How the Chicago Blackhawks are thriving in salary cap era

Veteran Jonathan Toews is one of many reasons the Chicago Blackhawks are making their third Stanley Cup run in the era of the salary cap.
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

By Nicholas Goss

The Chicago Blackhawks will compete in their third Stanley Cup Final of the salary cap era (2005 to the present) Wednesday night in Game 1 against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The salary cap was supposed to bring more parity to the league, and for the most part, it has succeeded with seven different champions in nine seasons. However, since 2008, the Blackhawks have overcome the cap with five trips to the conference finals and two championships.

In the event the salary cap does not increase, or rises only slightly for next season, the Blackhawks could be forced to make roster changes as new extensions go into effect, in addition to younger players needing raises.

But based on the Blackhawks’ recent team-building success, there are plenty of reasons why they can navigate the cap and continue to win.

Reliable Veteran Core
The Blackhawks have the best veteran core in the NHL, headlined by Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. Toews is one of the three-best centers in the league and a powerful force at both ends of the ice. He’s also among the most clutch players in the game, just ask the Anaheim Ducks after the Western Conference Final.

Kane leads the Blackhawks with 20 points in 17 playoff games and is a point-per-game scorer (111 points in 110 games) for his postseason career. Similar to Toews, Kane is a former Conn Smythe Trophy winner and plays at a high level in the most important games.

Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp also play key roles in the veteran core. Each player provides consistent scoring production, and Hossa is the best defensive winger in the game despite the embarrassingly low support he receives for the Selke Trophy.

On the blue line, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson make up one of, if not the best defensemen trio in the league. Keith, the best of the group, is a two-time Norris Trophy winner who racks up points, features on both special teams units and plays a ton of minutes (league-leading 31:35 TOI/game in the playoffs).

The Blackhawks are able to overcome inconsistent goaltending because of their depth and talent on the back end, and these three defensemen are the primary reason for that success.

Infusion of Young Players 
The salary cap forces teams to draft well and surround highly paid veterans with young players on entry-level contracts that supply much-needed depth at each position.

The Blackhawks have surrounded guys like Toews, Kane and Hossa with young players such as Marcus Kruger (fifth round, 2009), Brandon Saad (second round, 2011), Andrew Shaw (fifth round, 2011) and Teuvo Teravainen (first round, 2012) through the draft. These are quality, versatile players who play an important role in the team’s success at even strength and special teams.

Style of Play
The NHL is becoming a more fast-paced game built on speed and skill. There’s still a use for physical play but the teams who consistently possess the puck more than their opponent and utilize speed in breakouts will thrive in the regular season and playoffs.

While the Blackhawks have plenty of quick players, no team in the league moves the puck faster. Chicago breakouts stem from quick, accurate passes out of the defensive zone. These passes are set up by excellent puck retrieval skills and the defensemen’s ability to strip pucks and win battles along the boards. You don’t have to play hard and heavy to consistently win battles and take possession.

The Blackhawks don’t have an abundance of grit or a surplus of guys willing to fight, but they rank in the top 10 of just about every puck possession metric on a regular basis, and that’s what matters.

Quality Coaching
You won’t find many coaches better than Joel Quenneville. In his 18 seasons as an NHL head coach, his teams have missed the playoffs just twice. His 754 wins are the most among active coaches and third all-time.

Quenneville is able to get great production out of veterans, lead through adversity and help develop young players. He’s not afraid to mix lines when the offense is struggling and ranks among the best coaches when it comes to playoff adjustments during play, between games and from series to series.

Coaching won’t be an issue for Chicago as long as Quenneville is behind the bench.

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