Toews and Kane inked matching 8-year, $84-million contracts on Wednesday, becoming the first two players to break the $10-million annual average salary ceiling since the salary cap was put in place after the 2005 lockout. They're the first players to make more than eight figures annually under the cap.
The Blackhawks’ stars had matching $6.3 million cap hits on their previous deals, which were scheduled to expire next summer, with unrestricted free agency beckoning.
Toews and Kane will make $10.5 million against the cap through 2022; Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals was the previous leader at $9,538,462 against the cap annually through 2021. (See, Ted Leonsis wasn’t stubbornly refusing to circumvent the cap like everyone else was in 2008; he was just ahead of the curve!)
Of course, Ovechkin is a guy that gets you 50 goals. Kane and Toews have never broken 90 points; in Toews's case, he's broken 70 points once (although he was a point per game guy in the lockout shortened season).
Whether they’re worth the money based on production is almost immaterial: Toews and Kane are the heart and soul of the Blackhawks’ renaissance that resulted in two Stanley Cup championships – and two Conn Smythe trophies for them, respectively – and countless millions in revenue for owner Rocky Wirtz. ("Countless" because his creative accounting makes it look like they make less than what they do.)
Whatever the asking price – and Kane and Toews started their demands at a $12 million annual salary – the Blackhawks were going to pay their franchise cornerstones to remain in the Windy City.
From the Blackhawks, the skinny on their careers:
Toews, 26, became the youngest captain in Blackhawks history, third-youngest in NHL history, on July 18, 2008 and has guided the organization to two Stanley Cup championships during his time in Chicago. He became the second-youngest player to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP following the Blackhawks 2010 championship, the franchise’s first title in 49 years. He won the NHL’s Frank J. Selke Trophy, given annually to the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game, in 2013 and was a finalist for the award in 2011 and 2014. Toews was also a finalist for the Calder Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie in 2008 and was selected for the NHL All-Star Game in 2009, 2011 and 2012. He was named to the NHL’s Second All-Star Team following the 2013 campaign.
The Winnipeg, Manitoba, native has recorded 440 points (195g, 245a) in 484 career regular-season games with the Blackhawks, since making his debut during the 2007-08 campaign. He shares fifth on the franchise’s all-time list in game-winning goals (six), is 20th in goals, 22nd in points and is tied for 27th in assists. He has recorded 81 points (29g, 52a) in 94 career postseason games with the Blackhawks, ranking sixth in franchise history in playoff points, seventh in assists and ninth in goals. He is also the all-time franchise leader with 10 postseason game-winning goals.
Toews is a two-time Olympic champion, helping Canada to back-to-back gold medals in 2010 and 2014. He has also represented Canada at two World Championships, earning a gold medal in 2007 and a silver in 2008, and two World Junior Championships, winning gold medals in 2006 and 2007. Prior to his professional career, Toews recorded 85 points (40g, 45a) in 76 career games with the University of North Dakota from 2005 to 2007, reaching the NCAA Frozen Four in both of his collegiate seasons. He was originally selected by the Blackhawks in the first round, third overall, of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft.
Kane, 25, has helped the Blackhawks to two Stanley Cup championships, scoring the series-clinching goal in Game 6 of the 2010 Stanley Cup Final and winning the Conn Smythe Trophy following the 2013 title. Kane captured the 2008 Calder Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s rookie of the year and has been selected to participate in the NHL All-Star Game three times: 2009, 2011 and 2012. Kane was also selected as an NHL First-Team All-Star in 2010 and named to the All-Rookie Team in 2008.
The Buffalo, N.Y., native has registered 493 points (178g, 315a) in 515 career regular-season games with Chicago dating back to 2007-08. He ranks 12th in team history in assists, is 15th in points and 21st in goals. He also ranks 11th in franchise history with 30 game-winning goals. Kane has posted 91 points (37g, 54a) in 93 career Stanley Cup playoff games with Chicago, ranking fifth in team history in playoff points and goals, and sixth in assists. He shares second in Blackhawks history with two playoff hat tricks and is third with seven postseason game-winning tallies.
Kane has represented the United States in two Winter Olympics, winning a silver medal in the 2010 games in Vancouver. He also appeared for the U.S. in the 2008 World Championships and won a bronze medal at the 2007 World Junior Championships. Prior to his professional career Kane played one season of junior hockey with the Ontario Hockey League’s London Knights in 2006-07, tallying an OHL-high 145 points (62g, 83a) in 58 games. He was named the OHL’s Rookie of the Year and an OHL First-Team All-Star, as well as to the OHL All-Rookie Team. Kane also played two seasons with the United States National Team Development Program, in Ann Arbor, Mich., from 2004 to 2006. He was selected by the Blackhawks in the first round, first overall, in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft.
GM Stan Bowman was in a bit of a pickle here financially. Let either of them walk, and it changes the course of the franchise. Commit $21 million to them annually, and it could do the same.
The salary cap is expected to continue its rise in the coming years, making these salaries more tenable for the Blackhawks. But when they begin making $10.5 million against the cap next season, Chicago will have a cap payroll of $65,757,628 going to just 15 players. Some of them are stars that also have long-term deals: Duncan Keith, at $5.539 million against the cap through 2023; Corey Crawford, at $6 million AAV through 2020; and Marian Hossa, at $5.275 million through 2021, although no one expects he’ll fulfill that deal.
The Blackhawks could have some decisions to make in the short term – bye-bye, Patrick Sharp and his $5.9 million against the cap – before the Toews and Kane deals look like bargains within the context of others – hello, Steven Stamkos, free agent in 2016 – and the cap itself.
But that’s a trick Bowman has had to pull annually anyway: Keeping a championship caliber roster together under the cap, while retaining his core.
That he’ll have the best captain in hockey and one of the NHL’s most lethal offensive players under contract through 2022 is a good starting point.