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Kane, Toews contracts keep Blackhawks strong and flexible

Updated: July 16, 2014 10:36PM



Go ahead. Pick one.

Are you going to take Jonathan Toews — the leader, the captain, the indispensable and quintessential two-way center? Captain Serious, the guy many consider to be one of the two best hockey players in the world?

Or are you going to go with Patrick Kane — the superstar, the magician, maybe the most electrifying and scintillating offensive player in the league? Showtime, the guy who puts fans in the seats and who almost always scores the biggest goals on the biggest stages?

“Most teams would die to have one of these players on their team,” Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman said. “And we’ve got two of them.”

In a different era, in a different situation, and maybe with different players, the Hawks would have had to decide — is it Toews and Kane, or Kane and Toews? But these Hawks have money and the willingness to spend it. And the two players have the perfect situation and the common sense not to wreck it.

And so came last week’s news of the identical (of course) eight-year, $84-million contract extensions for the Hawks’ dynamic duo, and then Wednesday’s celebratory press conference at the United Center, at which the Hawks brass luxuriated in the success of the Toews and Kane era, while Kane and Toews themselves sheepishly thanked anyone and everyone they could think of.

It was always inevitable. But that didn’t make it any less significant.

“It was not even really a thought of continuing your career anywhere else,” said Kane, who has been amusingly unable to shake the hockey world’s fervent belief that he desperately wants to play in his hometown of Buffalo. “I think we’re both happy that we’re locked up here for a while.”

It’s a lot of money, a $10.5-million cap hit each — the largest in the cap era. But it could have been more. Agent Pat Brisson, who represents both players, said each could have commanded the max of $13.8 million (20 percent of the current salary cap) on the open market. But both also made it clear to him that contending was as important as profiting. The trick was getting Toews and Kane the money they’ve earned and pushing the envelope further for future players’ negotiations, while not hamstringing the Hawks and undermining their chances of a third Stanley Cup.

“We’re very conscious of what goes into that, as far as keeping this team together,” Toews said. “And on the other hand, you like to see the market keep going up and up as the NHL keeps growing as a sport. At the end of the day, you want to look after your family and your own interest, as well. I think we did pretty well balancing that.”

The Hawks know what the weight of the cap feels like. After winning the Stanley Cup in 2010, they had to blow up the roster and rebuild around the core. It won’t be as severe this time — they’re just $2.2 million over the cap now, meaning the big stars can stay. But next summer, at least one of those core members likely has to go. The $21 million owed to Toews and Kane each season won’t help matters, but $27.6 million would have damned them to cap hell for the rest of the decade.

“We went through that summer where we lost nine or 10 guys after we won the Cup, and a couple of years later we found ourselves in a position to win another Cup,” Kane said. “The core’s in a good place right now, and with the cap rising, I think we feel pretty comfortable about where our deals were at to still have good players around us.”

Still, it all comes back to Kane and Toews. The supporting cast around them will change from year to year, but the the pillars of the franchise, the “cornerstones” as owner Rocky Wirtz called them, are now locked up for what should be the primes of their careers. They came into the league together in 2007. They’ve won two Cups together, each winning a Conn Smythe Trophy. They’ve twice signed matching contracts together. They’ve reawakened a dormant hockey town and made the franchise untold millions of dollars together. Heck, they’ll probably be immortalized in a single statue together when their careers are over.

And most importantly, they know that they’re better together. Toews talked about how Kane’s presence can take the pressure of him and get him through tough stretches. Kane talked about how he gets to either play on a line with one of the best centers in the world, or play on a different line and draw a more favorable defensive matchup. They’d be great on any team. On the same team, they’ve been special.

“It’d be kind of weird to be on a team without Kaner,” Toews said.

They’re nothing alike — not on the ice, not off the ice — but they’ve been linked together ever since the Hawks hit the draft jackpot in consecutive years, and they’ll continue to be linked together the rest of their careers.

Toews and Kane, or Kane and Toews? Luckily for the Hawks, they didn’t have to pick.

“That’s a debate for you guys to go on and on about, who deserves more,” Toews said. “Because I don’t think we’re going to sit here and try to figure that out or make a big deal out of it. We’re both equally blessed to have this amazing career so far, and to be included in the same sentence.”

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

Twitter: @marklazerus



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