By Chris Emma-
CHICAGO (CBS) — The long years before Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews took ice at United Center saw dark days.
There was no Madhouse on Madison, perennial playoff contenders or raucous renditions of Chelsea Dagger. Home games weren’t even broadcasted on television, and the Blackhawks were but a footnote in Chicago’s sports landscape.
Those hopeless times turned in drafting two of the organization’s most storied, beloved players. Hockey made a comeback in the Windy City, thanks largely in part to Kane and Toews.
“There were some really tough years there — some lean years around the United Center,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “They took some lumps, but we were definitely fortunate.”
With a press conference Wednesday afternoon at the United Center to announce matching eight-year, $84-million contracts for the dynamic duo, more thrills are on the way on the West Side. When the deals kick in for 2015-’16, Kane and Toews will be equals as the highest-paid players in NHL history, but each likely signed for less than their value to stay in a Blackhawks sweater.
Chicago has been home to Toews’ steady leadership and Kane’s maturation, something he admitted was a bit delayed. Each is cemented as a heroic figure in the city’s hockey revival, winning two Stanley Cups. They did what seemed impossible in the decade prior to their arrival.
“You have become two of the symbols of the renaissance of the Chicago Blackhawks,” team president John McDonough told Kane and Toews. “We’re very proud of that.”
Added Toews, the Blackhawks’ captain since age 20: “It’s amazing to think we can continue on this ride.”
In a United Center club suite, with Blackhawks logos plastered on everything from napkins to water bottles, a once-dormant organization unveiled its promising future. Two of hockey’s brightest stars locked their legacies in their second home, the Second City.
“It’s so special to see the transformation that’s gone on in this city since we’ve been here,” Toews said.
The 25-year-old Kane and 26-year-old Toews will forever be known for resurrecting Blackhawks hockey, but they desire for more than that. They want to keep winning — and doing it with the Indian head on their sweater.
It’s hard enough to win one Stanley Cup, but they have two and are determined for more. They signed for less than market value — their shared agent, Pat Brisson, said they could’ve each commanded up to $13.8 million per year — to remain a duo while allowing for more cap room for general manager Stan Bowman to build around the team’s core.
“We’ve accomplished a lot with them here, and I’m very excited for what’s to come with Patrick and Jonathan leading the way,” Bowman said.
The debuts of Kane and Toews came three games apart in 2007, bringing instant excitement to United Center. Times were tough early on for the pair. Toews adjusted to being a leader, even at 19, while Kane struggled in search of maturity. They had each other to balance out contrasting personalities, all while striving for greatness.
“We have a very friendly competition,” Kane said. “As long as we’re both here, that competition is going to get greater and greater.”
Early in their careers, Kane and Toews were forced to be roommates on the road, something that Toews joked nearly kept a long-term deal from happening. While no longer roommates, they remain inseparable. Their names are synonymous with one another.
The two are so different in personalities, identical in motivation, equal in determination. Perhaps it’s fitting the two ultracompetitive personas received identical contracts, but none of that mattered on Wednesday afternoon, when two cherished Blackhawks icons vowed to continue their legacies in Chicago.
“What can I say,” Toews said. “It’s an amazing feeling and a truly special moment for us to be sitting here.”
Added Kane: “Growing up as a hockey player, you don’t expect things like this to happen.”
Neither did Chicago, a city enamored with its two hockey heroes, believing in an even brighter future.
Follow Chris on Twitter @CEmma670.