CHICAGO -- Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane would've had tantalizing options as unrestricted free agents, but the idea of staying with the Chicago Blackhawks was more appealing.
Center - CHI
GOALS: 28 | ASST: 40 | PTS: 68
SOG: 193 | +/-: 26
After winning the Stanley Cup twice in their first seven seasons, the Blackhawks' dynamic duo intends to add more championship banners to the rafters inside United Center. That's ultimately what led them to sign identical eight-year contract extensions July 9, reportedly worth $84 million each, choosing to avoid hitting the open market as free agents July 1, 2015.
"I remember when I was drafted, meeting other players from other teams [who told] me how great the city of Chicago was and how it was going to take off once we're a good team, not really knowing what those things mean," Toews said during a press conference Wednesday. "To look back now, it's unbelievable what this city and what this organization has given us, and we want to remain here. We want to remain a part of that and to continue the success. I think it would be crazy to think of anything otherwise, so to us I don't think there was a decision to be made at all."
The negotiations were almost entirely about numbers, needing to strike a balance between financial gain and keeping the Blackhawks among the NHL elite. Playing elsewhere, for greater riches, never seriously entered the equation.
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"You can see with free agents these days, you can see they all want to come to Chicago and be a part of not only this team and organization, but the city and the fans as well," Kane said. "Obviously the tradition that's been going on here for the past few years of winning hockey games, like [Toews] said, it was not even really a thought to think of continuing your career anywhere else. I think we're both happy that we're locked up here for a while."
The contracts, which begin in 2015-16, carry an annual NHL salary-cap charge of $21 million ($10.5 million each) according to CapGeek.com. That's $8.4 million more against the Blackhawks' cap but considered a sizable discount for the organization that drafted Toews and Kane in back-to-back years (2006, 2007).
It's the second time they have signed carbon-copy contract extensions with the Blackhawks, who rebuilt their organization around them. Had one or both decided to explore free agency, their options would've been interesting.
Agent Pat Brisson, who represents both, said they each could've demanded more than $3 million more per year on the open market. They also would've been courted by other teams and almost certainly gotten a chance to sign with their hometown teams, Toews with the Winnipeg Jets and Kane with the Buffalo Sabres.
Instead, they're staying in Chicago as the anchor pieces of what's become a top-flight NHL organization. Winning the Stanley Cup remains their biggest focus.
"They could have commanded $13.8 million each, but at the same time they understand that hockey's a team sport, and the reason they're so successful as players is based on the environment they're in," said Brisson, who attended the press conference. "I give them a lot of credit for understanding that, which role they can play currently and in the future."
The salary-cap charges might seem like a lot, but the NHL ceiling is expected to increase significantly following the 2014-15 season and could keep rising from that point. That should help offset the charges, but Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman will be challenged to keep the team compliant and competitive.
Having Toews and Kane for eight more seasons is a great place to start. That's why Bowman made it his top priority for the past year to finalize these contracts.
"You just can't get star players," Bowman said. "You can't get them, and once you do get one, it's so hard to win. So you've got star players here that have shown the ability to win, they want to be here, it's not even a discussion point. I'm just thrilled that we've got two of them. I mean, most teams would die to have one of these players on their team. We've got two of them here, so we're very fortunate, and the rest of the stuff will work itself out. We put a lot of work into finding young players and surrounding these guys with a great supporting cast."
Right Wing - CHI
GOALS: 29 | ASST: 40 | PTS: 69
SOG: 227 | +/-: 7
The organization has sunk a lot of time and money into making Kane and Toews household names, not only in Chicago but to a much wider audience. Keeping them in the fold was essential, not only for growing revenue streams but for the message it sends.
"To our fans, it is a commitment that our organization is going to get better every day," Blackhawks president and CEO John McDonough said. "This is about looking forward. It's not about reflecting on the two Stanley Cups or the four [Western Conference] finals, but it's about the excitement and enthusiasm about what lies ahead. And we couldn't be more proud to go on that journey with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews."
On the ice, their impact is irreplaceable.
Toews has 440 points (195 goals) in 484 games with 81 points (29 goals) in 94 Stanley Cup Playoff games. Kane has 493 points (178 goals) in 515 games with 91 points (37 goals) in 93 playoff games.
Toews, the captain and top center, has become a two-way threat who gives opposing coaches fits. Kane is the most dangerous offensive player on the roster and has become one of the NHL's top scoring threats.
As Bowman said, only a few teams in the NHL have two players on their roster with as much talent, and the Blackhawks have a high-end group surrounding them. Had Kane and Toews opted to look elsewhere, the outlook would be a lot more challenging for a team that's solidly in the NHL dynasty conversation.
"It says they're special players," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. "I think the deals were extremely fair for our organization and it's going to help us going forward as well. They definitely left a lot out there and it shows you the kind of commitment they have for our team. It's a win for us and we're appreciative of what they've done, and going forward knowing that they want to win as well."