Focus in Chicago turns to Kane, Toews’ contracts

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The Chicago Blackhawks weren’t able to advance to the Stanley Cup Final for a third time in five years, but they have to feel very good about the team they’ve assembled. They’re still relatively young, deep, and most of their key players under control for at least a couple more seasons — with two notable exceptions.

Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews will both become unrestricted free agents in the summer of 2015.

It would be shocking if Kane and Toews didn’t re-sign with Chicago. In fact, it would be eyebrow raising if their extensions weren’t announced by the end of the summer. The bigger question is what kind of raise they’ll demand from their respective annual cap hits of $6.3 million.

Toews and Kane are both elite forwards and clutch performers that can basically name their price, but it isn’t that simple in the salary cap era, especially now that the new CBA killed the old model of signing superstars to heavily frontloaded long-term deals that kept their cap hits down (read: Marian Hossa and Duncan Keith).

Since the new rules came into effect, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Evgeni Malkin, and Claude Giroux have all signed contracts with annual cap hits in the range of $8.25 million to $9.5 million. If Kane and Toews demanded something in that ballpark, the Blackhawks would probably concede. Theoretically, they could try asking for more under the assumption that the salary cap will continue to climb at a healthy pace.

At some point though, it becomes an issue. Pittsburgh has dedicated $18.2 million annually to Malkin and Sidney Crosby and the team hasn’t lived up to expectations in recent years, arguably due to a lack of depth.

Carrying players with high cap hits can be problematic, even if their play seemingly justifies the cost. Of the top 10 cap hit players in 2013-14, only one made it to the conference finals (Rick Nash). That number balloons to four in the top-20, but that’s counting Marian Gaborik and Thomas Vanek, who were trade acquisitions and therefore not the full cap responsibility of Los Angeles and Montreal respectively.

With that in mind, it will be interesting to see what Kane and Toews demand.