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WARNING: Optimism ahead.
There has been a lot of talk during the process of the Chicago Blackhawks entering and executing their rebuilding procedure of when, not if, both Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane will be traded. In recent days, the topic of which teams are interested in Patrick Kane (spoiler alert: all of them) has surfaced once again. We’ve talked extensively about that possibility on the CHGO Blackhawks podcast all summer. What will their values be? How much can the Blackhawks get in a trade return for either of them? And on and on. It will be an exhausting topic all season.
But, for as much speculation as there is that they are one and a half feet out the door in Chicago, nothing is set in stone. Both Toews and Kane have built-in control over their futures with full no-movement clauses in their contracts. Contracts set to expire next summer. Both players have been eligible for contract extensions since earlier this summer, but everyone is taking it one day at a time as Chicago moves into a true rebuilding process. General manage Kyle Davidson has also said that he is not going to ask either of Toews or Kane to waive their no-movement protections unless they want out of Chicago.
For all the negative energy surrounding the potentially inevitable losses of the final two pillars of the Blackhawks’ modern dynasty era, there could be an alternate universe where both players agree to remain in Chicago and choose to see-out the rebuild and finish their careers as life-long Blackhawks.
Here are five reasons why that alternate reality could come to be.
Playing for Luke Richardson
I truly believe that Luke Richardson becoming the head coach of the Blackhawks will have a major impact on the more veteran players in the Blackhawks’ locker room. More notably on veterans like Kane and Toews. After portions of the last four seasons being coached by Jeremy Colliton and Derek King, the resume that Richardson enters the locker room with and approach to the modern game he has should be a breath of fresh air for Chicago. No offense to Derek King, who is still with the team in an assistant coaching role, but while he offered a new voice and new perspective to the Blackhawks after Colliton, it wasn’t going to be enough to see the team through the rebuild.
By all accounts, Richardson is a coach that players will run through walls for. Toews has expressed optimism and excitement for the opportunity to play for Richardson this upcoming season and recently added free agent Max Domi, who played under Richardson in Montreal previously, said the biggest reason he wanted to join the Blackhawks this season was because the former Canadiens assistant coach had been named the new head boss in Chicago.
This is not to anoint Richardson the next great NHL coach and put him into the Hockey Hall of Fame before he ever coaches a game in Chicago, but rather the optimism that he brings as the new voice in the locker room. Richardson was brought in to be the coach for the Blackhawks during and after the rebuild is “over.” Maybe he earns the respect of Kane and Toews and provides them the coaching environment they had previously thrived under.
Rekindled “Golden Era” Chemistry
Look at this lineup heading into the 2022-23 season. While I may not have put the two together, there is a real world chance that Toews and Kane are paired together on a line as a regular combination. Many times over the years, the pairing of the two has been seen as a “nuclear” option to get their games going in the right direction or to give the Blackhawks an offensive boost when they were in desperate need of one. But now heading into a season where the top talent is thinner than in previous years, the opportunity for the two of them to be regular partners again, something they haven’t done since before they were multi-time Stanley Cup champions.
Kane more than Toews can play with anyone and still produce at a high-rate. With the back-half of last season getting better for Toews after missing all of the 2020-21 season, playing with a still elite Patrick Kane could do wonders for Toews’ production and thus wonders for his confidence. And vice versa.
A happy, productive, and confident duo of Toews and Kane could spark the rest of the roster and make for encouraging results and a better mood regarding the rebuilding process, allowing for Kane and Toews to enjoy their time together while losses out-number the wins.
Playing with incoming young players
Kane has always been a player that feeds off of the young-guy energy in the locker room. Whether or not most of those young players he fed-off of ever stayed with the organization longer than a handful of seasons is a mother story. But from Teuvo Teräväinen to Artemi Panarin to Alex DeBrincat, Kane has benefited from playing with youthful, up-and-coming players.
For Toews, while playing with younger players never hurts, it’s the mentorship of those players as Captain of the Blackhawks that has been one of his strengths. At the end of last season, Toews spoke a number of times where his foot landed in his mouth regarding the dismissal of Stan Bowman and the acceptance of Kyle Davidson’s rebuilding plans. Into the summer, it appears that Toews’ head has wrapped a bit more around the idea of what this season might look like. But I believe a more defined expectation from Toews as a Captain and as a mentor to up-and-coming players like Lukas Reichel, Alex Vlasic, etc. will allow him to see the future of the organization and buy-into the next wave of players hoping to lead Chicago back to Stanley Cup contention.
Organizational buy-in and stability
Last season was a tumultuous one, to say the least. With everything happening off of the ice and then also on the ice, both Kane and Toews experienced losing and adversities they never have before in their professional careers. Now with the placement of Kyle Davidson into the permanent role of general manager, Luke Richardson as head coach, and the “buy-in” from the front office leadership to the rebuilding plans, perhaps an organization that has a defined direction can help the two see a clearer future to once again winning more games than losing. If the results that matter this season (young player development, a clear and competent coaching plan) come to fruition, there’s a chance the buy-in also spills over into the minds of Kane and Toews.
Can’t quit Chicago
The Chicago hockey market is a unique one. Toews and Kane have experienced both the lackluster environment and the championship environment of being a Chicago Blackhawk. At one point in their careers, Kane and Toews couldn’t walk around the city without being mobbed and have very likely not paid for a drink in the last 12-13 years. While they still are some of the most recognizable athletes in the city, the shine of being a Chicago Blackhawk has worn-off a bit in recent years.
But this is a city that loves winning and faces of franchises. This is a city that has stood by both players throughout the highs and lows of their careers.
Say what you will about Patrick Kane’s off-ice issues in his past, but the majority of the fan base in Chicago didn’t toss him to the wayside. Even though Jonathan Toews has had his foot in his mouth a number of times in recent months, the fan base is still behind him. So while both players may eventually want out of Chicago, it likely won’t be because of the city.
Maybe that’s romanticism of the city, but maybe it’s what they still see when they step onto the ice at the United Center. Maybe it’s enough to keep them around for the rest of their playing careers.
All of this is said with a big understanding that it is wishful thinking. Toews feels on his way, not only out of Chicago, but potentially out of the NHL as a player. Kane may want to stick around to break team records, but is that enough for him to endure what will be a lot of losing in the next two, three, four years?
One also has to consider the money that each player would want in a potential extension. How much of a pay-cut is Toews willing to accept in Chicago? How close to his current $10.5M AAV cap hit is Kane going to ask for in an extension? More than $10.5M? There is also the question of whether or not Kyle Davidson sees more value in the duo on the roster over the next three, four, five years or as trade pieces for the rebuild?
All questions and answers that we can’t know until we know, you know?
Until then, while I understand that this may be a losing battle, I’m going to keep just a glimmer of optimism that 2022-23 will not be the last times we see No. 19 and No. 88 on the ice in Blackhawks uniforms.
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