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 Thursday afternoon when he announced the signing of forwards Patrick Kane
and Jonathan Toews
and defenseman Duncan Keith
to long-term extensions.
"This is an historic moment in the history of the Chicago Blackhawks
," Bowman said. "We've said all along that our goal was to maintain the core of our franchise moving forward and we believe these three players represent that core. They each have a unique talent and we believe these three players will lead this team to great heights."
Kane and Toews will reportedly receive identical 5-years deals worth $31.5 million ($6.3 million per season) and Keith will earn a 13-year extension for $72 million ($5.54 million per season).
"The three of us have that work ethic where every single day we want to be the best we can be and our ultimate goal is to help our team win a championship," Toews said. "We're excited about renewing our contracts and knowing we'll be here for a long time.
"I don't think this will change anything because we'll keep striving to be as good as we can be to help our team. I still feel like a young kid living the dream playing in the NHL and to be blessed and be in this city is a great feeling."
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. The extensions will force Bowman 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.
"It is a long time," Keith said when asked about his 13-year extension. "I can't say enough about how happy I am to sign long term. I know it says a lot about what the team thinks of me as a player. Thirteen years is a long time, but I believe that we'll win a championship here some day and that's my goal and the team's goal. I believe in my heart in the time I'm here that we'll win a championship."
The Blackhawks totaled 46 wins and 104 points in 2008-09. Not since the 1992-93 season had the Hawks earned more wins (47) and more points (106).
The Blackhawks 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.
C - CHICAGO
+/-: 11 | PIM: 4 | PP: 4
"I think as players, we don't think about (contracts and salary cap) that much," Kane said. "We play for the love of the game and the Chicago Blackhawks
. Obviously, there's pressure, but with that comes responsibility. Obviously it means a lot that Stan (Bowman), John (McDonough) and Rocky (Wirtz) can pull this off. They gave me, an 18-year-old, undersized kid, an opportunity to come into the League and play."
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
"Scoring that hat trick against Vancouver was the greatest moment of my hockey career," Kane said. "It was an amazing feeling how loud the building was."
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 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 was complete 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.
He was asked if the contract extension will put any added pressure on him leading the club to a Stanley Cup championship more sooner than later.
"We feel we're a great team right now," Toews said. "We have a great group and we have every guy who can do the job. There's always going to be some ups and downs, but, at the end of the day, you have to believe you have every guy in the locker room necessary to win. Our first goal is to make the playoffs this year and we'll go from there. What we experienced last year in the Conference Final was very disappointing, but we'll use that experience and be better this year."
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com