The Chicago Blackhawks announced what we had all been waiting for on Wednesday afternoon, as they agreed to identical contract extensions for their two superstars, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. It was widely assumed that the two (three?) sides would come together on such a pact back on July 1st when they were first eligible to sign such a deal, but it took an extra eight days to hammer out the financials.
As negotiations finally came to a close, Toews and Kane each took home matching eight-year contracts worth $84 million, carrying an AAV of $10.5 million apiece. There aren’t too many arguments going around the league as to whether or not the two are worth it. While they’ll carry a cap hit of just $6.3 million in 2014-15, the final year of their current deals, they’ll jump up to the highest hit in the league at present date, almost a full million higher than the next closest player, Alex Ovechkin.
In Toews, you have the total package, a player widely regarded as one of the best two-way players in the game. He consistently matches up against the toughest competition and routinely ranks near the top of the league in categories like faceoff percentage and takeaways. Additionally, he’s an outstanding leader who is regularly looked at as perhaps the best representation of a captain that the league has to offer.
Patrick Kane has been at least a point-per-game player in three seasons in his career, and has been absolutely outstanding in each of the last two. He’s a player capable of taking over a game and doing some special things when the puck is on his stick. He’s only reached the 30-goal mark once in his career, but he’s also only 25. At the end of the day, though, each of these guys is being paid more for postseason production than for what they do in the regular season. Each as a Conn Smythe in their respective trophy cases.
Regardless of the analysis and agonizing over whether or not the two actually deserve the massive new contracts that each is taking home, it does cloud the Blackhawks’ future cap situation quite a bit more, which was something likely known by the front office going into talks. The club is still faced with the task of clearing just over $2 million to get under the $69 million threshold for this season, but that’s only the beginning of the work for Stan Bowman and co.
Contract extensions are still possible for the likes of Brandon Saad, Nick Leddy, and Marcus Kruger. All three are restricted free agents next summer. However, the Blackhawks are required to stay under the cap with extensions as well, with the current ceiling of $69 million being the required figure which they must stay under, even though the cap is expected to rise by at least $5 million next summer. Nonetheless, the Blackhawks only have about $3 million to work out extensions there. Even if they’re looking at a bridge deal for someone like Brandon Saad, it makes it very tough to work that sort of thing out.
Beyond this summer, though, the Hawks are going to find it’s a tight squeeze with this current group. Patrick Sharp and his $5.9 million cap hit seem like an obvious goner now. Even if they move Johnny Oduya and another piece before the 2014-15 season gets underway, it’s highly unlikely that Sharp sticks around beyond another year. We could be looking at a departure for Brent Seabrook as well, as his $5.8 million AAV will stick around through the 2015-16 season. That Bryan Bickell and his surprisingly large contract? Gone. You’re talking about one more potential run with this group before it’s time to revamp and retool, given the new contracts for Kane & Toews.
However, there’s also plenty that is positive about this. The Hawks have their three primary core pieces, all of which are responsible for reviving the sport in the Windy City, locked up through 2023. This deal will also force the Hawks to focus more on the draft and development than adding pieces via trade and free agency. Spoiler alert: this is what they’ve been doing for the last several years, and is a primary reason why they were able to take home a second Stanley Cup title with a roster that was largely different from the one that did it in 2010. There are only a handful of players on the current roster that weren’t drafted by the Blackhawks.
These deals are going to force the Chicago Blackhawks to say goodbye to some very good players, and some fan favorites. But that’s part of the cost of retaining the club’s true “core” group. This is a duo with an extensive track record of playoff success (a pair of titles, four trips to the conference finals, etc.) and you’d be hard-pressed to find people around the game that don’t agree with the new deals for the pair of future Hall of Famers.
And that’s exactly what they are.