Last week, Chicago Blackhawks General Manager Stan Bowman essentially got down on one knee and gave fans the shiny promise they’ve been wanting to hear.
The glistening beauties he said Chicago could have “forever” didn’t come from Tiffany’s, they came from Buffalo and Winnipeg. And while they’ll cost much more than engagement rings should run, who can put a price tag on what they’ve done for this franchise?
While plenty of women from all over would like to wed Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, it’s the pledge to keep them, (and honor and love them, for better or for worse), on the team that has Windy City fans’ hearts-aflutter.
… And, possibly, hearts breaking throughout the rest of the NHL.
With a Conn Smythe trophy each, and both within the top seven contenders for the Hart Memorial Trophy last season, the duo is part of a core Bowman plans to protect.
“When Toews and Kane came on the scene together … our franchise hasn’t been the same from that moment,” Bowman told the team Web site. “They put us back on the map and gave us instant credibility.”
It’s true. Before the Toews and Kane era (and before the William Rockwell “Rocky” Wirtz era), the Blackhawks weren’t quite the talk of the town. They were passionately loved by a select few. Now they sell out every game at the United Center’s Madhouse on Madison.
Fans can’t get enough.
Who wouldn’t want hands like these on their roster indefinitely?
What teams wouldn’t be eager for the leadership of Captain Serious, who has skated the mighty Blackhawks to two Stanley Cup victories in three years? But, can it be so? Both players’ contracts extend through 2014-15, and would be up for negotiation starting next summer. Can the team afford to keep them?
Hearts broke after the post-Cup salary cap team purging in 2010, but fans have since learned to have a little faith in team management.
Bowman said he’ll continue to make it happen. This comes just after extending contracts for clinch playoff performer Bryan Bickell to $16 million (four years), Niklaus Hjalmarsson to $20.5 million (five years), and Corey Crawford to $36 million (six years.)
“I can’t predict what the salary cap will be in the near future, but I can tell you that Jonathan and Patrick will be on this team,” he said. “Those two players put the Blackhawks back on the map. They’re up in a couple years, and whatever the numbers are, we’ll figure out the details. The notion that the money we’re spending now will affect our ability to keep Jonathan and Kane … it’s a non-issue. They will be here no matter what.”
Fresh off the Lord Stanley buzz, the players seem to hold an allegiance to this team as well. Toews shared perhaps a more steadfast loyalty.
“It meant a lot to hear that, and sitting here with two other (core) guys as well, we understand how special it is to play in Chicago,” Toews told media, with Patrick Sharp and Duncan Keith by his side. “Amazing things have happened since I’ve been a Blackhawk, and not a lot of young players can count themselves that lucky. If that’s my potential to spend a lot of time like that in Chicago, so be it.
“I’m just enjoying every season as it comes. Right now, it would be tough to find a reason to play somewhere else. There’s no place better to play hockey.”
Fans could lean a little more toward cautiously optimistic for Kane, who seemed less inclined to commit.
“It’d be ideal to stay here, but we’ll cross that path when we get to it,” he said. “That’s the ultimate goal, to win championships like this…”
But? There’s a but.
“But I’m still a young kid. To say what’s going to happen for the rest of my career, I don’t know.”
Chicago should be able to hold onto them for at least the next contract, which carries a maximum of eight years—taking the players into their early thirties. That’s plenty of time for the city to continue wooing.