See those players in that photo above? Do you see them all?
Brent Seabrook, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith: they’re all there. All five of them.
Here they are again in the photo below. This image was the wallpaper on my computer forever.
Make no mistake, this is the original Chicago Blackhawks “core” responsible for this decade-long run that’s included three Stanley Cups. Yes, other players have played major roles. Marian Hossa and Niklas Hjalmarsson also won three Cups, while Corey Crawford was indispensable in capturing the latter two. But those three were later arrivals than that original quintet.
The five players you see pictured above have been the foundation upon which this franchise turnaround was built.
And this is probably their final weekend as teammates.
They all came together for the first time in the third game of the 2007-08 NHL season, taking the ice in a 2-1 loss to the San Jose Sharks on October 10, 2007 in front of a reported United Center crowd of 10,122 that was probably a generous estimate.
But the moments they’ve delivered in the decade that’s followed have been irreplaceable.
These five players were the ones who combined to deliver Kane’s dramatic shorthanded goal against the Nashville Predators in Game 5 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals in 2010.
All five players were also on the ice two years later as Sharp scored a game-tying goal with six seconds left in Game 4 of that year’s playoff series with the then-Phoenix Coyotes.
This group was temporarily broken up after the 2014-15 NHL season, with the salary cap purge finally claiming one of the core as Sharp was traded to the Dallas Stars. But with the Hawks always prone to fits of nostalgia, Sharp was brought back in free agency prior to the start of this season.
Even nostalgia has its limits, though: this feels like the end (again) for Sharp’s time in Chicago and maybe even for his NHL career. While 21 points in 68 games seems like a bargain for an $800,000 fourth-liner, it’s not the same Sharp from his first Chicago stint when he was a perennial 30-goal scorer. And at the age of 36, after overcoming major injury issues just to get back on the ice this season, any future he may have in the NHL doesn’t seem to mesh with a Blackhawks roster that’s only getting younger.
Toews and Kane are under Chicago’s control until 2023. Keith is locked up for the same term as part of a 13-year, $72-million contract (about $5.54 million annually). Seabrook isn’t going anywhere, locked into an annual cap hit of $6.875 million until the summer of 2024. Sharp’s one-year deal worth less than a million expires after Saturday’s game.
It seems unfair that this group’s end will come in a season without a playoff appearance, when the first breakup of this band came after a third Stanley Cup victory. But as the remainder of this group calls it a career and all five players become references in the past tense, the brutal 2017-18 season won’t be the memories that come to mind when these names are mentioned.
But just for old time’s sake, for one more trip down memory lane can be afforded in a lost season, I’d love to see coach Joel Quenneville run these five out for the opening faceoff on Friday night at home against the hated St. Louis Blues. Just to give us all one final good look at this group that’s been responsible for the most fun decade we’ve seen on the ice at 1901 W. Madison Street.