Andrew Ladd lived it first-hand, so he knows why NHL teams have so much trouble winning the Stanley Cup in back-to-back years.
"The salary cap is the biggest component in that," said Ladd, a salary-cap casualty of the Chicago Blackhawks' 2010 championship run.
Ladd, Dustin Byfuglien and Kris Versteeg were traded away in that off-season (and starting goaltender Antti Niemi left as a free agent) just so the Blackhawks could get their payroll under the cap for a futile run the next year.
"If you consider our team from 2010, if there was no salary cap and you could keep that whole group together for the next 10 years, who knows what could have happened?" Ladd said.
In theory, the Blackhawks could have turned into a dynasty to rival the Montreal Canadiens, Edmonton Oilers or New York Islanders, teams assembled in the pre-cap era. But winning puts virtually every player in line for a raise, and some have to leave in order to get paid.
Ladd returned to Chicago this spring in the trade with the Winnipeg Jets – and it may just be a short-term stay, as he is on an expiring contract. But the hope in Chicago is that Ladd helps the Blackhawks become the first team to win back-to-back Stanley Cups since the Detroit Red Wings did it in 1997 and 1998.
The Blackhawks have clinched a playoff spot for the eighth consecutive season, but, comparatively speaking, they have been in a two-month funk since setting a franchise record 12-game win streak Jan. 19.
Weekend victories over the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks raised Chicago's overall record to just 12-12-3 since then. With six games remaining, the Hawks seem destined to finish third in the Central Division again, which is exactly where they finished last season before going on to win their third Stanley Cup in six years.
Teams vie for home-ice advantage in the playoffs as they jockey for position in the waning days of the regular season, but Chicago only had the extra home game for one of four playoff rounds last year, and it didn't hurt them.
In the next two weeks, it's more far important that goaltender Corey Crawford get back playing. He's been out with an undisclosed injury since Mar. 14, and in his absence the Blackhawks are playing with the duo of Scott Darling and Michael Leighton.
"To win, you need a lot of things going in your favour – and health is definitely the biggest issue you're going to have obstacles with," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville assessed. "If you can stay relatively fresh and relatively healthy, it really enhances your chances.
"I know we got breaks last year in each of the four rounds against the other teams … but every year is different. Whether it's the match-up or the health of your opponent or your own health determines a lot of what can happen in a seven-game series. And then you've got to do it four times. That's why we like the depth we have on the ice right now, and we expect Corey to be back and part of it as well."
The Blackhawks added Ladd to fill out their top line alongside Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa, and he had a good weekend in Canada – four points in two games. He, along with ex-Habs Tomas Fleischmann and Dale Weise and ex-King Christian Ehrhoff, is still being integrated into the Blackhawks' lineup, something the NHL's leading scorer, Patrick Kane, says takes time.
"Sometimes, when you make all these trades and the team looks good on paper, sometimes you can almost take a back seat as a player and wait for another guy to do it," Kane said. "I think we've got to be more active and look at ourselves in the mirror, personally and individually, to try to snap out of it. You need to take it upon yourself to go and do something, instead of waiting for the next guy. I think that's where we're at right now."
Despite the Blackhawks' recent struggles, all that really matters to them is getting everybody ready to play when the playoffs start. Four NHL championships in a seven-year span would be an extraordinary accomplishment – it hasn't been done in nearly two decades.
"Look at what we've done in the past three years," Kane said. "We won a Cup, made it to the conference finals, Game 7, overtime, and then won a Cup again. I feel like we've been successful and close. But I don't think we're thinking about that too much in here. We've got a lot of work ahead, but hopefully at the end of the season, you're sitting there and you're the first team that's done it in 20 years."