The Chicago Blackhawks are the gold standard of today’s NHL. With three Stanley Cup Championships since 2010, no other team has matched its success, with the L.A. Kings being the only other squad who’s come close, winning two Cups themselves.
Sound management and deft drafting have been the major catalysts for Chicago’s success, as Stan Bowman has continued to build around his core which has primarily consisted of defensemen Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook with forwards Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. Today’s list will discuss the latter pair.
Kane and Toews are both extremely valuable players, and the team views them as such, illustrated by the matching eight-year, $84 million contracts they signed two years ago. Kane and Toews both bring separate sets of skills to the table, which is part of the reason it seems to work so well in the Windy City.
Having two franchise forwards on the same team often yields championships, but it also begs the question, who is more valuable to the team? Conventional wisdom would have said Toews hands-down one year ago, but Kane’s recent Hart Trophy-winning season has added an extra element to the debate.
So, who is more valuable today? This list makes eight arguments for each player. Enjoy:
16 Toews - The True Leader
It didn’t take long for the Hawks to realize they had a gem in Jonathan Toews, as both a player and a leader. He was named team captain before starting his second season with the club, at the time being the second-youngest captain in NHL history (Sidney Crosby. Gabriel Landeskog has since passed Toews, making Toews the third youngest of all time).
Of the two players, there’s no doubt that Toews is the natural-born leader. He’s captained the Hawks to three Stanley Cups, and he served as an assistant captain to Sidney Crosby on the 2014 Gold Medal-winning Olympic squad, two feats that aren't matched by many other leaders in the game of hockey.
Take a survey of fans anywhere asking who the best leader in the league is, and Toews will come in the top three, almost guaranteed. He’s no doubt one of the game’s premier leaders.
15 Kane - Points, Points, Points
Patrick Kane is an absolute point machine, and he’s kicked it up yet another notch over the past few seasons. Combining his numbers for 2014-15 and 2015-16, Kane has put up 170 points in 143 games played, a number that is amongst the best seen in recent memory.
It is not that Toews is a slouch when it comes to producing offense—far from it. But with the way Kane has exploded over the past few years, it’s safe to say he’s the more productive player. He’s the only player in the league who’s scored more than 100 points in a single season in the past two years.
Who’s to say if Kane continues to put up these gaudy numbers, but even if he regresses by 20 percent next season he’d still likely finish with more points than Toews. Offensively, Kane has established himself as the superior offensive forward.
14 Toews - Exceptional Two-Way Play
While Kane’s explosive offense is a dangerous and flashy weapon, Toews is the owner of an incredibly effective two-way game, much more so than Kane. Two-way forwards don’t often get the praise heaped upon them as much as the offensive dynamos seem to, but that doesn’t mean the job is any easier.
I would argue that being an effective two way player in the world’s best league is one of the most valuable assets a guy can have. While the Steven Stamkos’s and the Alex Ovechkin's of the world get all the adoration, it’s the Toews’s, the Patrice Bergeron’s and the Pavel Datsyuk’s who opposing players hate playing against most.
This fact alone makes Toews a nightmare for other teams’ offensive threats. Paired with veteran Marian Hossa, they get even harder to produce against. It’s not that Kane is a defensive liability, but it’s fair to say he’s a few steps behind Toews in this regard.
13 Kane - His Nationality
Call it an arbitrary thing to point to (and it most certainly is), but Kane is valuable to Chicago simply because he’s an American playing hockey in a large American market. People are always talking about “growing the game” in America, and the best way to do it is to have an American superstar run show at the highest level.
Don’t kid yourself, Toews is adored by fans in Chi-Town, but the United States is unapologetically patriotic. Despite Kane’s obvious problems off the ice (we’ll touch on those later), the fact remains that he just became the first American to ever win the Art Ross Trophy and the Hart Trophy.
The bigger hockey gets in America, the better it is for the Chicago Blackhawks and the NHL as a whole. Having a few dominant Americans in the NHL is key to this, and Kane is presently the most dominant.
12 Toews - Captain Clutch
Jonathan Toews has a reputation for coming up big in the clutch. That’s a reputation he established long before starting his NHL career, most notably by scoring three huge shootout goals for Canada in the semifinal of the World Junior Championship against the Americans in 2007.
During his time in Chicago, he’s proven that was no fluke. He of course was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2010 as the playoff MVP. Toews has 51 game winning goals in the regular season to go with 10 in the playoffs; just last season, he led the NHL in overtime goals with five.
Really, when you look at how many times Toews has come up big in the clutch for his whole career to this point, you can’t deny his uncanny ability to shine in the huge moments. He’s been doing it for too long and too consistently for it to be a fluke.
11 Kane - Slippery Dekes
There aren’t many players in the NHL—if there are any at all—who are slipperier with the puck than Patrick Kane. Connor McDavid looks to be pretty darn good in this area as well, but he’s still got a few steps to go before getting to Kane's level. Just when it looks like he’s run out of room, Kane always seems to have one last move in him that’s enough to evade some of the league’s best defensemen.
The moves work well on goaltenders as well. A quick Google search of “Patrick Kane dekes” or “Patrick Kane shootout goals” yields a rabbit hole of sick moves the American winger has pulled off over the years, each one more impressive than the last.
This type of talent is rare in the NHL, and very few players possess the skill level that Kane puts on display pretty much every night. The value for Chicago here can’t be understated.
10 Toews - Takes The Attention Away From Kane
Having one elite player on your team is good, but having a second one can open a whole lot of doors. Just look at the most recent Stanley Cup champions, the Pittsburgh Penguins. If you were coaching against them, would you match up your best checkers against Sidney Crosby? Probably, but then that just leaves Evgeni Malkin with the softer competition. It’s a catch-22, really.
With Toews and Kane playing on separate lines most of the time, it leaves opponents with a difficult decision. If Toews is on his game and they decide to match up hard against him, well, that just leaves Kane—one of the game’s most lethal players—exposed.
This comes in handy for road games even more so, when the opponent has last change. It puts the decision in the opposing coach’s hands, and like I previously mentioned, it’s a difficult, lose-lose situation for them.
9 Kane - Takes The Atttention Away From Toews
When you’re playing against a player as offensively dominant as Patrick Kane is, you’re going to want to match your best checkers against him. It makes perfect sense, but as mentioned in the previous post, this frees up more room for Toews.
Yes, item number five for both Kane and Toews are the same thing essentially, but it works both ways. When playing a Chicago team with a healthy Kane and Toews in the lineup, you are forced to make this difficult decision.
Call it the NHL’s Sophie’s Choice, except it’s even grimmer because Sophie at least got to keep one of her children. Whether you choose to key in on Toews or Kane, it’s likely you’ll get embarrassed by the other. Both Blackhawks stars are arguably the most prolific offensive players in today's NHL, and the organization is lucky to have both in their lineup. Unfortunately for opposing teams, it's only a nightmare.
8 Toews – Plays in every situation
While Kane’s offensive skills and abilities are superior to Toews’, Toews does something that Kane doesn’t do on an every game basis, and that’s regularly play in all situations. If you need a goal, if you need to prevent a goal, if you need to kill a penalty, if you’re on the power play—no matter what, Toews can always be utilized. While there are plenty of superstars in the NHL, there may be no other player that has a more balanced game than the Blackhawks captain.
Using the most recent campaign as a source, it’s easy to see how much more versatile Toews is, and coach Joel Quenneville’s deployment of his star forwards is proof. While they both enjoyed substantial power play time in 2015-16, Toews played 1:24/game on the penalty kill, while Kane averaged just two seconds per game. That's something not seen in other top offensive players.
7 Kane - The Panarin Effect
How does the old saying go? Something about great players making their teammates better? Now, I’m not saying Artemi Panarin is not a good hockey player, but I am suggesting that his Calder-winning rookie season was a direct result of being tethered to Kane all year.
If Panarin had been paired with anyone else in the league, there’s no way he would have put up a shocking 78 points in his first NHL season. Much like Kunitz leached off of Crosby for a few seasons, I believe that there’s an element of that going on with Panarin/Kane.
This isn’t the first time for Kane, either. Whether it’s been Brandon Saad, Dave Bolland, Brad Richards or any other player in the past, they’ve all excelled playing with Kane. Great players make players around them better, and that’s something Kane has been doing for years.
6 Toews - Plays Center
Everyone who understands hockey knows that an elite centerman is more valuable than an elite winger. Since Toews is an elite centerman and Kane is an elite winger, the edge can be given to Toews here simply based on the importance of their positions.
The responsibilities of a center trump those of a winger. First off, every single sequence starts with a centerman with a faceoff. The ability to win more than half of the faceoffs you take is huge, and in 2015-16 Toews won a whopping 58.6% of his draws, by far the highest on his team and among the league leaders. This alone could make him one of the best centers in the NHL. But his supreme scoring ability and knack for assists also help in that regard.
On top of that, a center has more defensive responsibilities than a winger. They’re counted on in more situations, and therefore are simply more valuable.
5 Kane - Attitude
Toews is the consummate leader, and as such he comes off as mild-mannered, polite, and dare I say somewhat joyless when he's both on and off the ice. The guy has barely been photographed smiling, and we’re talking about a man who’s won three Stanley Cups and two gold medals, some of the most prestigious honors a hockey player can claim.
Kane, conversely, wears his emotions on his jersey on a nightly basis. Exuberant goal celebrations, flashy plays, on-ice chirps—the guy gets involved that way, and that’s a good element to have in your game. Kane is a smaller player, under six feet tall and less than 180 pounds, but he makes up for the size with attitude.
Off the ice this cockiness has gotten Kane into some trouble (again, more on that in a bit), but on the ice it’s an asset for the Hawks and can’t be overlooked.
4 Toews - Captain Serious
While Patrick Kane is the fun-loving face of the franchise, Toews offsets that with his stone-cold demeanor. His actual nickname is captain serious, and all it takes is watching a few interviews with him for you to understand how he earned this alias. Sometimes that can be a bad thing; Toews, however, is lauded by his peers as someone who is as prepared as they come on game day, and demands respect off the ice just as much as he does on it.
After Toews scores a goal, he barely cracks a smile. He saves those painstaking practices for when he actually wins a Stanley Cup or a Gold Medal, and even then his elation appears far more hushed than that of his brethren.
With Kane filling the emotional role on the team, it’s important to have someone else on the other end of the spectrum. In this regard, Toews and Kane complement each other very well, and they provide an important balance for Chicago.
3 Kane - That Mullet
Having a player with great hockey hair on your team is always a great thing. It’s a way for a player to show that he embraces the culture of hockey, and fans love it as well. If you Google search it, you’ll find scores of articles and lists that pay homage to the hairstyles of hockey players past.
Patrick Kane has at points in his career been the owner of one of the more gnarly mullets the NHL has ever seen. The way his hair curls at the back lends itself perfectly to a greasy-looking mullet, and Kane has proudly rocked that look multiple times in the past.
Sure, the value of Kane’s mullet to Chicago is difficult to quantify, and furthermore it’s probably irrelevant to on-ice performance as a whole. Still, though, the fans have fun with it, and isn’t that what it’s all about in the end?
2 Toews - No Off-Ice Distractions
This item is more of a knock on Kane than it is a pro on Toews, but it nonetheless is very important and needs to be said. While Toews appears to be the epitome of class outside of the rink, Kane appears to be anything but.
It started several years ago, back in 2009 to be exact. Kane got arrested for assaulting a cab driver, delivering a punch to the cabbie over what was reportedly just $1.80 (or $0.80, depending on your source) in change the driver didn’t have on him. Seriously, what kind of millionaire does that? Then there was that infamous day/night out in Madison, well documented here.
The worst of all was last summer’s rape accusation. The charges were eventually dropped, but with many more stories of Kane’s indecencies coming to the forefront after the initial accusation, it’s difficult to believe that Kane is completely guilt-free in this.
1 Kane - Playoff Overtime Heroics
Earlier in this article we pointed out Toews’ inclination to come up big in the moments he’s most needed. Kane, on the other hand, has shown an incredible ability to show up in the most intense situation in hockey, and that’s Stanley Cup playoff overtime.
Kane has scored five playoff overtime goals, including his Stanley Cup-winning goal in overtime of Game 6 of the 2010 Final against the Flyers. Five may not seem like a high number, but it’s actually tied for third all-time, and is more than any current NHL player (including Jaromir Jagr, who has four).
He already has more than Wayne Gretzky, who registered four in his career. Joe Sakic is the all-time leader with eight, and Maurice Richard is second with six. At just 27 years old, Kane certainly has an opportunity to retire as the all-time leader in this statistical category.