Kyle Davidson promised a new era for the Chicago Blackhawks during the press conference introducing him as the team’s new GM last week — one brought forth by a full-scale rebuild.
Davidson also insinuated during that same press conference that franchise pillars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane would be involved in determining the path ahead.
The, however, is a problem — namely that those to statements contradict each other, and serve as yet another example of the Blackhawks trying to step into the future with one foot rooted in the past.
It’s not surprising that Davidson would make a point of including Toews and Kane in any of the big organizational decisions to come over the next few weeks. No matter how many times their owner screams otherwise, the Blackhawks will never stop talking about 2010. They just can’t help it. The very committee that put Davidson in the GM chair was comprised of three former players, two of which being members of that Stanley Cup-winning team in Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa.
There may be a new era on the horizon in Chicago, but the bedrock upon which it’s being built is influenced more and more by the previous one. That should change.
There’s a difference between honoring the past and letting it dictate the future.
When it comes to legacy, Toews and Kane are Blackhawks icons that will forever hold an indelible place in both the history of the franchise and the hearts of its fanbase.
The pair’s arrival in 2007 began the Blackhawks’ ascension as a franchise, dragging the team out of the pit of irrelevancy former owner Bill Wirtz buried them in and quickly turning them into one of the closest things the modern NHL has had to a dynasty.
Those accolades are more than worthy of jersey retirements, statues, and drawn-out ceremonies that delay puck drop by 45 minutes when everyone just wants to get on with things. And they will likely get them, too.
What they don’t grant is either player the power to influence the on-ice product beyond their respective tenures with the team — which, by the way, seem to be coming to an end.
There’s a very good chance that Toews and Kane will leave after next season. In fact, it might even be unavoidable. The identical eight-year, $84 million extensions the pair signed together in 2014 are set to expire next summer, making them unrestricted free agents for the first time in their careers at the ripe old age of 34, unlikely to return to a team in the thick of a massive rebuild.
Even if money weren’t an object, would the Blackhawks want to bring them back?
Kane is still a massively productive player in his own right, scoring well above a point-per-game in each of the past four seasons, and will likely be highly sought after on the open market despite his age.
Toews, on the other hand? Well, Captain Serious hasn’t had quite the same run of success since entering his early 30s, mostly due to health, with Toews sitting with just four goals and 20 points in 46 games this season after missing the entire 2021 campaign with Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome.
While the ways in which he reached this point might not be all that fair, it’s a reality that cannot be ignored: Toews is no longer the player he used to be. He’s a shell of his former self — especially offensively — on pace for a career-worst year on a basement-dwelling team, and just missed mutliple games with a concussion.
With Kane likely to seek a paycheck and Cup ring on the open market that Chicago can’t give him, and Toews’ health and ability dissipating by the day, the summer of 2023 looks to be a fitting point for the two sides to bid farewell.
Why, then, would you give either player any meaningful power to shape the team’s future?
And those are just the hockey-related reasons, too.
There is no evidence to prove that Toews or Kane had any knowledge of the horrors that Kyle Beach was subjected to by the Blackhawks in 2010. Both players have claimed to be completely unaware of the events in interviews on the matter since Beach’s abuse became public knowledge, and have since seen the GM that gave them their hefty contracts be forced to step down.
Whether they knew about it at the time or not, Toews and Kane are still relics of an era that the Blackhawks must move on from. The organization already took part in an openly-reported GM search that lauded itself on featuring diverse candidates from all walks of life only to ultimately go with an in-house hire who was actually with the team as an intern back in 2010.
This “new era” is new in name only. That can’t be changed now. What can be changed, however, is the influence the next generation defines itself by moving forward.
Toews and Kane will take their place among Blackhawks franchise legends the moment their careers are over. Let that be the legacy they leave. And let a new wave of talent create their own.