those three Stanley Cup wins, we’ve seen three different Conn Smythe Trophy winners as the MVP of the Playoffs.

Toews,  Kane, and Keith have taken turns in leading the Blackhawks to each of their three recent Stanley Cup championships. They’ve had help along the way; there’s no denying that. Each of the three championship years, they’ve been joined by Brent Seabrook, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, Nicklas Hjalmarsson, and Bryan Bickell. In two of the three years, they had help from Brandon Saad, Corey Crawford, Kris Versteeg, Johnny Oduya, Marcus Kruger, Michal Rozsival, and Dan Carcillo.

But it unquestionably stands that the three most important players to this franchise’s success are the ones who fittingly have been rewarded with the Conn Smythe Trophy one time each for their efforts.

2010: Toews’ Time

In 2010, the Chicago Blackhawks were a youthful team looking to build on their run to the Western Conference Final in 2009. The whole hockey world knew they were destined to break through, it was just the extent of such a breakthrough that was unknown.

If building on 2008-2009’s success was their goal, then they certainly achieved it. The record from the year prior of 46-24-12 (2nd in the Central, 4th in the West) was improved to 52-22-8 (1st in the Central, 2nd in the West). With the progress between the two regular seasons secured, it seemed likely that the next step would be a better end result in the postseason, which obviously came to pass.

Toews was just barely 22 years of age when he won his first Stanley Cup, and the year he put together in 2010 has to be considered one of the most decorated years of hockey play in the sport’s history. His regular season numbers with the Blackhawks that season were very solid but unspectacular. He put up 68 points in 76 games, and his points per game mark of .89 was good for 29th in the league that season among skaters with at least 50 games played.

While Toews was obviously great, he wasn’t wowing anybody with his individual offensive production in the regular season, but where his year really began to turn special was at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver. Toews compiled 8 points in 7 games in the tournament, and he was honored as the Best Forward at the tournament. Then in the playoffs, Toews took his game to a whole new level. On his way to the Conn Smythe Trophy, Toews put up an astounding 29 points in 22 games over the course of the Blackhawks’ playoff run.

The beautiful thing about this trio is that while they each led the way in one of the three years, they were never perfect in doing so and always leaned on the other two at times for help in getting the job done. In 2010, it may have been Toews who led the way throughout the playoffs, but it was Kane who sealed the deal with his memorable overtime winner in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final:

It may have been Toews’ year and Toews’ team, but that didn’t stop Kane from being the one to step up when it counted most. While Toews carried the team on his back through the first three rounds, he struggled to the tune of three points in six games in the Cup Final. Kane’s seven points in the same six games ensured that Toews would have his prior efforts rewarded with a Stanley Cup and a Conn Smythe.

In a four month span, Toews had led Team Canada to Olympic gold on home ice and led the Blackhawks to snapping their agonizingly long 49 year Stanley Cup drought. In accomplishing these, the young captain ensured that his name would forever be preserved in hockey lore.


2013: Kane Smythe

Patrick Kane’s career has been an excellent redemption story. From his off-ice antics stemming from his immaturity as a young man to his eventual growth into a consummate professional, on-ice leader, and off-ice role model, his story is an inspiring one.

The Blackhawks’ organizational patience with Kane and their belief in him as a human being began to come under question following the 2012 first round defeat at the hands of the Phoenix Coyotes. For a while, baseless trade rumors and character assassinations circulated like a wind gust around Chicago’s urban landscape. But despite all the external pressure, the Blackhawks never wavered in their confidence in who Kane was as a player and as a person. Kane rewarded their faith in him in 2013 when he led them to their second Stanley Cup in four years, with zero off-ice distractions along the way.

In the lockout-shortened 2013 NHL regular season, Kane was the clear-cut best player in the entire Western Conference. He put up 55 points in 47 games, good for a 1.17 points per game clip that lagged behind only Sidney Crosby’s ungodly 1.56 number, Martin St. Louis’ 1.25, and Steven Stamkos’s 1.19.

The only other players in the West that season to top a point per game rate were Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Taylor Hall, Ryan Getzlaf, and Kane’s running mate in Toews. None of them were really all that close to Kane’s gaudy mark.

Kane powered through the 48 game regular season with ease, and when the competition got stiffer and tougher in the playoffs, Kane rose to the occasion in a huge way. In Chicago’s first round matchup with the Minnesota Wild, Kane had five assists in five games. He followed that up with four points in seven games against Detroit in what was a tough second round matchup for the star American winger.

Through two rounds, Kane was held to a relatively quiet 9 points in 12 games. Awaiting in the Western Conference final were the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings, who were nothing short of a dominant defensive juggernaut at the time. That meant nothing to Patrick Kane. In the surprisingly short five games it took Chicago to dispatch Los Angeles, Kane had four goals and an assist. He broke out in a huge way in Game 5, as he single-handedly knocked out the Kings with a hat trick in Chicago’s 4-3 Overtime win, capped off with his incredible series-clinching overtime winner. That game alone was a real MVP moment:

But as was the case with Toews in 2010, Kane was not perfect in 2013. Prior to the Western Conference Final, Toews was slightly better than Kane throughout the first two rounds, and Corey Crawford was also vital to a few of the wins gathered at that point. It was Kane’s heroics against mighty defensive teams like the Kings and the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup Final that rightly earned him his turn as the Conn Smythe Trophy winner.


2015: Chicago Runs on Duncan

There really aren’t enough superlatives to be used to describe Duncan Keith’s performance in the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Keith had always been the cornerstone upon which the Blackhawks had built their fantastic defense, but this year he wasn’t just the motor for the defensive unit, he was carrying the entire team.

Keith is a thoroughbred. His transition game is unmatched by any other defenseman in the league not named Drew Doughty or Erik Karlsson. His skating is probably the best at the position. In the playoffs, it feels as though an error by Duncan Keith is more rare than Henrik Lundqvist losing an elimination game on home ice. At least that has actually happened a time or two.

Never was this more truly the case then this year. That’s not to take away from Keith’s performances in 2010 and 2013, as he was excellent in those years as well, but Chicago’s most recent championship run saw him take his game to a whole new level.

Like Toews, Keith is a two-time Olympic gold medalist with Team Canada. He was an integral part of the country’s defensive unit in both 2010 and 2014. As such, Keith has a lot of mileage on him. There’s the Stanley Cup run in 2010. There’s 2011 and 2012, when the Blackhawks still made the playoffs, albeit for much shorter stints. There’s the 2013 run that didn’t grind to a halt until the very end of June. Then there was 2014, which meant another Olympic run and another long playoff run with the Blackhawks.

With all this hockey being played, one might think that Keith would begin to tire out at some point. Since the beginning of the 2009-2010 season, the Blackhawks have played 458 regular season games and 100 playoff games. Keith has suited up for 444 of those regular season games and 99 of those playoff games.

So one would expect that the guy would begin to tire out or wear down a little bit at some point, right? Nope. Not Duncan Keith. Duncan Keith is a cyborg whose sole mission is to drive play toward your zone and make sure you almost never score while he’s on the ice. Oh, and he’s pretty much almost always on the ice. His average time on ice in this year’s postseason? Just 31:07 per game, that’s all.

The offseason departure of Nick Leddy and the postseason injury to Michal Rozsival ensured that if the Blackhawks were to win their third Stanley Cup, they’d have to lean on Duncan Keith excessively to do so. The man who had every reason to be broken down and fatigued by this point in his career only got better as even more was demanded of him. Not only that, but his 21 points in 23 games this postseason was actually better than Kane’s 19 points in 23 games that won him the Conn Smythe in 2013. Duncan Keith, Most Valuable Player in the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs? Yeah, I think so.

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So while all the talk swirls about whether or not the Chicago Blackhawks are a dynasty (I side with Stephen Carter on the issue, no they aren’t), it’s important to not be distracted by this meaningless word. Don’t let it take away from what the team has accomplished.

No, the Blackhawks aren’t a dynasty. No, Jonathan Toews is not a better hockey player than Sidney Crosby. No, Patrick Kane is not the best American-born hockey player ever. And no, Duncan Keith is not the clearly established best defenseman in the entire world.

Keep all that in mind, but Don’t let any of that distract you from the fact that we will probably never see another trio of players accomplish what Toews, Kane, and Keith just have. The odds of a team winning three championships in six years in a 30 team league (soon to be 32?) are astronomically low. We’ll probably never see it again in our lifetimes. Appreciate the greatness and appreciate the winning. All three of these players are incredibly talented, and by all accounts all three have grown to be excellent role models on and off the ice for young hockey players and local children alike.

And Chicago is lucky to have all three of them, and maybe good things really do come in threes.