No NHL team has repeated as Stanley Cup Champions since the 1997-1998 Detroit Red Wings. Can the Chicago Blackhawks do it this year?

If you consider the “four major sports” in the U.S. to be NBA, NHL, NFL, and MLB, then the longest time has elapsed between back-to-back champions in the NHL. Consider: the last time it happened there was ’97-’98 (Red Wings). In MLB, it was ’98, ’99, and ’00 (Yankees). In the NFL, it was ’04-’05 (Patriots). In the NBA? Well, we’re in the middle of one right now (Heat). The NHL playoffs are a grind — it’s where you see casual fans become more hardcore fans — and it’s probably the hardest sport to repeat as champion in (only two times since ’98 has last year’s winner even been in the Cup Finals). While there are numerous theories as to the toughness of repeating, here’s a conventional one:

“The shortened summer is probably the most difficult to overcome,” said Toronto Maple Leafs centre Dave Bolland, a two-time Stanley Cup winner with the Blackhawks and returns for the first time to play Chicago on Saturday. “It’s a lot of fun when you win. You have a lot of festivities to celebrate. You want to hang out with everybody and celebrate. But before you know it you have to get back to work and get back to training and do your thing.”
The Blackhawks open against the Blues — who won 52 games in the regular season, tied for second-best in the Western Conference, but also lost their final six games of the regular season — and will be going for their third title since 2010 if they get that far. In 2011, the last time they tried to go back-to-back, they lost in the first round to the Canucks on this OT game-winner from Alex Burrows:
Should be noted they finished 8th in the Western Conference during the regular season (the Canucks finished first), and they still took them to seven games despite the “Hangover Hawks” label (for winning the Cup the year before and losing a couple of key pieces). The Canucks ended up getting to the Cup Finals and taking that seven games before losing to Boston.
If you go back to 2008, here’s what happened to each champion the next year:
2008 Champs: Red Wings. Next year, they lost in the Cup Finals to the Penguins.
2009 Champs: Penguins. Next year, they lost to the Montreal Canadiens in the eastern semis.
2010 Champs: Blackhawks. This is detailed above.
2011 Champs: Bruins. The next year, they lost to the Capitals in the first round.
2012 Champs: Kings. The next year, they lost in the conference finals to the Blackhawks.
2013 Champs: Blackhawks. TBD.
We’ve seen last year’s champs get bounced in basically every round of the following year’s playoffs; the point is, it’s a grind, and most NHL series tend to go 6-7 games (something like 25 percent go to Game 7), so there’s wear and tear and injury. Making a run might be slightly easier in a sport like the NBA, where your first-round opponent could be a four-game dispatch, or the NFL, where having a bye (which can actually hurt you quite a bit) means you only need to win 2 games to reach the Super Bowl. Nothing is easy, per se — these are still top athletes grinding it out in pursuit of a championship. (I’ve used the word “grind” a lot in this post. Odd.) Can the Blackhawks repeat? Obviously it’s going to be a tough road for them — even if they get past the Blues, they draw COL/MIN and then, probably, Anaheim or someone from the top of the bracket (and that’s just to escape the West!). They could do it, but it’s tough — and whether that’s because of injury, wear-and-tear, salary cap, quicker player development or whatever, we can’t be sure. Truth is, it’s probably a different reason each year.

Ted Bauer