BOSTON - Fifteen days after they captured their first Stanley Cup in 49 years, the Blackhawks began the unfortunate task of deconstruction, a stinging process necessitated by a series of looming cap constrictions. Dustin Byfuglien was the first to go, packaged to Atlanta. Kris Versteeg joined him on the way out six days later, dealt to Toronto. One day after that, it was Andrew Ladd on the move, set to join Byfuglien with the Thrashers. Free to walk, Antti Niemi would sign with San Jose two months after that.
Eight players from that squad would capture the Cup again for the Blackhawks on Monday night. With an impressive core from the 2010 team still in place, Chicago managed to reconstruct itself around the edges in a span of four seasons, a fine detailing of the roster in the cap era.
The stars would still dominate. Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane joined forces and effectively took over the series in Game 4 and thereafter. Patrick Sharp would score 10 in the playoffs, including a pair against the Bruins. Brent Seabrook would end two tilts in extra-time. Duncan Keith would play more than anyone not named Chara. But the Hawks would, like they did in 2010, require the contributions of their secondary and in some cases, young and emerging parts.
"There's something about the core we have and the team we had this year," said Kane, the Conn Smythe Trophy winner.
The third goalie behind Niemi and Cristobal Huet three summers back, Corey Crawford would end up leading the playoffs with a 1.84 goals against average, stopping 23 pucks in the finale. Bryan Bickell would snipe nine in the postseason, none bigger than the game-tying goal with 58 seconds left in Game 6. A fifth round pick in 2011, Andrew Shaw would end Game 1 in triple overtime. Dave Bolland, so impactful in the previous run, wouldn't score until the Final with Boston, tallying three including the series clincher. Fifteen years after he first entered the league, Michal Handzus, flipped to Chicago for a fourth round pick in April, would total 11 points en route to his first Cup. Acquired from Winnipeg in February 2012, Johnny Oduya would score the game-tying goal in the opener, his point shot instigating Bolland's historic winner. Even Michael Frolik, once a top-10 pick in Florida, would find his place in Chicago, bringing energy and enthusiasm to a blistering penalty kill, chipping in with the odd point in a depth role. His linemate Marcus Kruger, the 149th pick in the 2009 draft, would score in a wild Game 4.
The fingerprints of former Hawks general manager Dale Tallon still remain at the heart of the Hawks squad that would seize the Cup for the second time in four years. Without the mighty core of Toews, Kane, Keith, Seabrook, Sharp, Marian Hossa (who had seven goals and 16 points) and head coach Joel Quenneville among others, Chicago does not race out of the lockout with a 24-game unbeaten streak nor finish as the President's Trophy winner nor top the Bruins in six games.
The dominance of Toews and Kane in particular - nine points combined in the final three games - would unquestionably reverse the course of the 2013 Final. Their victimization of Chara was, at times, simply astonishing to behold. But up, down and across the roster, the Blackhawks, led by Stan Bowman at the top, would find contributions from a wide array of sources, a testament to their ability to retool in the constricting cap era.
An immediate impact from the draft in 2011 for instance would yield Shaw and Brandon Saad, who finished the regular season with the fifth-most points among rookies. Continued development from Bickell and Niklas Hjalmarsson would also pay dividends. And while they initially sought Marty Turco in their efforts to replace Niemi after the celebration in 2010, it was Crawford - actually a Mike Smith draft pick - who would rise through the ranks and deliver another Cup with an altogether sturdy postseason. "Worked hard," he said joyously afterward, "kept telling myself 'Eventually you're going to get your chance, keep working hard'." He and 30-year-old Ray Emery, a free agent signing in 2011, would join ranks to capture the William Jennings Trophy, awarded to the goalie tandem with the lowest goals against during the regular season.
Like in 2010, decisions await the Hawks - who have just over $2 million in cap space for next season according to CapGeek. A playoff sensation, Bickell hits the free agent market, joined by Emery, and Viktor Stalberg. The next wave of promising talent is on the way though to fill the gaps, led by Saad, Jeremy Morin, Mark McNeill, Brandon Pirri and the 18th overall selection in 2012, Teuvo Teravainen.
Toews is still only 25, Kane just 24. And with the remaining pieces of that finely tuned core locked in place beyond next season, the Hawks can continue to retool and rebuild around the edges, just as they did in 2013.
"It's one of the toughest trophies to win in pro sports," an elated Seabrook said after Game 6. "It was nice to see everybody step up."