(CBS) On, Wednesday, the Blackhawks celebrated the signings of their two franchise pillars, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. The forwards, who will be linked in hockey history forever, signed identical eight-year, $84-million contracts last week. Their accomplishments are well documented. Two Stanley Cups, two Conn Smythe Trophies, a Selke Trophy and a Calder Trophy are just a few of the awards the pair have accumulated together.
The story of the meteoric rise of the Blackhawks since the arrivals of Toews and Kane has been written several times over their seven NHL seasons, but I believe it’s important to really take a look at where the Blackhawks are today and appreciate just what they have in these two.
Wednesday was a party. General manger Stan Bowman, president John McDonough, chairman Rocky Wirtz, Toews and Kane sat at the table, grinning ear to ear. McDonough told the duo, “You have become two of the symbols of the renaissance of the Chicago Blackhawks — we’re very proud of that.”
The players and management team waxed poetic about each other and how professionally the negotiations went. It was quite a juxtaposition from the old days. In his opening statement, Wirtz talked about learning from history.
It wasn’t all that long ago that the Blackhawks organization treated their star players as burdens instead of blessings. Hard-ball negotiating sessions with stars like Jeremy Roenick, Eddie Belfour, Bobby Hull and Chris Chelios left a sour taste in the mouths of the players and fans alike. Even when deals were struck, there was always a lingering bitterness about the tone of the negotiations.
As I sat at the United Center yesterday, listening to the presser, I was reminded of a story I’d heard over the years. When Chicago signed Jack O’Callahan, he was given a Blackhawks jacket to wear at the press conference. When it ended, the Blackhawks took the coat off his back. They wouldn’t even give their new player a team jacket.
For all the hand wringing and stressing about the salary cap, it’s important to take a step back and realize what a great problem this poses for the Blackhawks. How can they possibly afford to keep two of the top five players in the game? They’ll find a way. They always do.
As long as Toews and Kane are a part of things, the Blackhawks will be relevant and competitive.
Jay Zawaski covers the Blackhawks for CBSChicago.com and 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @JayZawaski670.