LOS ANGELES -- Chicago is justifiably proud of the modern Blackhawks, but fans need not feel their passion is parochial. On Friday night of this All-Star weekend, it was announced that an international panel voted three current players on the team -- Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith -- among the 100 greatest ever to perform in the National Hockey League.
They joined all four of the Blackhawks' Hall of Fame ambassadors -- Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita, Tony Esposito and Denis Savard -- on the honor roll as the NHL celebrates its centennial season. Eariler this month, Max Bentley and Glenn Hall were cited as top 100 individuals who excelled during the first half-century, when the league consisted of the Original Six franchises.
To have nine men in this elite brotherhood is a badge for hockey in Chicago, but to place three active players on the dream roster is remarkable. Toews and Kane are still 20-somethings, and Keith, 33, skates like one. Among them, they own nine Stanley Cup rings from championships in 2010, 2013 and 2015.
"I guess that counts for something, being on a winner," said Keith. "I normally stay pretty much in the moment, thinking about what's happening now and not so much about the big picture. But when I found out about this, being included in the top 100, that got my attention."
Savard, one of the most productive and popular individuals ever to play for the Blackhawks, said he considered himself "lucky" to be part of the exclusive 100 club. He also feels blessed to have coached Toews, Kane and Keith.
"There's only three other active players from the rest of the league on this list!" exclaimed Savard. "So we've got half of the best ever in Chicago right now. There's some Hall of Famers who didn't make it. But you look at the Cups these kids have won, all the awards. They deserve it."
Hull, believed by many experts to be the finest left wing ever, left for the World Hockey Association in 1972 but still stands as the Blackhawks' leading all-time goalscorer with 604. He was the electric one with the booming shot, a perfect complement to Mikita, the wily center who, like Hull, twice won the Hart Trophy.
Esposito came to the Blackhawks in 1969, posted 15 shutouts -- a modern record unlikely to be broken -- and evolved into a tireless goalie who thrived on work, even when he was battered and bruised. Retired in 1984, Tony O's 423 regular-season victories remain a franchise standard.
He and his butterfly style followed the ultimate marathon man, Hall, who backstopped the Blackhawks to a Stanley Cup in 1961 and logged an unreasonable 502 consecutive starts. Bentley was a star in Chicago during the early '40s, was dealt to Toronto in a blockbuster trade and won three Cups with the Maple Leafs.
"Crazy to be on a list with some of these names," gushed Kane, who earned the Hart Trophy last year. "It's amazing."
At All-Star headquarters Friday, it was time for a group picture. Hull was beaming, Toews smiling, Keith trying to keep track of son Colton. Esposito was dapper as ever, Savard lit up the room as usual, and all the guys missed Mikita, the Blackhawks' all-time points leader. He's got health issues, but was represented by wife Jill, daughter Jane and her son, Billy.
"First day I've been away from Stan in 2 and a half years," noted Jill, who was warmly welcomed by John McDonough, the Blackhawks' President and CEO.
Stan played his entire career with the Blackhawks, much of it beside Hull and then Esposito. Savard helped revive the organization as a charismatic rookie in 1980, won it all in Montreal with the 1993 Canadiens, then returned to the Blackhawks in 1990. They all belong on top 100, but through no fault of their own, could not equal what Toews, Kane and Keith have accomplished.
"Three Stanley Cups in seven years, and still counting," said Hull. "Stan and I won one and thought we'd win more. We should have, but that's how tough it is. And that's why these three kids are so terrific. I just love watching them."
Quite properly, the parents who made all those sacrifices were present. Among them was Bryan Toews, father of Captain Jonathan.
"This is really something," said Dad. "To be part of this, to have Jonathan being selected for this. You know, I was a big Bobby Orr fan. Now, Jonathan is here tonight with him. And tomorrow, Jonathan will be on a panel with Bobby Orr. Do you think I might show up for that?"