The Blackhawks announced that their dynamic forward duo of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane has signed identical eight-year extensions worth a reported $84 million each to remain with the club. Both had contracts set to expire after the 2014-15 season. Each deal comes with identical $10.5 million cap hits, which at this point will be the highest in the league when the deals begin in the 2015-16 season and are the first to surpass $10 million in the cap era.Selected in back-to-back drafts, Toews and Kane joined the Blackhawks in the 2007-08 season and immediately helped to turn around the fortunes of a franchise that had long been irrelevant in the NHL.Over their time with the Hawks, each has won a Conn Smythe Trophy while leading the Blackhawks to Stanley Cup titles in 2010 and ’13. Think the organization is a bit excited about them sticking around for a while longer? Toews, the team’s pick at No. 3 overall in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, has been captain since 2008. He has 440 points in 484 games with the Blackhawks. At 26 years old, he has built a reputation as one of the league’s best two-way players and is considered by many among the five best in the league overall. He won the Selke Trophy in 2012-13 as the league’s top defensive forward and was the second-youngest player in NHL history to win the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP in 2010.Toews has 81 points in 94 career playoff games.Kane, the No. 1 overall pick in 2007, has grown into one of the most exciting talents in the NHL. At just 25, he already has 493 points in 515 NHL games and is on pace to challenge Mike Modano for the highest-scoring American-born player in NHL history. This long-term deal might be able to help that. He was the Conn Smythe winner in 2013 as the Blackhawks claimed their second Stanley Cup title in four seasons. He also won the Calder Memorial Trophy as the league’s rookie of the year in 2008.Kane has been a dynamic scorer, particularly in the playoffs with 91 points in 94 postseason contests.Both are two-time Olympians, with Toews winning gold twice with Canada and Kane claiming silver in 2010 with the US.The expensive deals signify a new era under the salary cap. Though the 2014-15 cap ceiling didn’t go as high this season as previously predicted, falling in at $69 million, continual boosts in revenue suggest the number will climb. It should surpass the $70 million mark with ease in 2015-16.The deals may require some maneuvering under the cap for the Hawks over the next few years, but it was vital to the organization to retain their top two players for the foreseeable future. Both are still young and still surging into the best years of their career. They’re the guys that are helping the Blackhawks sell out every home game and become one of the league’s TV ratings giants.Initial reports about the asking price from Kane and Toews, who share the same agent — Pat Brisson of CAA — was placed at $12 million. It was unlikely they were going to get that deal, but it was pretty clear they were going to scrape double digits annually.The deals will take Toews to his age 34 season and Kane to his age 33 year, so they may still have a bit left in the tank when these deals wrap up. Both were set to become unrestricted free agents after next season and would have undoubtedly been able to get more under a less restrictive salary cap on the open market.The fact that the duo was able to stay together and continue to make the Hawks an annual Stanley Cup contender apparently was enough to take a (very) slight discount.
What this means for the future of the Blackhawks is unclear. They have top defenseman and two-time Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith under contract until 2023 as well. Goalie Corey Crawford, defensemen Niklas Hjalmarsson and forward Marian Hossa are also on long-term contracts. Patrick Sharp and Bryan Bickell are under contract until 2016-17. The team will also have to re-sign key restricted free agent Brandon Saad after next season.
Things are going to get interesting after this season for sure.The good news for the Blackhawks is that they’ve built a rather solid base of prospects through the draft, meaning they should be able to bring in players on affordable entry-level deals to help fill roles as the Kane and Toews deals kick in.
How these deals impact the rest of the NHL landscape will be interesting as well, but most teams have locked up their biggest stars on long-term deals already. Even so, there will be plenty more seeking major paydays under the new collective bargaining agreement and increasingly rich league.