Mark Thursday, Dec. 3, 2009 on your calendars -- the Stan Bowman era with the Chicago Blackhawks has officially begun.
The first-year general manager made the first significant move of his administration on Thursday afternoon when he announced the signing of forwards Patrick Kane
and Jonathan Toews
and defenseman Duncan Keith
to long-term extensions during a press conference at United Center.
Kane and Toews will reportedly receive identical 5-years deals and Keith will earn a 13-year extension.
All three players were to be restricted free agents following the season so there's little doubt the signing of the 'Big Three' was at the top of Bowman's to-do list once he replaced Dale Tallon in July. Of course, the extensions will force the League's youngest GM to make some critical decisions down the road as the club looks to be at or below the $56.8 million salary cap.
Still, the signings of Kane, Toews and Keith are critical to a team just coming off its second playoff appearance in the last 11 seasons. And it makes perfect sense too since the 36-year-old Bowman has been a part of the Chicago youth movement for the last eight years in the team's operations department prior to being named GM over the summer.
The Blackhawks totaled 46 wins and 104 points in 2008-09. Not since the 1992-93 campaign had the Hawks earned more wins (47) and more points (106).
Chicago actually earned the nickname "Comeback Kids" in the Western Conference Finals last year after eliminating the Vancouver Canucks in six games to reach the Conference Finals for the first time since 1995. The Blackhawks had trailed in each of their four victories against Vancouver and scored 14 of their 23 goals in the third period or overtime.
Through it all, Kane, Toews and Keith played vital roles.
Kane, who connected for a team-leading 9 goals in 16 playoff games last spring, paced the Blackhawks with 8 points (6 goals) against the Canucks, including his first career hat trick in the series-clinching Game 6 against Roberto Luongo. Toews had 7 goals and 13 points in 17 playoff games and Keith was a tower of strength along the blue line averaging 24:38 of ice time in 17 postseason games.
Bowman undoubtedly wanted to keep the coals burning since the Hawks are the League's only team to improve on its record in each of the past four seasons -- 59 points in 2003-04; 65 points in 2005-06; 71 points in 2006-07; 88 points in 2007-08 and 104 last campaign.
The club is right on schedule 26 games into 2009-10 -- first in the Central Division and second in the Western Conference (17-6-3, 37 points). Kane leads the club with 26 points (9 goals) and Keith ranks second with 23 (18 assists). Toews, who has played six fewer games than Kane and Keith, is fifth with 16 points (6 goals).
It shouldn't come as much of a surprise that the Blackhawks' rebuild started less than two months after their last playoff appearance in 2002 when they selected Keith in the second round of the 2002 Entry Draft (54th overall). The 26-year-old Winnipeg native represented the Western Conference at the NHL All-Star Game in Atlanta in 2007-08.
The turnaround came to a head following the selections of Toews in 2006 (third overall) and Kane in 2007 (first overall). Kane became the eighth player in franchise history to capture the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie in 2007-08 when he struck for 21 goals and 72 points.
Toews would be named the 34th captain in franchise history on July 17, 2008, making him the third-youngest player to earn that distinction in League history. He scored his team-leading 32nd goal -- the winning tally in a 3-1 victory over the Nashville Predators last April 3 -- to help the Blackhawks clinch their first Stanley Cup Playoff berth in six seasons.
When informed of the pending contract extensions, Kane and Toews, both 21, were excited.
"We've been in a lot of the same situations, been together and included in every event and every little thing whether it's playing games on the road or the Winter Classic and all these things on and off the ice that we do," Toews told The Chicago Tribune.
Said Kane, "It's nicer to get it done all at the same time rather than one guy and then another guy and then maybe one has to wait even longer than that."Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com
Author: Mike G. Morreale | NHL.com Staff Writer