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Blackhawks Beat: Is it time to move on from Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane for good?

Jay Zawaski Avatar
January 10, 2023

Before I even begin this whole thing, I want to clarify where I’m coming from. Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane are absolute legends. When the final chapters of their hockey careers are written years from now, both will be first-ballot Hall of Famers. Both will have their numbers hanging in the United Center rafters for eternity. Both should have statues on Madison. They are two of the best and most accomplished athletes in Chicago sports history and to me, the best tandem in Hawks history.

On a personal level, I owe a lot of my professional success to both of them and their dynasty teammates. Without the 2010s Blackhawks, who knows what I’d be doing with my career? It was an honor to cover them from a distance during my Score days, and it’s been an honor to cover them on a more official basis during my time at CHGO. That era of Blackhawks hockey is something I will never take for granted.

On Monday’s CHGO Blackhawks podcast, we started discussing what it might take to bring Patrick Kane back to Chicago on a short-term deal this summer. As the conversation went on, I came to the thought that it might be time to move on from the Kane and Toews era. Even if both players decide to play out this season, then tell GM Kyle Davidson they want to come back on new deals, I’m tempted to say, “Thanks but no thanks.”

This isn’t an “embrace debate” thing where I hope people get mad on Twitter and the interactions blow up. I’m coming from a genuine place, and it’s a place I’ve arrived at only recently…like this week, recently.

Yes, both players, especially Kane, could bring some on-ice value to the team, but at some point, the organization needs to move on. It feels impossible for the new era of Blackhawks to begin with the presence of these two franchise icons.

One the ice, we’ve seen players…even veteran players…defer to Kane when they shouldn’t, often passing up great looks and scoring chances to get the puck to #88. Off the ice this season, things seem really good in the Blackhawks locker room, especially considering the struggles the team has had, so I’m not implying that either player is a problem in any way, but I believe having two players of this stature in the room can have an impact on new leaders stepping up and asserting themselves.

It’s understandable. Anyone coming into their locker room can’t help but feel impressed and intimidated. Remember, veteran players in this league grew up watching Kane and Toews. They’re idolized, and that comes with a certain level of reverence.

Remember, Jeremy Colliton, who turned out to be a bad coach, was undermined from the start when some of the team’s star players, especially Duncan Keith, tuned him out from the start. Luke Richardson seems to be a much better coach and certainly has a better personality and demeanor for coaching, but full authority from the coach matters on a young team.

Whenever it happens, it will be painful. In fact, even as I write this, I can sense my head battling with my heart. I’m not sure I want to see either of them in another team’s sweater. It reminds me of seeing Jeremy Roenick as a Coyote or Chris Chelios as a Red Wing. It just wasn’t right.

This situation is different, of course. Roenick was still at or near his prime when he was traded, and, as usual, it was all over money. Chelios was deemed “too old” by the geniuses at the top of the Blackhawks. Chelios was so over-the-hill when he was traded, he was only able to muster 10 more seasons. Poor guy.

Maybe this is just me wanting the roller coaster of emotions to be over, but it feels like time. Theo Epstein famously said, “You can’t pay for past performance.” You also can’t pay for romance. Well, you can…but this is a family newsletter.

Any attempt to retain Toews or Kane feels like a grasp at the past. As I said on Monday, “It does suck that it’s over…but it’s over. The dynasty is over.”

I’ve praised Blackhawks GM Kyle Davidson for his plan and vision to commit to the future. Both players could, of course, make the 2023-24 Blackhawks better and more competitive, but neither Kane nor Toews help the team in the distant future, when the team is ready to win again. Yes, the Blackhawks have to get to the salary cap floor next season, but for the money it would take to bring back Kane, why not find someone who might be part of things when the Hawks are ready to win again? Dylan Larkin, who is 26 years old, might be a free agent. David Pastrnak, who is 27 years old, might be a free agent. If the lottery balls pop correctly and the Hawks get Connor Bedard with the top pick, Chicago could be a very enticing destination for top free agents.

Blackhawks fans have spent the last 10 plus months steeling themselves for the seemingly inevitable loss of both players, either via trade or free agency. They’re ready for it to happen, and what better time to wipe the slate clean with a new leadership group than now?

If Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews leave, who leads?

I hear what you’re asking, though. “Jay, who the hell IS the new leadership group on this team?”

That is a perfectly valid question, and I’m not sure I have the answer. My first thought is to say Connor Murphy, Seth Jones and Jake McCabe, but there’s a possibility one or both of Murphy or McCabe get dealt at the deadline. Max Domi might be back with the team next season, but that’s not a guarantee, either. The only players on the team signed beyond next season are Murphy, McCabe and Jones. Even Lukas Reichel will need a new deal after the 2023-24 season. The roster situation is murky to say the least.

I can’t imagine Murphy and McCabe get dealt. I would imagine it will be a “one or the other” situation.

Murphy already wears an ‘A’ on his sweater and has strong leadership traits. He’s always available, after a win or a loss. He’s thoughtful in his responses. He’s honest in his analysis of the game and the team.

McCabe is the perfect “lead by example” guy. We’ve had Blackhawks fans on the postgame shows calling for him to be the next captain already. He’s got my vote, assuming he wants to stay in Chicago.

#VoteMcCabe

Could Patrick Kane be out longer than expected?

On Monday’s 32 Thoughts Podcast with Elliotte Friedman and Jeff Marek, Friedman shared an interesting nugget on Kane.

There’s been a rumor that Pat Kane has been dealing with something. Some kind of nagging injury for some period of time. At some point, he’s going to need a ‘clean-up.’ This is my opinion…I am spitballing this. I wonder, if this really effects him and he can’t play or it noticeably impacts him, I wonder if the solution is Kane and the Blackhawks agree to a one-year extension…he shuts himself down…he goes and gets whatever procedure he needs, and he comes back next year healthy and refreshed, and we go through (the trade rumors) again. If he noticeably struggles because he’s hurting, it’s bad for everyone. It’s bad for him. It’s bad for the Blackhawks in trying to move him. It’s bad for another team that might be interested in him.”

Elliotte Friedman

It’s a fascinating angle, for sure. If, indeed, Kane’s injury is such that it impacts his play, and therefore his trade value. Marek points out that Kane doing this would be him doing a solid for the Blackhawks. A fully-healthy Kane, even a year from now, is likely more valuable than a Kane at 60-75% in the eyes of GMs around the league.

If I’m a betting man, Kane returns to the lineup Thursday or Saturday and life moves on, but Friedman doesn’t just “spitball,” without a bit of inside info.

Stay tuned.

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