|With extentions lasting through the 2022-23 season, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are poised to lead the Blackhawks far into the future (Getty Images).
Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita earned statues beside the United Center, monuments to their Hall of Fame excellence.
Now successors Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane institute signature moments, one of which occurred Wednesday when they agreed to eight-year contract extensions with the Blackhawks, a franchise reinvigorated by these two prodigies.
When President and CEO John McDonough pledged to provide Chicago hockey fans with a team that annually challenges for the Stanley Cup, it sounded nice, as did Vice President/General Manager Stan Bowman’s complementary vow that Toews and Kane would retire as Blackhawks.
But promises in professional sports tend to have a short shelf life, an expiration date to be identified later because of extenuating circumstances, and that’s why this announcement is so significant. Commitment is a shared value within the Blackhawks, as confirmed by all parties in this example of mutual admiration and trust.
Under the industry’s hardest salary cap, retaining special players to perpetuate an elite roster is difficult indeed. Never has the National Hockey League been so competitively balanced. But when Toews was asked, with negotiations involving huge numbers ongoing, whether he could imagine skating elsewhere than for the Blackhawks, and he replied, “Very doubtful,” what else do you need to know about this working arrangement?
Toews and Kane were top draft choices in successive years, 2006 and 2007. The Blackhawks were not good at hockey then, but they were good at doing homework. The team barely missed the playoffs in the duo’s rookie season, 2007-08, but it has been a force since, not unlike the revival that Hull and Mikita cued with a 1961 championship, following a dark decade.
Toews, the unselfish captain, has amassed 195 goals and 245 assists during regular seasons. At 26, he already has scored more game-winning playoff goals, 10, than any individual in Blackhawks history. He wins faceoffs, he centers against opponents’ top lines, he gives his all on every shift over 200 feet of ice, and he is the thermostat who sets the temperature in the room.
Kane’s magically soft hands have created 178 goals and 315 assists in the regular season, along with 91 playoff points. When he doesn’t have the puck, adversaries brace for what he might do when he does have it. When the puck finds him, five opposing skaters are at the mercy of his sixth sense. He scores goals from tight quarters that nobody else scores, and you can look them up. His highlight clips are longer than “War and Peace.”
In recent awards voting, Toews finished ninth in the balloting for the Hart Trophy as most valuable player and seventh for a berth on All-Star teams. Kane took fourth among right wings. It is a stretch, for those who watch Toews on a nightly basis, to rectify how he can be judged only the ninth most valuable player in the entire NHL.
But the flipside of these tabulations says that although Toews and Kane represent aristocracy, they are components of a gifted group, a talented mix. They stand out, but do not stand alone. Rather, they anchor a team that has won two Stanley Cups in five years, logged 94 playoff games since the sleeping giant Blackhawks awakened and performed before 277 consecutive United Center sellouts.
The Los Angeles Kings were destined, or so it might have seemed, after they prevailed in three Game 7s on the road en route to their Stanley Cup earlier this year. In a stellar effort, the Kings trailed during 26-plus playoff games for more minutes than they led, but their resilience was evident in a hard, clean and tense series against the Blackhawks. As is customary, after the parade in Los Angeles, preseason prognostications came forth.
The Blackhawks are favored to win the Stanley Cup in 2014-15. Toews and Kane are two vital components, but only two of a greater whole. No secrets here. Chicago fans have been burned by attrition in the past. Many favorite and accomplished athletes have departed for various reasons, well before the advent of a salary cap. Empty oaths prompted empty seats.
On a seminal day for the franchise, we shall not belabor the corollary during a sordid revolving-door era. To fill vacancies, management then had to overpay players, some of whom were veterans beyond their prime. Now the Blackhawks locate, develop and reward their own. Wednesday’s press release was big news, but the best part for fans is that it was not a surprise.
In this enlightened era, the Blackhawks erect statues to honor the past and fortify foundations for the future. Hockey is at its best-ever position in Chicago, and Toews and Kane are still so young. It feels as though they’ve been around forever, and—as you were told—the plan in place is that they will indeed be around forever.
Could best become better yet?