In Chicago, two NHL hockey stars shine bright

Sport is engraved into the culture of Chicago.

Sport is engraved into the culture of Chicago. The action, the pace, the thrill and the chase shine brightly in the third largest city of the United States, from the Chicago Bulls basketball team to the Cubs and White Sox baseball teams. Yet, one Chicagoan would suspect these factors to go above and beyond when the subject of the Chicago Blackhawks NHL hockey team arises.

The Blackhawks, under coach Joel Quenneville, have within recent years seen their optimism renewed, and their action strategy on the ice praised by fans and feared by opponents. At the heart of the team are two players—Jonathan Toews, the captain from the Canadian province of Manitoba, and Patrick Kane, the centre from New York state.

Faces of the Hawks

Together, these two winners of the Conn Smythe trophy, the award for the team’s most valuable player after winning the finals, have helped lead the Blackhawks to two Stanley Cup (the NHL championship) victories in four seasons, and time and again led them to playoff action. Toews and Kane are not just the faces of the organisation, but some of the hottest players in Chicago sport.

On 9 July, it was confirmed that both Toews and Kane signed eight year renewal contracts, keeping them in Chicago through the 2022-23 NHL season, and, as observers of the sport noted after the team’s announcement, the chances of hoisting the Cup alive for at least another decade.

“When we started our journey we made a commitment to our fans to be relevant and to see the Chicago Blackhawks become the best professional hockey organization,” said Rocky Wirtz, the chairman of the Blackhawks, in a statement on the team’s web site. “There are not two finer symbols of that than Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. The commitment we have made to these incredible young men is equal to the commitment they have made to our team, our fans, our entire organization and the city of Chicago.”

Reached by email, Rob Tillotson, a spokesman for the Blackhawks, declined to discuss the financial terms of the contracts, which were reported by American media outlets to be worth $84 million (£48.9 million) each, citing team policy.

Maintaining the reputation

With these renewals, it signified that both Toews, 26, and Kane, 25, would continue their reputations as faces of the organisation. Anthony Lyen, a Chicago-based journalist and Blackhawks fan, says these renewals were a necessity for the team, and many more years are ahead for the duo.

“Franchise-calibre players like Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane don’t come along often, so getting these two re-signed was absolutely necessary for this franchise,” Lyen said in an email interview with Kettle. “Their resumes speak for themselves. Beyond all the accolades, however, they haven’t even hit their prime.”

However, Lyen notes, the contracts did not come without criticism, as many fans felt the contracts were too expensive. Yet, Lyen says, the Hawks General Manager, Stan Bowman, knew the value of both players to the franchise.  Indeed, Lyen adds, it also revealed the reality of these contracts.

“Stars of this calibre deserve to get paid, and with the salary cap projected to continue rising, these type of players will get rewarded,” Lyen said.

However, pressure is likely to mount on both Toews and Kane to continue to stand out for the Hawks. Lyen says both players will always have the pressure of living up to their contracts, and pressure is gained for different reasons.

‘A whole new team’

“Patrick Kane is a pure goal scorer and playmaker. Many fans, however, think he should have put up more than 40 goals or 100 points during the regular season by now,” Lyen said. “He gets a lot of criticism for not putting up [the Washington Capitals’ Alex] Ovechkin or [the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Steven] Stamkos-like numbers, but the thing is he doesn’t need to. The Blackhawks have enough secondary scoring from Toews, Hossa, Sharp, Saad and others, so Kane doesn’t need to be relied upon for putting pucks in the net.”

Lyen says the potential for the Cup remains in the Hawks’ sight, particularly in the case of the rise of younger talent besides Toews and Kane, which includes left winger Brandon Saad and forward Teuvo Teravainen.

“Many people note how [Marian] Hossa and [Patrick] Sharp are getting older, with the latter facing the possibility of getting traded. When older players with bigger contracts need to go, Chicago can just build from within, using their excellent prospect pool as replacements.”

Bearing all that in mind, the Chicago Blackhawks have become a forced to be reckoned with in the National Hockey League, and they aren’t afraid to admit it, especially with Toews and Kane at the helm, and Lyen says, they’re ready for anything.

“This isn’t the Blackhawks I remember as a kid,” Lyen said. “This is a whole new team, built to succeed for many years to come.”

What do you think? How do you think the Blackhawks will fare in the NHL season? Have your say in the comments section below.