Stan Bowman sounded like a proud father as he told stories about Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.
The general manager of the Chicago Blackhawks reminisced about Kane staying with his family during his rookie season, and described the scene when Toews became the youngest captain in team history.
There were lots of smiles and some laughter Wednesday as Bowman joined Toews and Kane at a news conference to celebrate the twin contract extensions for the high-scoring forwards that run through the 2022-23 season.
"You have become two of the symbols of the renaissance of the Chicago Blackhawks," said John McDonough, the team president and CEO. "We're very proud of that. And you've also become a very respected brand in Chicago and throughout the National Hockey League and throughout sports.
"I don't know if it's Kane and Toews, I don't know if it's Toews and Kane, but I know it's powerful, it's impactful and it's really respected."
The Blackhawks have enjoyed a long run of success since they grabbed Toews with the No. 3 selection in the 2006 draft, and then selected Kane with the top overall pick the following year. Each player made their debut in October 2007, and the Blackhawks' 366 combined wins in the regular season and playoffs since the 2007-08 campaign ranks third in the NHL for that stretch, according to STATS.
The eight-year contracts, which were announced last week, are worth $84 million US apiece for an average annual value of $10.5 million. Each player has one year left on their five-year extensions from December 2009.
"Growing up as an average hockey player and hockey fan, I don't think you really expect situations like this to happen so I'm very humbled and honoured to say that a contract like this has been given to me and the trust and faith is there to be here for a long time," Kane said.
While the contracts position the Blackhawks to contend for years to come, they also could lead to some difficult salary-cap decisions for Bowman. He already needs to pare more than $2 million from his payroll to get under this year's cap of $69 million, and the huge deals for Toews and Kane don't kick in until next year.
"We put a lot of time and effort into drafting, developing and finding young players who are going to come and surround these stars," Bowman said. "It's obviously a puzzle to put together, but we're going to make it work. We've been able to do that in the past and I have a lot of faith in the ability to keep that going."
Plus, Bowman noted, it's a lot better than imagining a roster without the marquee stars.
"Most teams would die to have one of these players on their team, and we've got two of them here," he said. "So we're very fortunate."
Agent says they could have earned more
Toews was just 20 when he became the 34th captain in team history in July 2008. When the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2010 for their first NHL title in 49 years, Toews became the second-youngest player to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.
He is regarded as one of the NHL's best two-way players, winning the 2013 Selke Trophy as the league's best defensive forward.
Kane, 25, has developed into one of the league's most clutch players after questions about his maturity dogged the dynamic winger for the first part of the career. He had the title-clinching goal in Game 6 of the 2010 finals at Philadelphia, and picked up his own Conn Smythe Trophy when the Blackhawks won the Cup again in 2013.
"I think everyone kind of goes through their different maturation process, and maybe mine was a little bit delayed compared to some other guys," Kane said as Toews leaned back and laughed in the seat next to him.
Agent Pat Brisson, who represents both players, said they could have commanded as much as $13.8 million per season, but it was important to them to stay together and leave room for a strong supporting cast.
"The success we've had as individuals on this team has a lot to do with, pretty much everything to do with the great teammates we've had along the way," Toews said.