Today the Chicago Blackhawks announced identical eight-year contract extensions for forwards Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. They will run through the 2022-23 season, and each will carry an annual cap hit of $10.5 million a year. This is a lot of money, and it's also almost painfully reasonable.
Let's establish this first: there was no way the Blackhawks were going to let them go. They are franchise saviors, two of the 10 best hockey players in the world, and still early in their primes. Nothing Chicago could pay them now could come close to matching what they've done to raise the value of that franchise. But every deal still has to be looked at in the context of a salary cap league. And some smart folks have been quick to point out that Toews's and Kane's new contracts are right in line with those of their peers.
The problem with just looking at the raw numbers is the same one when looking at historic Hollywood box office numbers without factoring in inflation—they need to be adjusted for the era. This is the salary cap era, when a player's value needs to be weighed against the flexibility his deal leaves you to fill out a full roster.
The Blackhawks are doing these deals at a good time. The cap is $69 million this year, and is projected to rise to $75 million next year. Business appears to be good, so expect Toews and Kane to be downright bargains by the end of this decade, so long as they maintain their productivity.
Of course that means things look pretty grim for the Blackhawks at this moment. They're already pushing the cap for 2015-16 with just 15 players under contract. It'll likely mean parting ways with Marian Hossa or Patrick Sharp, or—crap—both. But that's the reality of building a team these days. There are tough choices every team has to make, and locking up two superduperstars doesn't absolve you of that. Stanley Cups aren't won or lost with the megacontracts, but with the scouting, drafting, and spending for the complementary pieces, the identifying and retaining talent for value. It's something Chicago's managed to do well so far, while teams like Pittsburgh has struggled. So while locking up Toews and Kane through 2023 is nice, it's just setting the parameters for the real hard work to come.