Did the Blackhawks Make a Mistake by Signing Toews and Kane to Record Contracts?

No. That is my answer to the question in the headline. Well, it’s more like: No way. Absolutely not. Actually, more like: Haha, get out of here with that. Are you f---ing kidding me?  Even asking that question??

But many who comment in the comments section of the Tribune story don’t agree:

John Adams12
Weren't Cub fans excited when they signed Soriano and a couple of other high priced talents? And there was no cap, like there is in hockey. When you are dedicating $21 million per year to two players, over 30% of your available payroll, it’s only a matter of time before the Hawks implode, and are forced to either trade one, rework contracts or simply pray.

KevinM16
No doubt that Toews and Kane are great talents but these contracts are insane and will ensure Chicago struggles with the depth to compete for the Cup in future years. Obviously NHL GMs still haven't learned a thing from the last lockout. Hawks fans better hope they win another Cup before these contracts kick in.

michael garneau
I have to agree with KevinM16. I believe the sheer and total selfish greed of 19 and 88 at the expense of all other team members could possibly be the downfall of the Hawks as a Stanley Cup winner in the years to come. I hope not but if the salary cap goes to $72 million next year as is being considered now the Hawks will have to dump a great number of quality players just to put a team together. The concept of 'team' may have just died in Chicago.

To echo the above comments, there is some concern over at John Jaeckel’s blog as well, and most people who post there are knowledgeable about hockey. That description does not apply to the Chicago Tribune commenters. I’ll address the serious hockey concerns a little later but this first: This is a fantastic deal for the Blackhawks as well as the two players involved. $10.5MM per year for eight years is completely reasonable for these two particular players, despite the fact that they signed record deals.

Quoting our friends at Puck Daddy, 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.

However, the comments I spied at Puck Daddy were mostly positive, many coming from fans of other teams saying “great move”.  It is a great move. In my last blog, I discussed why you had to pay them both the same amount that would be around this amount, and I discussed their play in greater detail, but I’ll make a few quick points: These two, along with Duncan Keith, in my opinion, are the engine of a team that won two Stanley Cups in the past five years and look poised to compete for Cups for years to come. These guys are not just great players, they’re the type of players that win Stanley Cups. What more is there? What more do you want in a player than one who delivers the ultimate prize? These aren't merely great players, they're superstars, franchise players, faces of the team and future Hall of Famers about to enter the prime of their careers. If these two guys aren’t worth top dollar, tell me exactly who is? As for the amount, these are the key points:

  • Either could have easily commanded $12MM per year on the open market, possibly even quite a bit more than that.
  • NHL salaries are going to go up, not down. By the time these guys are 27-28 years old and at their peaks, these contracts will probably be average for the league's top players. By 2022, salaries will probably double, and even for guys in their 30s, these will be bargain deals. I am assuming that both will be beyond their peaks in 2022, but also that their peaks are still ahead of them.
  • Everyone knows the NHL salary cap is also going up. We don't know by how much, but the Blackhawks probably have a pretty good idea. These salaries will always be a big part of the team, but shouldn't they be? They won't prevent the team from being able to add other good players.
  • Unfortunately for the players, it's a league of haves and have-nots. If you're not a superstar, you might only get $3-4MM per year, depth guys like Phil Regin get less than $1MM.  Obviously, Toews and Kane are "haves".

Now, this is my response to the concerns being raised by serious hockey fans at JJ’s blog. There is a lot of talk about depth, how the ‘Hawks lack it and need it to get past the Kings. There is a contingent of fans very concerned about the ability of the ‘Hawks to add depth to a team that needs it now that they’ve committed so much money to two players. A few points on this but first off, there does seem to be a split among Blackhawks fans between those who consider the Blackhawks just a lucky bounce away from the Stanley Cup, and those who believe the Blackhawks were exposed in the conference finals as a team in need of serious improvement at the center position and in overall depth. I’m in the former camp. I look at the big picture – four conference finals in the past six years. If you get there four times, you’re going to win a couple of them, and they did. If you get to the Stanley Cup finals a few times, you’re going to win some Cups. Ok, so they didn’t win it last year, boo hoo, something must be done, etc. Whether you want them to or not, they’ll spin the dial a bit, mix it up, and try again. The key to it is every time they spin the dial, they still have Toews, Kane, and Keith at the center of it. And for now, just outside of that group, is Hossa, Hjalmarsson and Crawford. I’ll take that group every year, just hope they can keep Seabrook too. Though if you really want to point to reasons the ‘Hawks lost the Final, I would point to Seabs a lot faster than the ‘Hawks lack of depth. On depth:

  • It’s not depth the Blackhawks can’t afford. It’s veteran depth.  Some of the Kings depth was getting contributions from young players, yet the 'Hawks get criticized by some for seeking the same thing.  In the salary cap era, you need to roll the dice with some young guys every year.
  • Actually, the ‘Hawks can afford veteran depth, at least some. After paying Toews and Kane, they can afford an average of $2MM and change per player. You know what you can get for $2MM? Brad Richards, a talented veteran who is willing to take a one-year pay cut to play for a Cup and hopefully raise his overall stock. The reason Richards believes it will happen with the Blackhawks is due to Toews and Kane, for starters.
  • You can find depth. Blackhawks have stocked up their farm system short of superstars aside from Teuvo Teverainen, but full of depth type players. Even 2013 first-round pick Ryan Hartman, as an example, projects as a depth guy more than a superstar.
  • As mentioned above, you "spin the dial" on depth.  It's not about paying the most for the best players, it's about finding the right players to complement your core players.  For the Blackhawks, Toews and Kane will be part of the core for eight years.
  • Ok, so they can’t go out and sign Paul Stastny. Why do you need Stastny when you have Toews? You want both? Plus Kane and Hossa and Keith and Seabrook and Hjalmarsson and Crawford? And you want depth? Not how it works in the NHL.  You have to make trade-offs.

As a result, every team struggles with depth, especially at the blue line and fourth line. The only place where I thought the Kings had the ‘Hawks in terms of depth was at center, that was painfully clear. ‘Hawks signed Richards, not the big move we wanted or the long term solution, but they did address the situation for now. Going forward, they will have to make some tradeoffs, Seabrook or a veteran second line center like a Kesler or Spezza. But they’ve always made tradeoffs, so far never getting a true 2C but winning two Cups anyways.  Every team has holes if you look as carefully at them as you do the Blackhawks.

Perhaps most crucially, I think depth is overrated. I write this despite watching the playoffs and Cup Final and seeing the 'Hawks supposedly "exposed". At the end of the game, you have five or six guys on the ice. If your team has the better talent, you’re probably going to win. The ‘Hawks are pretty much always the team with better talent in these situations. When they can put Toews, Kane and Keith on the ice, they’re almost unbeatable, and have combined for breathtaking moments in the most key situations of the biggest games any player can play in. When your other two guys – and they can certainly afford to keep two more guys – are, say, Marian Hossa and Brent Seabrook, you win the close, important games.

That keeps you in it each and every year, and when I write “in it,” I mean a legitimate Stanley Cup threat. If they can go to the conference finals in four of the next eight years, I can totally live with a lean year or two where they do little damage in the playoffs, even though there will be plenty of howling about this deal when it happens.  Ok so they won't win the Stanley Cup every year, but they will be back in the conference finals many more times in the next eight years, and so long as they do that, they probably win another Cup or two. After all, they’ve got two players who live up to all the clichés: They find a way, they rise to the occasion, they know how to win.

Comments

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  • I feel privileged to comment on the blog about comments!

    But seriously Roman, you are dead on about how this will play out. All you have to do is go back in time a couple years when they signed Hossa to that "ridiculous" 13-years contract at roughly $5mil/year.

    Now that is an absolute bargain! He would command much more on the open market now.

    This will play out the same way - we are only a couple years away from the Derek Englland's of the hockey world getting $10mil/year from some desperate Canadian team.

    Cheers!

  • In reply to theneek:

    But see, now that you're commenting about my comments about comments, I can comment on your comment about my comments about comments, and then you can comment on that comment. It's like staring to mirrors facing each other.

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    The next knock to Toews head or the next playoff series Kane is tied up or crushed along the boards all series long will make Roman F. reconsider his post.

    These are 8 year contracts that don't kick in until next year. The productive longevity of any athlete these days is tenuous at best. Very few athletes in ANY sport who were productive FIVE years ago, much less NINE, are still productive today.

    Yes, the elite are - in basketball. But Toews and Kane are relatively of slight build and have been jostled enough through the years to question how much is left in the tank, especially as long playoff runs, Olympic appearances and double-shifts in meaningless regular season games take their toll.

    Bottom line: the question is not to be so easily dismissed. We'll review in FIVE years - at the halfway point.

  • In reply to Jorge Johnson:

    Thanks for posting. You make some good points about injuries in general but I don't agree that these players are any more injury-prone due to being slight of build. Both have proven to be tough, durable players. Toews is 6'2" and 205 lbs. -- that's slight? He bangs with the best of them. Kane is 180 lbs. after adding considerable muscle to his frame and is no slighter than many other players who had long careers. I've never once seen Kane crushed along the boards -- he's too shifty. He's dealt with being a target his entire career. If you want to see a slight player, check out Teuvo Tevarainen, who weights 15 lbs. less than Kane despite being the same height.

    The length of the contracts is similar to those of Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin and the Hawks' own Duncan Keith. That's how it goes with superstars, you either risk injury with a long term deal or you risk losing the player with a shorter term deal.

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    I agree on the comments about Seabrook. I don't know if he was hurt, but he sure didn't seem himself for the last third of the season, or the playoffs. He suddenly became afraid to pass up ice, leaving the breakout pass to Keith, which lead to a number of D-D passes that were picked off, or just didn't click. Plus he seemed to spend more time looking at the goal, instead of the offensive players then someone with his skills should. Given the timing of his slowdown, it could have been an injury, but I also wonder if he lost some confidence, and with it some of his edge, when he was left off the Olympic team? For the first part of the season his back end play was up there with Keith's (granted, on the offensive side, there was no comparison) but after the selections were announced, he seemed to lose a step or two.

  • In reply to Wayne Driscoll:

    Interesting theory about him being affected by the lack of Olympic selection. He was looking like a Norris candidate early in the year. He did have a pretty good playoffs though, just not against the Kings.

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