Captain Serious and Showtime. No.’s 19 and 88. Canadian and American. Captain and (now, finally) full-time alternate captain. These are just a handful of words to describe the two most-iconic forwards in Chicago Blackhawks’ history: Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. I could be feeling a little nostalgic writing this piece, but I truly do believe that it’s in the organization’s best interest to keep these two until they hang up the skates and call it a career. Why? Two reasons: first, they still have some great hockey left in them, and second, I believe that any future success starts with the intangibles that these two bring to the team.
Trying to remember hockey in the Windy City before the arrival of Kane and Toews is tough. There was really nothing to get excited about. Seasons were filled with losing records, and no star power could be found in the lineup to entice fans to show up to the games, which proves true when looking at the average attendance statistics over the years for the Blackhawks. Average attendance jumped up by approximately 4,000 people just in Kane and Toews’ rookie season, and these two have been the backbone of the franchise ever since.
It’s been a great ride with these two in the driver’s seat. I’m not naïve to the fact that all good things must come to an end, but is it time to end this ride yet? I don’t think so. I don’t subscribe to the idea of trading away two future, first-ballot Hall of Famers because I don’t think it would benefit the team the way these two do. Hall of Fame players do not come around often, and when you have one on your team, you must hold on to them. The Blackhawks have two such players, which is twice the reason for keeping them. There’s so much more to this breed of player than meets the eye.
“But we could get picks and prospects!” “It would accelerate the rebuild” Okay, that sounds great in theory, but who will help these young prospects navigate the life of an NHLer? Who will help instill a winning culture for these young guns? I don’t believe anybody out there can help propel the development of young players better than Kane and Toews.
Kane & Toews Can Still Play
If there’s one thing that’s evident, it’s that both Kane and Toews are still top-end talents in the league.
Kane is as good as he’s ever been and shows that he’s still in the prime of his career. He’s off to a hot start this season with 17 points in 12 games — even with his time on the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol trying to derail his season. And if you watch the way he plays, you can envision him playing at a high level for many more years to come — this could be because of how elusive he is out there. He rarely gets hit because his head is up all the time. In fact, a couple of seasons back, his trainer Ian Mack even stated he could see the Hawks’ dangler playing until he’s 50 years old.
Kane has always been a threat whenever he steps on the ice, but, much like a fine wine, he seems to be getting better (and more dangerous on the ice) with age. Since the season where he turned 30 years old, he’s amassed an impressive 277 points in 219 games — not bad for the youngest U.S.-born player to reach 1,000 career points. It really does not look like he’s slowing down any time soon, either.
While it may be harder this season to say the same for Toews, I still believe he’s a great talent. However, because the NHL is a business that often looks at the “what have you done for me lately?” aspect of things, people have recently brought the knives out for Toews. This is largely because of his hefty $10.5 million contract. But let’s lay out the facts:
- Toews missed an entire season of hockey last year due to his chronic immune response syndrome diagnosis. This is an ailment that he is still learning about. Any sort of setback like this is always hard to come back from — yet he’s playing well and playing in every game. He’s obviously not playing $10.5-million good, but he’s playing well. So, for those who critique him, I’d love to see these same critics drop something (as difficult as hockey) for an entire year and pick it up again to see how they perform. Watch the games; each game he gets better, and I’m hoping it’s only a matter of time until he’s back to where he was.
- Toews is only two seasons removed from a 66-point season. Those are great numbers for a centerman that plays a complete two-way game on a team that has been underachieving for a few seasons now. Not to mention, he’s deadly in overtime.
After taking a year off to deal with his diagnosis, he still has eight points (all assists) in 16 games — which is good for fourth on the team in points. Not bad for a player who missed the last 56 games.
Let’s not forget that both Kane and Toews were named to the NHL’s “Top 100 Players of All Time” list. I believe the Blackhawks are a better team with these two than without — regardless of what a trade might fetch them in return. If you were to trade a generational talent, such as Kane, whatever you get in return will be of a lesser value because he is that good.
Kane & Toews Are Leaders
Respect is something earned, not given. Players like Kane and Toews have respect amongst the players in the league and respect the young players who are coming into it. These are players that today’s prospects grew up watching. While this is important, what does it have to do when it comes to developing prospects? Well, it comes to the intangibles that they bring — like leadership.
Toews has been a top leader in the league for the past 10-or-so years and has had success at all levels of hockey. He’s one of the few players in the league who belong to the “Triple Gold” club. All Toews does is win.
Remember when Sidney Crosby was named captain of Team Canada’s Olympic hockey team in 2014? His first impulse was to call Toews to ensure that his receiving the captaincy was okay with him. Yes, you read that right — Crosby, the best player over the past decade — asked Toews if he was okay with him being the team captain. Maybe I’m looking too deeply into this, but I believe if a player of Crosby’s stature believes he must seek approval from Toews for something like this, that Toews is obviously a top leader in the league (because realistically, if you’re Crosby, you can do whatever you want when it comes to these kinds of things).
Kane, on the other hand, has always led by example. He lets his play do the talking. But I have reason to believe that he’s becoming a more vocal leader as he has gotten older. That is exactly what you want from a veteran player. He was the captain for the United States at the World Championships in 2019 — where the team captured a bronze medal. After being immediately named to the 2022 United States men’s Olympic team, I truly believe he will don the “C” there, too. Maybe I’m biased, but many consider him the best American hockey player of all time, so there’s no better choice than him to lead the red, white and blue this February at the Winter Games.
With the pedigree these two bring, there are no better two players for young players to learn from. Guys who have dealt with the pressures of being a franchise player played in those big moments, and above all, carried themselves as professionals, are the ones you want to help guide your young players as they embark on their NHL careers.
What’s Next for Kane and Toews?
Three Stanley Cups, two Olympic Gold medals (and a silver), Hart Trophy, Calder Trophy, Art Ross Trophy, numerous NHL All-Star Game appearances, and more. These are some of the incredible achievements that these two have compiled in their careers — and it doesn’t have to stop there.
The lack of success in recent years is just a casualty of winning — not once, not twice, but three times. Each year after winning it all, they were penalized by the dreaded salary cap and were forced to ship out promising prospects and draft picks to incentivize taking on bad contracts. But after a few years of poor play, I believe that they’re beginning to head in the right direction and will continue to get better with players like Alex DeBrincat, Kirby Dach, and Seth Jones.
If the Hawks moved on from these two franchise corner pieces, it would be a sad day in Chicago. These two have been responsible for resurrecting this team from the dead and turning them into arguably the top team of the past decade. From a business standpoint and talent standpoint, these two have been everything and more for the team. It’s a no-brainer that these two numbers will be hanging in the rafters of the United Center when it’s all said and done, but it just wouldn’t feel right to see these two legends donning different jerseys than the iconic Blackhawks’ crest.
American born, Canadian living. Wilfrid Laurier University graduate, loyal Chicago Blackhawks fan, poor golfer, and life-long hockey player.