CHICAGO — When Rocky Wirtz took over the Chicago Blackhawks six years ago, they were among the worst teams in the NHL.
Fast forward to Tuesday, when the owner mingled with fans and friends hours after the Blackhawks flew home with the Stanley Cup for the second time in four seasons. It’s been quite the turnaround, and the 60-year-old Wirtz thinks there is more to come.
“I think we’re going to see a lot of good years ahead of us,” he said.
It sure looks that way.
Unlike in 2010, when the title-winning team underwent changes because of salary-cap issues, the Blackhawks will be able to bring back many of their top players next season when they try to become the first repeat Stanley Cup winner since the Detroit Red Wings in 1998.
Forwards Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp, and defensemen Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are all under contract for at least two more seasons. Brandon Saad, one of the finalists for the Calder Trophy given to the NHL’s top rookie, is years away from restricted free agency.
“I think there’s something about our core,” said Kane, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP of the playoffs. “Hopefully we can stay together a long time, because that’s two Cups in four years, and we seem to only be getting better and better as players as time goes on here.”
The Blackhawks lost in the first round of the playoffs in each of the previous two seasons, but general manager Stan Bowman decided to stay the course.
He kept Joel Quenneville in place even though the coach was hired by his predecessor, Dale Tallon. Corey Crawford was given time to develop in goal, and he rewarded the organization’s patience with a terrific performance in this year’s playoffs. Kane matured into one of the NHL’s top players.