CHICAGO — Looking to the future, the surging Chicago Blackhawks signed three of their top players — Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith — to lucrative contract extensions Thursday.
Kane and Toews, both 21, signed five-year deals reported to be worth US$31.5 million each. Keith, a defenceman, got a 13-year contract worth a reported $72 million, making it the richest in team history and surpassing the 12-year, $62.8 million given to Marian Hossa in the off-season.
“We are a close group of guys and there’s no individual player who is bigger than the team,” Keith said.
“I would certainly rather have these two guys up here at the same time, as well, and take a little of the spotlight off. I don’t mind that at all.”
The 26-year-old Keith is in his fifth season with the Blackhawks and is known for his durability and speed.
He leads the team in average ice time at 26:44 and has five goals and 18 assists to go with a plus-nine rating.
Kane, the first pick overall in the 2007 draft, leads the team with 26 points — nine goals and 17 assists. And Toews, the team captain and the Blackhawks’ first-round choice (third overall) in 2006, has six goals and 10 assists. He missed six games this season with concussion-like symptoms after taking a hard hit from Vancouver’s Willie Mitchell on Oct. 21.
Asked how much pressure the new deals would bring, Kane acknowledged there would be some but it wouldn’t affect play.
“You don’t think about that stuff when you are on the ice. You are trying to play for the love of the game and for your team,” he said. “Obviously there is pressure, but with that comes responsibility. We know we have to pick it up.”
Kane and Toews not only are two stars on the ice, but they are the young faces of the organization and the focus of the team’s massive marketing campaign. Chicago made it to the Western Conference finals last season and currently leads the Central Division with a 17-6-3 record.
“To me it’s not about the business side and all of that stuff. I’m just happy to know that I’ll be part of the organization for a while longer and hopefully much longer after that,” Toews said.
General manager Stan Bowman said the lucrative contracts would not affect the salary cap situation this season because the deals kick in for 2010-11.
But he acknowledged that Chicago could have a busy summer perhaps juggling its roster and payroll after committing so much money to the future.
“There will be changes between this year and next year but there are every year,” Bowman said.
He said the deals have been in the works for a while and that the team consulted with the NHL to make sure all three contracts conformed to regulations.