It’s a nightmare scenario for every Chicago Blackhawks fan.
When their contracts near expiration at the end of the 2014-15 season, the on-ice partnership of Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews is deemed financially unsustainable and is dissolved by Blackhawks management—sending either the prolific winger or the respected leader to another town.
And though general manager Stan Bowman and chairman Rocky Wirtz have insisted the players will remain together “forever,” it might be wise for Second City supporters to begin deciding which toy they’d rather play with long-term if the bean-counters ultimately decide they can only keep one.
The reasons to pine for either guy aren’t hard to figure.
The prolific Kane has been a point-per-game player for three of six seasons in the league, scored the goal that clinched the franchise’s first Stanley Cup since 1961, and won the Conn Smythe Trophy when they made it two titles in four years over six games this past June in Boston.
Meanwhile, the contemplative Toews became the franchise’s youngest captain at age 20, was named the Conn Smythe winner moments after Kane completed the first Cup run, and has played minutes of every variety while drawing rave reviews as the league’s most complete two-way performer.
To say either would be coveted elsewhere is understatement, and for every moment the locals spend worrying about a breakup, an enterprising GM is crafting the perfect welcoming speech.
The two of them are just that good. But there are means of comparison, and there can be justification in making a choice.
Don’t Take Offense
Only a fool would contend Kane isn’t among the league’s elite when it comes to scoring.
The 24-year-old netted 46 goals in his initial two NHL seasons and has been just a fraction shy of a point per game in four overall seasons since—including two campaigns, 2009-10 and 2012-13, in which he crossed the threshold with a combined 143 points in 130 games.
He’s been just as effective in money time come the spring, with 28 points in 22 playoff games en route to the initial Cup and 19 in 23 games during the second title run this year. And his open-ice moves are repeated fodder for YouTube highlight collections.
But while the winger is admittedly spectacular, it’s not as if the center is dead offensive weight.
Toews has reached 30 goals twice in six seasons, has never failed to tally at least 23, and became a point-per-night man himself for the first time in 2012-13, when he had 48 in 47 games.
His clutch resume also extends to the postseason, where he’s scored 20 times and assisted on 44 goals in 75 games while matching his teammate with one playoff MVP honor apiece.
If Kane were to exit, the Blackhawks would lose explosion...but not excellence.
Advantage: Kane, but only by a little.
Making a Defense
While Kane and the puck form a perfect union, his value sans the frozen disk isn’t quite as sublime.
He can be a dogged puck pursuer in the neutral zone and a pesky adversary when it comes to the forecheck and backcheck, yet he also occasionally falls into spells where his interest level wanes.
It’s hardly a comprehensive pox on his talent-crammed house, but the next time his apathy results in a gift scoring opportunity for the opposition will by no means be the first time.
By contrast, evidence of Toews’ chops as a dual-purpose player is no farther than his mantel.
He was deemed worthy of the Frank J. Selke Trophy as the league’s premier defensive forward after the 2012-13 season, a year in which, incidentally, he finished 13th in scoring—just seven points behind Kane and 12 off the pace set by league-leader Martin St. Louis of Tampa Bay.
And aside from the offensive zone prowess, he shared the NHL lead in takeaways (56) with Detroit’s Pavel Datsyuk, finished second in faceoff efficiency (59.9 percent), and was third overall in plus/minus rating (plus-28).
Advantage: Toews, by a full 200 feet.
As mentioned previously, Kane’s portfolio of on-ice highlights is among the NHL’s largest.
Unfortunately, as the Blackhawks have come to know at times during his climb to the upper echelon, his off-ice reputation has grown by leaps and bounds as well.
The Buffalo native was arrested in his hometown after an incident with a cab driver in 2009, had shirtless pictures snapped of him in Vancouver a year later, and was called on the front office carpet after more publicity in connection with a raucous Cinco de Mayo party in 2012.
Meanwhile, the acclaim Toews has gained for maturity is already legendary.
Dubbed “Captain Serious” for his taciturn demeanor and aversion to showy displays, the 25-year-old is nonetheless the team’s primary source of behind-the-scenes attitude adjustments and on-the-bench sparks that are mandatory if you want to win two Cups in four seasons.
He handed the prized chalice off to Marian Hossa and Michal Handzus after the team’s championships in 2010 and 2013, displaying a feel for the veterans who were integral to the accomplishment and who’d never gotten to experience a Cup win.
That connection prompted teammate Jamal Mayers to make the ultimate leadership comparison.
“Everyone knows what he does on the ice, but his conscience and ability to see all pieces of the pie are what separate him at such a young age,” he said. “He reminds me of what people used to say about Messier. He parallels a lot of those qualities you hear about Mark.”
Advantage: Toews, both in the locker room and out.
Wrapping It Up
There’s no team in the league that would be worse off for acquiring Patrick Kane.
He’s got terrific hands. He’s got a great motor. And he’s never shy when it comes to wanting the puck when the situation warrants the most crucial of goals.
But while his skills are undeniably special, they’re also easier to replicate than Jonathan Toews’.
In their wise-beyond-his-years captain, the Blackhawks have both an offensive talent who clearly fits in at the top of the mountain and a defensive wizard who can ratchet down the threat presented by any of his fellow elite scorers.
No less an authority than Chicago coach Joel Quenneville, who played 803 NHL games and has steered another 1,211 from rinkside, sees his No. 1 center on a track that’ll end in immortality.
If one stays in Chicago and one has to leave, whom do you keep?
“Who knows what (his) resume is going to look like at the end of it, but it’s already pretty special today,” he said. “And it could be as good as it gets. He’s definitely heading in the right direction.”
Toews fills every gap with consistency. Kane has scored some unforgettably clutch goals. Both are better players thanks to the greatness they’ve been surrounded with for several seasons.
But when push comes to shove, it’s hard to believe Kane could do any more without the top-flight supporting cast than Toews could. So if Bowman and Wirtz have to choose, the pick here is No. 19.