Lowering The Bar: Are We Devaluing The Term ‘Dynasty’ In The Modern NHL?
Gary Bettman has to be atop the very, very, very short list of people capable of drawing a chorus of boos out of a crowd of 20,500 people just minutes after its cherished team has claimed its third Stanley Cup title in six years.
But 22 years in the NHL commissioner’s chair has taught Bettman a few tricks, and on Monday, he managed to turn those raucous boos into a roaring applause by telling the Chicago Blackhawks faithful: “I’d say you have a dynasty.”
Bettman isn’t the first to suggest that winning three championships in six seasons qualifies as a dynasty in the modern NHL. Before the puck had even dropped in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals, fans, pundits and blowhards had already started to proclaim that another title would make the current Blackhawks a dynasty, putting them on par with the Montreal Canadiens of the 1970s and the New York Islanders and Edmonton Oilers of the 1980s in the history books.
The crux of the argument is actually quite logical: with tremendous parity in the modern NHL, it’s more challenging to stay on top these days, so the Blackhawks need to be graded on a curve when measured against the ghosts of hockey’s past. With 30 teams, a salary cap and a much deeper talent pool, three cups in six years is almost equivalent to the Oilers feat of capturing four titles in five years in the 1980s.
The argument is hard to refute.
This year’s playoffs featured at least 10 squads with a legitimate shot at capturing hockey’s coveted prize, including four teams that play in the Blackhawks division. True parity.
In addition, the salary cap forced the Blackhawks to part ways with several key members of their first Stanley Cup team, like Antti Niemi, Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien, and yet the squad managed to reload and stay ahead of the heard.
But when we start tossing around the word “dynasty” to describe the Blackhawks, a stick gets caught in the spokes of the argument, bringing it to a crashing halt; a stick known to the hockey world as the Los Angeles Kings.
When the Habs won six cups in nine years during the 1970s, including four in a row to close out the decade, no one could dispute their dominance over the rest of the league. Likewise, the Islanders couldn’t be touched as they captured four straight cups in the early 1980s and who would dispute the Oilers superiority later in the decade?
While the Blackhawks achievement is certainly remarkable, no one can argue that they’ve stood head and shoulders above the rest of the league over the past six seasons when the Kings have managed to win two Stanley Cups in four years during their run.
And remember, the Kings reached the Stanley Cup finals last season by beating the Blackhawks in a thrilling seven game series that required overtime in the final contest. Isn’t that an indication that these two teams are practically even-steven?
What happens if the Kings bounce back and win the Stanley Cup next season? If that were to happen, they’d be the owners of three titles in five years, eclipsing the Blackhawks feat of three in six. In that scenario, the Kings would certainly have to be considered a dynasty, too, and how can two dynasties reign simultaneously?
Perhaps we’re just arguing semantics here, thumb wrestling over the definition of a simple word in the sports lexicon. But over the years, when it comes to pro sports, the word dynasty has been reserved for squads like Wayne Gretzky’s Oilers, the San Francisco 49ers of the 1980s and the Chicago Bulls teams that reeled off a pair of three-peats in the 1990s.
Why would the definition of a word change simply because the competition level in pro sports has increased? Doesn’t “dominance” still mean “dominance”? Or does “dominance” now mean “better than rest of the league every other season”? Why are we lowering the bar?
If these current Blackhawks are a dynasty, then so was Steve Yzerman’s Detroit Red Wings team that won three Stanley Cups in six seasons from 1997 to 2002. At the time, no one was stamping the dynasty label on the Red Wings and they won back-to-back cups during their run, a feat this Blackhawks squad has yet to achieve.
In reality, it’s just too early to say whether this group is a dynasty. Shouldn’t we just let history play itself out? With a core nucleus in its late-20s, the Blackhawks could still win four, five, six Stanley Cups before the sun sets on their reign, at which point, no one would question their dominance. Likewise, the Kings could snag a couple more titles over the next few years, bringing more layers of ambiguity into the Great Dynasty Debate.
So for now, let’s just hold off, sit back and enjoy what is proving to be a very intriguing era of NHL hockey.
Unlike Bettman, we don’t need to make grand proclamations to earn cheap applauses.
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