The following is excerpted from the October 2014 issue of Blackhawks Magazine. Pick up the newest issue of the magazine at the next Blackhawks home game, or by calling the Blackhawks Store at (800) GO-HAWKS.
More than once, Jonathan Toews used the word “flow” to encapsulate what has transpired. It surely would not have been a term affixed to the Blackhawks in 2007, when he and Patrick Kane joined a franchise that was tumbling toward irrelevance.
Yet, last July, when these twin prodigies signed eight-year contract extensions, each an exact replica of the other, “flow” absolutely fit—as comfortably as Toews and Kane have evolved into their roles as a foundation for a team that has become the hottest ticket in town.
They started together, elevated together and won Stanley Cups together in 2010 and 2013. Although they agreed simultaneously to mirror-image contracts during that first championship season, there was no guarantee that the next round of negotiations, at measurably higher stakes, would occur without at least a little angst.
When Chairman Rocky Wirtz and President & CEO John McDonough took over, they shunned the axiomatic five-year plan while pledging to provide Chicago hockey fans with annual excellence. It sounded nice, as did Vice President/General Manager Stan Bowman’s vow many months ago that Toews and Kane would be Blackhawks forever.
But promises in professional sports tend to have a short shelf life, an expiration date to be identified later because of extenuating circumstances—such as the National Hockey League’s ironclad hard salary cap. Bowman’s declaration could not possibly have enhanced his leverage, but that cuts to the essence of the commitment shared by all parties in this rare example of mutual admiration, notably two superstars who could have broken the bank together or apart as free agents next season.
“It wasn’t a surprise; it was inevitable,” Kane said upon autographing his new deal. “Don’t forget, even before we won, the front office showed a lot of faith in Jonny and me. I’ve already talked about my ‘delayed maturation.’ That gives us extra motivation to stay here and get better. Look at what’s happened to this franchise since we got here, and not necessarily because we got here. Great management, huge fan base that keeps growing, players coming through the system to help us keep winning.”
But why not wait, Jonathan?
“I’m from Winnipeg,” said Toews. “Not for a minute, though, did I think about playing at home for the Jets. That’s not a knock on the Jets or Winnipeg. I’m just being honest. There’s a balance between what we think we deserve and what’s right for the team—to keep what we need to be competitive at the highest level every year.”
But Kaner, what about Buffalo?
“Growing up as a kid, yeah, I dreamed of playing for the Sabres,” he said. “But that vanished when I was drafted here. Threw out the first pitch at a Cubs game and sang the seventh-inning stretch at Wrigley Field with my coach, Denis Savard. Never seen a city like Chicago. Overwhelmed at first. So much traffic. But this place is unbelievable. The people, the way they treat you, the love for the Blackhawks.”
By signing together, again, Toews and Kane not only left some money on the table, but maintained the pecking order—neither is the alpha nor subaltern. A massive financial proposition is never easy, but Toews and Kane made it seem as seamless as the manner in which they play. Having the same agent, Pat Brisson, with whom the Blackhawks have a respectful business relationship, was important. But remember, it is the players who hire the representative.
“It definitely helped,” said Kane. “We talked and texted among ourselves. I might contact Pat and ask, ‘What’s Jonny thinking about this?’ If we had different agents, if one of us wanted to do something the other didn’t, maybe it wouldn’t have come together like it did. But we’re both happy and very fortunate. There was never a doubt in my mind.”
In unity, there is strength.