The increase in Toews and Kane’s contracts starting in 2015-16 meant goodbye to Brandon Saad (for a bit), Sharp (for a bit) and Johnny Oduya (for a bit and again now). In turn, this meant eventual goodbyes to Panarin, Andrew Shaw, Marcus Kruger, Teuvo Teravainen and Hjalmarsson.
Toews and Kane bring so much to the Blackhawks and have certainly earned the top contracts on the team. But they have, unfortunately, become the warning sign for the rest of the league.
Connor McDavid has already become the league MVP just two years into his career. He could have demanded $14 million a year or more and probably gotten it. But McDavid worked with the Oilers and even reportedly took a cut in pay when he didn’t feel comfortable with the large number he was set to receive. The Edmonton Journal quoted GM Peter Chiarelli right after the deal was signed:
"“This may be one of the largest contracts ever given in the NHL, but I can assure you it easily could have been a lot higher in value and shorter in term. Building a team to win the Stanley Cup was a constant discussion point in this negotiation. Connor was emphatic, as was I, about keeping this team competitive… He wants us to ice a winning team, as we all do, as the fans of Edmonton do.”"
The $12.5 million a year McDavid will receive starting in 2018-19 will be the biggest contract in the league, but it is only $2 million more per year than Toews or Kane for an MVP winner who is only turning 21 in January.
McDavid has seen the cap hell the Blackhawks have struggled through and knows how his contract can impact the entire team moving forward. Taking a million or two less than what he could earn could really be the difference between not seeing the second round and playing in the Cup Final.
When the extensions for Toews and Kane were signed, I believe Stan Bowman, as well as the rest of the league, thought the salary cap would be increasing dramatically over the coming years. In actuality, you can really only describe the increase as “gradual” or “incremental.” If the ‘Hawks are going to make the Toews and Kane contracts work and win another Cup, they will need a few things to go very right.
First, they will need veterans playing at a discounted rate who contribute similarly to how they did in their prime years. Next, they need young players who exceed expectations and have strong value with their cheap contracts. Finally, the core players who have been with the team need to be playing at the top of their abilities and staying healthy.
It is exactly what every team in this situation is forced to do with superstars on their team, and what Bowman has tried to put in place the last few years.
The formula is already in place on the active roster. Now it is up to the affordable veteran in Sharp, the youth in Nick Schmaltz, Ryan Hartman and Connor Murphy, and the health of the whole team to lead the ‘Hawks back to glory. And, of course, the superstars playing like superstars.
But while this formula is similar for many teams, the large contracts at the top mean the ‘Hawks need everything to go exactly to plan to find success.
With so much tied up in Toews and Kane, the margin for error is almost nonexistent. The Blackhawks will not have relief anytime soon, and they will need everything to go right if they are to raise another banner.