CHICAGO - There are owners in the NHL, a good 25 or so, who would sell their soul, maybe even lower ticket prices by 5%, if they could put together something that even closely resembles what the Chicago Blackhawks and L.A. Kings have built.Follow @SlamSports
While their own organizations show up hat in hand to draft lotteries, or stage quiet deaths in the playoffs every spring or spend decades stuck in a tar pit of mediocrity, the Hawks and Kings are making it look easy.
They’ve been smashing through the NHL like it was theirs to break, winning three of the last four Stanley Cups (the winner of this series will likely make it four of five) and combining to reach seven Western Conference finals in the past six years.
Anyone who isn’t a Hawk or a King these days has to be a little envious.
“I’ve known since I came to Chicago how lucky I was to play in this city and for this organization,” said winger Patrick Sharp, who’s seven wins away from his third ring. “It just seems like year after year there’s improvements in some area and it just gets better and better.”
The Kings are no different. Like the Hawks, who missed the playoffs nine of 10 years before getting their legs under them, the Kings (who missed six straight years) are full speed ahead, playing their third straight conference final.
“It’s awesome,” said defenceman Drew Doughty, when asked how much fun it is to be a King right now. “Dean (Lombardi) has done a great job of bringing in the right group of guys. We have a lot of guys who just want to win and won’t give up and who are very competitive. That’s why we’ve been successful.”
Neither team has to look very far around the league to know how good they have it.
“Well, it’s been a real nice situation here,” said Hawks coach Joel Quenneville, pointing to a core that includes Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Marian Hossa and Sharp.
“Our team has been built around these guys. Our success is attributed to their competitiveness, their consistency, their will to be as good as they can be on a regular basis.
“They love winning, they like making each other better. They push each other in a real good way.”
It takes more than a handful of stars to win consistently, though (hey, Pittsburgh?) and Chicago and L.A. management have done a brilliant job of rounding out their rosters.
The Hawks ran into a serious money crunch after their 2010 championship and had to ditch players like suitcases from a sinking hot air balloon. Dustin Byfuglien, Anti Niemi, Kris Versteeg and Andrew Ladd were just a few of the key ingredients lost.
Three years later, with 13 new faces, they won again.
“It’s a great organization as far as finding talent and addressing and filling needs of the team,” said Sharp. “A lot of guys graduate from the minor leagues, and played big roles for us, which is a credit to the system. The key to our team is you have some big players on it, some stars, but on any given night somebody is going to step up and be the hero.”
Credit the scouts for each organization, too. In addition to high impact first rounders, the Hawks have a laundry list of key players selected in the second, third and fourth rounds of the draft — Keith, Corey Crawford, Andrew Shaw, Bryan Bickell, Nik Hjalmarsson and Brandon Saad.
L.A. second, third and fourth rounders include Slava Voynov, Dwight King, Jordan Nolan, Tyler Toffoli and Alec Martinez. They also traded for the lines of Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Justin Williams and Marian Gaborik.
“Those are all things that you need to do (to build a winner) and that’s what they’ve done,” said L.A. centre Jarret Stoll. “Then it is just a confidence thing, a culture change. It’s just putting it all together and knowing that we have a (winning) team.”
Throw in a couple of cool cities and the free agents start calling you, not the other way around.
“I think the whole organization, it’s top class,” said Chicago’s Hossa. “We got a great coaching staff. Everybody when they got a chance to play for the Blackhawks, for any player it’s great opportunity.
“I’m sure the Kings are a great organization also. They did (conference final) three times in a row. It’s just amazing these two teams battling for the West again.”
“There is certainly respect on both sides for what each team can do,” said Sharp. “There’s bad blood, for sure, but there’s also respect.”