Dynasty or not, Hawks are the gold standard of NHL’s salary cap era

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Bedlam erupts on the ice as the Blackhawks celebrate another Stanley Cup championship following the final horn in their 2-0 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday night at the United Center. (Charles Rex Arbogast/AP)

With their third Stanley Cup championship in six seasons, the Blackhawks have established a new standard for success in the NHL’s salary-cap era (2006-15). They are 16-4 in playoff series in that span, reaching the conference final five times in the last seven years.

The Red Wings are next with 12 playoff series victories in the cap era — but the Hawks’ former rivals haven’t reached the conference final since 2009. The Penguins have 11, but have won just four playoff series in six seasons since winning the Cup in 2009.How difficult is it to maintain success in the salary-cap era? Of the six other former champions, only the Anaheim Ducks (2007) got past the first round this year. The Kings (2012, 2014), Bruins (2011) and Hurricanes (2006) didn’t even make the playoffs.

The Hawks are the first team to win three Stanley Cups in the salary-cap era. That’s not exactly a dynasty — certainly not on a scale of the Mings (who ruled China for 276 consecutive years) or Mongols (162 straight) — and not quite the Islanders (four Cups in a row from 1980-83) or Oilers (five Cups in seven years between 1984-90). But that was a different era. The Islanders and Oilers didn’t have to bust up their championship teams because of salary-cap issues. The Islanders of Mike Bossy, Bryan Trottier, Denis Potvin and Billy Smith, in fact, were virtually intact for all four championship seasons. (The Oilers won a Cup without Wayne Gretzky and Paul Coffey in 1990 — pretty impressive — but also kept the bulk of their first championship team together through much of that run.)

The Hawks have seven players who have been key contributors on all three teams that have reached the Stanley Cup Final. Relative to the era and the league, they might be as close to a “dynasty” as you can get if they can win their third Cup.

Even after they won their third Cup on Monday night, the Hawks were distancing themselves from the “dynasty” debate.

“I don’t know what that means,” Patrick Kane said. “We’ve got three in six years. I know that’s pretty good.”

“We’re just excited. Love to play hockey. Love to play the game,” Brandon Saad said.

“That’s really for other people to make those proclamations,” general manager Stan Bowman said. “All I know is that we’ve got an amazing group here, they’ve accomplished a lot together, and I’m really proud of the effort they’ve given year after year. It doesn’t always go your way, but they’ve accomplished quite a bit and we’re not finished.”

Regardless of the semantics, the Hawks clearly are ahead of the rest of the league based on postseason success — not just the three Stanley Cups (the Kings have two), but five times in the conference final in the last seven seasons. The future will bring greater challenges — the defending champion Kings showed this season just how fine the line is between being a Cup contender and failing to make the playoffs. But with Jonathan Toews and Kane and much of their “core” expected to return, they figure to be contenders for the near future.

This chart measures the postseason success of the NHL’s 30 teams in the salary-cap era. The scale awards points for advancement in the playoffs (1 point for making the playoffs; 2 for winning a first-round series; 4 for winning a second-round series; 8 for winning the conference final; and 16 for winning the Stanley Cup). Here are the updated standings after the Hawks clinched the Cup on Monday night:

(Total victories was used as the first tie-breaker; goal differential the second tie-breaker)


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