Hull, Mikita are the best - but here come Toews, Kane
BY MARK POTASH email@example.com June 26, 2013 8:53PM
BOSTON, MA - JUNE 24: Patrick Kane #88 and Jonathan Toews #19 of the Chicago Blackhawks celebrate next to the Stanley Cup after they won 3-2 against the Boston Bruins in Game Six of the 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Final at TD Garden on June 24, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Updated: July 30, 2013 7:58AM
Let’s not get carried away — Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita still are the two best Blackhawks of all time. But with two Stanley Cups in their first six seasons together, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane have earned a special niche not only in Hawks history, but in Chicago sports history.
There might not be another town in America where championships are not necessary for validation of its heroes. The ’69 Cubs are among the most beloved teams in Chicago sports history. The Dick Motta Bulls are revered by anyone who saw them play.
There are still more statues, honorary pennants and retired jerseys in this town of players who didn’t win a championship in Chicago than those who did. Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Fergie Jenkins, Ron Santo, Greg Maddux, Dick Butkus, Gale Sayers, Jerry Sloan, Norm Van Lier, Tony Esposito and Denis Savard still get an ovation every time they’re shown (with Hull and Mikita) on the Jumbotron at the United Center. Jeremy Roenick and Chris Chelios would get the same treatment. For a little more than two years in the early 1970s, Dick Allen was more popular than any White Sox player before or since. He might still be today, to any Sox fan over 50.
After his first six seasons in Chicago, Michael Jordan had not won a title. And at the same point in his career, Walter Payton not only didn’t have a Super Bowl ring, but he looked like he might never get one.
With two titles in their first six seasons, Kane and Toews have more championship hardware this early in their careers than every Hall of Fame or potential Hall of Fame player in Chicago besides Scottie Pippen, who had three NBA championship rings after six seasons with the Bulls.
And as dynamic duos go, Pippen was a clear 1A to Jordan’s superduperstardom. Kane, 24, and Toews, 25, are equals, each with a Conn Smythe Trophy to his credit. Nobody’s wondering if Kane is riding Toews’ coattails or if Toews can win a title without Kane.
But it will take more than two Cups to overtake Hull and Mikita as the best Hawks tandem of all time. Like Toews and Kane, Hull and Mikita revived a moribund franchise — the Hawks had finished last or next-to-last in 11 of 12 seasons before Hull and Mikita became teammates in 1958-59. They won the Cup in 1961, when Mikita joined Hull as one of the team’s top players. And for the next 10 years, they created an excitement — and demand for tickets — rarely seen in Chicago. One or the other led the NHL in scoring in seven of nine seasons from 1960 to ’68. They combined to win the Hart Trophy four consecutive seasons as the NHL’s most valuable player (Hull in ’65 and ’66; Mikita in ’67 and ’68). Kane and Toews have yet to win one.
What they don’t have that Kane and Toews do is multiple Stanley Cups to their credit. They had their chance. The Hawks were in the Final and looking for back-to-back titles in 1962 against the Maple Leafs. With the series tied 2-2 and the Leafs using a backup goalie after Johnny Bower suffered a hamstring injury stopping one of Hull’s 70-foot slap shots, the Hawks lost 8-4 in Game 5 in Toronto — and lost a one-goal lead in the third period in a 2-1 loss in Game 6.
With Hull and Mikita, the Hawks also reached the Final in 1965, losing 4-0 to the Canadiens in Game 7 at the Forum. And the Hull-Mikita era ended in dubious fashion in the dreaded 1971 Final when the Hawks lost a 3-2 series lead and a 2-0 lead in Game 7 to the Canadiens.
Kane and Toews play in a different era, on different teams, against different competition. But the difference is undeniable — when they had a chance to make a difference, they did. On Monday night with Game 7 looming against the Bruins, Kane artfully zigzagged his way into a scoring opportunity, and Toews threaded a perfect pass at the right time for Bryan Bickell’s tying goal. The rest is history, with Toews and Kane earning their rightful place in Hawks history as the players who made it happen.
But the best Hawks duo of all time? Toews and Kane are well on their way. But it’ll take more than two Stanley Cups to unseat the great Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita. They were that good.