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Blackhawks had 2010 champions in mind when putting team together

Updated: June 12, 2013 3:59PM



Everyone knew it was coming. Fans, players, coaches, management — everybody saw the writing on the wall, the Sword of Damocles swaying precariously overhead, the 10-ton anvil about to drop in the middle of Blackhawks’ dressing room, scattering key players to the far ends of the continent.

So when the champagne dried and the TV cameras left and Joel Quenneville had a moment to think about what his 2010 team had just accomplished — winning Chicago’s first Stanley Cup in 49 years — he wasn’t just ecstatic. He wasn’t just proud.

He was relieved.

“We knew going into that offseason to expect a different group [the next year],” Quenneville said. “Losing almost half your team the following year, it was almost like, ‘Boy, glad we got it done there. Because things change quickly.’”

Playoff hero Dustin Byfuglien sent to Atlanta two weeks after Patrick Kane’s Cup-winning goal, along with Brent Sopel and Ben Eager. Andrew Ladd shipped out to the Thrashers a week later. Kris Versteeg dealt to Toronto. Goaltender Antti Niemi allowed to leave for San Jose, tough guy Adam Burish allowed to leave for Dallas, penalty-killing specialist John Madden allowed to leave for Minnesota. Half the team gone before the great summer of hockey love in Chicago.

The core remained — Kane, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook — but the supporting cast was decimated by the reality of the salary cap, and the inevitable rewards that come with success. Kane, Toews and Keith were all getting new, massive deals, and the money just wasn’t there. Even Toews’ bonus for winning the Conn Smythe factored in, likely costing the Hawks one more contract.

The Hawks won when they could, before they lost so much.

“It was that one season where we had to try to capture it all,” said general manager Stan Bowman, whose first season in that role was the Cup year. “There was a sense of relief that we were able to accomplish it knowing what was ahead, regardless of how we played.”

Three years later, the Hawks are back in the Stanley Cup Final, squaring off against the Boston Bruins starting Wednesday night at the United Center. The core’s still there — Toews leading the way, Kane, Hossa and Sharp scoring the big goals, Keith and Seabrook manning the blue line. But squint hard at Bryan Bickell, clogging the crease and scoring ugly goals, and you might see Byfuglien. Glance quickly at Andrew Shaw and you might think you’re looking at Burish, stirring it up and drawing penalties. Watch Marcus Kruger and Michael Frolik stymie opposing power plays, and you might just think Madden was still out there. And behind the mask, Corey Crawford is doing his best Niemi impression, backstopping a deep playoff run.

The 2013 Hawks aren’t the 2010 Hawks. This year’s team is deeper on the blue line, a little lighter on the physical play, a little more balanced offensively, and — as Quenneville pointed out — a little short of Western Canadians. But this year’s team was built in the image of the 2010 group, the role-player voids left by the great salary purge of 2010 carefully filled by players both home-grown and acquired.

The 2010 team was the blueprint. It just took a few years to complete the rebuild.

“If you have a championship team, you’re going to try to do the same thing,” said Niklas Hjalmarsson, whom Bowman chose to keep over Niemi when the Sharks signed Hjalmarsson to an offer sheet. “Stan has been doing a great job putting up a team and giving us a chance to go really, really far.”

Bowman said it wasn’t quite so clear-cut as replacing Byfuglien with Bickell, Madden with Frolik, Brian Campbell (a year later) with Nick Leddy, Troy Brouwer (also a year later) with Brandon Saad. There were misses, too — Steve Montador, Jack Skille, Jake Dowell, John Scott, to name a few. And who knows how things would have played out if Bowman had successful signed Zach Parise last summer and the ripple effect of such a move.

But with his core intact, Bowman went back to the future in constructing this team.

“It’d be sort of disingenuous to say we had this guy to replace this guy — it wasn’t that linear,” Bowman said. “But yeah, when you have a blueprint that works, stick with it. We certainly have a style of hockey that we want to play.”

That style is a super-skilled core surrounded by grittier, hard-working complementary pieces. Shaw, a 21-year-old hybrid of Burish and Dave Bolland — Shaw essentially has taken Bolland’s role this postseason — is a perfect example. Shaw has four goals this postseason while pestering opponents and getting under their skin. Against Boston, he’s likely to be matched up against David Krejci’s prolific line in a defensive, checking role.

Shaw’s flattered to even be considered alongside the 2010 Hawks.

“It’s a huge compliment if anyone says that,” he said. “They had a great team, they had a lot of great players. I think we’ve got to play the same way they did — they were physical, they scored, they went to the net, they went to the dirty areas. That’s why they won the Stanley Cup. They’d do anything to win, even block shots with their face if they had to.”

It didn’t happen overnight. The Hawks had solid regular seasons the last two years, but lost in the first round each time before breaking through this spring. Bowman called it an “evolution.” But the result is a sense of deja vu for the older guys who look around the rink in 2013 and see shades of 2010.

“It’s very similar,” Sharp said. “There’s a model, or a blueprint there. … That’s a credit to management, to what Stan’s done behind the scenes. There’s been a lot of tough decisions made over the years.”

There’ll be a few tough decisions this summer, too. Bickell’s an unrestricted free agent. Leddy will draw plenty of interest as a restricted free agent. Viktor Stalberg, acquired in the Versteeg trade, is unrestricted, too. But even as the salary cap drops, this summer won’t be nearly as apocalyptic as the 2010 one was.

But when players leave, either this summer or down the road — Kane and Toews likely will be negotiating new, monster deals sometime in the next year or two — the Hawks will pull out the blueprint and find the missing pieces. Next man in.

“A lot of guys on that team at that time were unknown, and then you make a Cup run and you’re obviously going to get good contracts and it’s going to be tough to keep everyone together,” Kane said. “Seems like it’s happening again with this team. Our guys are making names for themselves in the playoffs here and earning paychecks.”

Added Toews: “Once you win the Cup, once you feel like it’s yours, you don’t want to give it up. As a team and an organization here in Chicago, we want to prove that we’re a team that means business, and we want to be in the hunt for it every single year.”

Turns out, it can be done. All they have to do is stick to the blueprint.

How the Hawks were built

There are eight players from the 2010 Stanley Cup title team still on the Hawks. Here’s a look at the team’s major comings and goings:

FIVE KEY LOSSES

RW Kris Versteeg

Traded to Toronto in a deal that brought RW Viktor Stalberg to Chicago.

LW Andrew Ladd

Scored 75 goals over last three years with Thrashers/Jets, becoming team’s captain.

G Antti Niemi

Allowed to sign with Sharks after San Jose made offer sheets to both Niemi and Niklas Hjalmarsson.

D Dustin Byfuglien

Traded with Brent Sopel and Ben Eager to Thrashers, scored 40 goals in last three seasons

C Adam Burish

Noted agitator and tough guy signed two-year deal with Dallas following the season

FIVE KEY ADDITIONS

LW Bryan Bickell

Watched the 2010 Final as a healthy scratch, has been a breakout start in 2013 in the Byfuglien role

C Andrew Shaw

With Dave Bolland struggling to regain his form, has emerged as team’s top agitator

D Nick Leddy

Speedy puck-mover spent 2010-11 season being groomed as Brian Campbell’s replacement

LW Brandon Saad

Second-round pick in 2011 and Calder Trophy finalist spent most of the year on top line

G Corey Crawford

His presence in Rockford allowed the Hawks to part ways with Niemi

THE HOLDOVERS

C Dave Bolland

Injuries have slowed him down this season, but still a strong defensive presence

D Niklas Hjalmarsson

Has emerged as a top-line defender and minutes eater behind Keith and Seabrook

RW Marian Hossa

Elite two-way player is making his fourth Final appearance in six seasons

RW Patrick Kane

Earned MVP consideration for his stellar play and improved defense this season

D Duncan Keith

Blue line stalwart had his best season since winning the Norris Trophy in 2010

D Brent Seabrook

Scored the biggest goal of the playoffs in overtime of Game 7 against the Red Wings

LW Patrick Sharp

Steady producer overcame shoulder injury to be a force in the playoffs

C Jonathan Toews

Consummate captain also had MVP talk, and is a finalist for the Selke Trophy



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