The most awkward moment in pro sports happens every year when the final horn of the NHL season sounds and commissioner Gary Bettman waits out the boos aimed at him, and then yells into the microphone at center ice trying to drum up excitement for a moment that needs no hype, when he hands off the Stanley Cup to the winning captain.
But Monday night, Bettman turned in a signature performance in front of delirious fans at the Madhouse on Madison as their team captured the first Cup on home ice since 1938. "Well, Chicago," Bettman said. "That's three Cups in six years. I'd say you have a dynasty."
Boom. It's official. Bettman's words affirmed what we were all thinking. Three Cups in six years is the new-age sports dynasty. While the Hawks couldn't win five in a row like the Montreal Canadiens in the 1950s, or four, like the Islanders — winners of 19 straight playoff series — and Oilers in the 1980s, or even back-to-back Cups like the late-'90s Detroit Red Wings, Chicago is now home to one of the most dominant reigns in the post-Gretzky era.
In 2010, the Hawks were young kids when they won for the first time together. Five seasons later, their core players celebrated with kids of their own, two-year-olds propped up in the Stanley Cup as this bearded, battle-hardened bunch raised three fingers to signal the number of rings they've won. Seven of them have been around for all three Cups.
Broad parity, fueled by hard salary caps and a deep pool of exceptional athletes across most pro sports, have hammered the definition of a dynasty into something different. Baseball is the lone major professional sport without a cap, but winning does not always equate to the size of a team's payroll or how bright its superstars are. Sometimes, like the "Dream Team" Eagles, most Yankees rosters of the last decade, and the high-priced squads the Knicks have trotted out, winning it all — winning anything, really — requires a special blend of talent, chemistry, analytics, resolve, and even luck.
With all that considered, winning two, three, and four straight is nearly impossible because of how hard it is to retain grade-A talent amid the lure of free agency and cap considerations. That's why ownership of the better part of a decade is damn impressive. Three titles in six years constitutes the new dynasty in sports. Rarely do teams win consecutive crowns in any sport, really. In basketball, the Miami Heat and Los Angeles Lakers both captured two in a row in recent years, but the real dynasty is in San Antonio, where the Spurs have won five titles in the Duncan era, but somehow never back-to-back.
In baseball, the Yankees won four titles between 1996 and 2000, and were on the doorstep of two more in 2001 and 2003, but the San Francisco Giants winning three in five years between 2010–2014 represents the modern MLB dynasty. In a season that still lasts 162 games, it's now about who's hottest and healthiest in August and September; whose chemistry is "clicking." Despite having almost all the same tools, the Giants didn't even make the playoffs in the years in between titles, and posted one of the worst records for a defending champion in 2013 before rebounding again. History is still written by the victors.
The NFL is hard wired for parity, where any team — except the Jacksonville Jaguars — can conceivably get hot at the right time and make serious noise in the playoffs. Eli Manning's Giants won two Super Bowls in a five-year span on that very idea. So competitive is football that just getting to the Super Bowl in consecutive years is enough to make an argument for a dynasty. But even the vaunted Seattle Seahawks couldn't win more than one. We'll see what happens with Jimmy Graham in the fold this season.
Football dynasties are much harder to come by, but you have to crown the Patriots, winners of three in five years between 2000 and 2005, and a fourth this year, as the reigning lords of the sport. Of course, some would put an asterisk on that New England era, but you can't deflate the sheer dominance of the franchise over the course of the last decade-plus.
Like a phone, a dynasty is defined differently than it was just a decade ago. The games have changed. The business of sports has changed. Hell, the way we classify talent is completely different. But winning a championship never goes out of style.
The Chicago Blackhawks are the NHL's newest, greatest dynasty. And not just because the commissioner says so.
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