Whereas the Bulls can find a way to stay competitive in the Eastern Conference without Anthony, could anybody in town imagine the Blackhawks without Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews? Now, nobody has to after the Hawks signed both stars to identical eight-year, $84 million contract extensions that carry $10.5 million salary-cap hits beginning in 2015-16.
Consider the $168 million the Hawks committed to Kane and Toews a down payment on a dynasty. The question now shifts to how close the Kane-Toews era will come to producing the six championships Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen won for the Bulls in the '90s. Nobody seriously questioned either player would leave after next season but, to the delight of Hawks fans, general manager Stan Bowman removed any doubt by fulfilling his pledge to make Kane and Toews Hawks for life. Bowman never will make a smarter move.
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The deals run so long nobody can be sure Kane will have enough hair to grow a playoff mullet by the time they expire. By 2023, Toews might even learn to smile without being coaxed. How fortunate for Chicagoans that they get to see Nos. 88 and 19 grow older together, as it should be.
Think of the salary-cap casualties to come as a result of Kane and Toews occupying $21 million annually on the payroll as collateral damage, the price for the privilege of employing two of the world's greatest hockey players. The new salaries don't kick in until 2015-16, which frames next season as a go-for-broke proposition before Bowman inevitably starts dismantling an expensive core.
The Hawks insisted on restricting their comments to a sanitized press release, not that any team official can add anything we don't already know about Chicago's most dynamic duo since Jordan and Pippen. It's like trying to find new ways to describe the city's skyline; everybody who lives here already realizes how lucky we are to appreciate it on a regular basis.
In Chicago, Kane and Toews roll off the tongue like State and Madison, representing the epicenter of a hockey town's rebirth, circa 2007, when both were fresh-faced rookies who looked like they left their youth travel teams and joined the Hawks. Look at them now, superstars already with two silver chalices but no taint to their reputations and symbols of all that is right about professional sports.
Had Kane and Toews made this merely about money as so many athletes do, they could have played out the final years of their deals, teased fans and tempted their respective hometowns to break the bank next summer. Perhaps Buffalo and Winnipeg would have been willing to pay Kane and Toews, respectively, even more than the $12 million-per-year both requested when negotiations started. They understood the symbiosis of a relationship with the Hawks and settled for a deal that paid each $26 million less than the NHL’s “max contract.”
Kane and Toews will carry the largest salary-cap hits in league history, yet nobody who understands the Hawks narrative scoffs — not when they are largely responsible for selling out 277 straight nights at the United Center. They did not restore dignity to the organization alone, but their maturation as world-class hockey players and first-class individuals coincided nicely with the evolution of the front office from primitive to pragmatic under Chairman Rocky Wirtz.
As the reach of Kane and Toews expanded, admirably, their egos did not. Kane and Toews are as good with people as they are with the puck, treating fans as friends and serving a community that adores the Hawks. Of most importance for coach Joel Quenneville, each star embraces roles that accentuate his strengths.
Kane is the affable magician of a stick-handler who scores clutch goals from odd angles in big games, and Toews is the serious, demanding captain with the laser focus who expects as much from himself as he does from teammates — and usually gets it. You never hear about Kane or Toews griping over who gets or deserves credit or attention, no blather about whose team this is or isn't.
They care only about winning. They kid and cajole, behaving like brothers who genuinely like each other more than millionaire rivals worried about the other's celebrity eclipsing his. In the often petty world of pro sports, we occasionally take for granted how healthy the Kane-Toews relationship is.
The latest proof of how grounded they remain, despite their stardom, came when they signed the exact same deals for the exact same money. The ideal contracts would have been eight years for $88,000,019 apiece. But nobody's complaining about these terms. More like celebrating.
It isn't every day your favorite team makes a move that guarantees relevance into the next decade.