Chicago Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville watches as Chicago Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews, right, is ready to take the ice during the first period in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals in the NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoffs against the Los Angeles Kings Sunday, June 1, 2014, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
CHICAGO - Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane want to stay in Chicago, and the Blackhawks think the high-scoring forwards are a central part of their promising future.
Get ready for a pair of big contract extensions this summer.
With the Blackhawks still coming to grips with their dramatic loss in the Western Conference finals, general manager Stan Bowman said Tuesday that megadeals for Toews and Kane are his biggest priority this off-season.
"There's no doubt that's what we're gonna do," Bowman said. "We've made it clear. We've never wavered from that. There's no doubting the importance of those two players."
The Blackhawks selected Toews with the No. 3 pick in the 2006 draft, and grabbed Kane with the No. 1 overall selection the following year. They combined to lead Chicago out of a dark period to Stanley Cup titles in 2010 and 2013.
Toews and Kane each have one more year left on their contracts, and Bowman can officially start negotiating with two of the NHL's biggest stars on July 1.
"I know we both love it here in Chicago and we love playing here and having a chance to win every year," said Kane, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy last year as playoff MVP.
Toews expressed a similar sentiment.
"Who could ever think of a better situation to be in?" the captain said. "I think back to the day I was drafted, I had absolutely no idea that all this would be in store for me in my short career so far. I've been so fortunate to be a part an unbelievable group of guys, the majority of our team that has been together since I've been here. And just to see the growth of this franchise in the city of Chicago and the amazing fans we have here, there's no doubt in my mind that there's no better way to have it."
The Blackhawks had a chance for a second straight NHL title before they lost 5-4 to the Los Angeles Kings in overtime in Game 7 on Sunday night. Alec Martinez got the winning goal when his shot deflected off Chicago defenceman Nick Leddy and fluttered over goalie Corey Crawford.
If Chicago is able to retain Toews and Kane, it looks as if it could contend for the Stanley Cup for years to come. It is in a much better spot than it was following the 2010 title run, when the Blackhawks kept their core intact but parted with much of their supporting cast because of salary cap concerns.
Bowman thinks the roster will look largely the same when next season begins.
An overhaul "certainly is not warranted at this point," he said. "Our team performed very well in most areas of the game."
Patrick Sharp had a team-high 78 points during the regular season, but struggled for much of the playoffs. He had two goals in Game 7 against Los Angeles after scoring three in the first 18 playoff games, but if he was injured he wasn't saying.
"At this point in the year, everybody's got something going on," he said. "I'm not gonna make any excuses for the way I played at stretches of the playoffs."
It was a bitter finish for Sharp and for the Blackhawks. Instead of another Stanley Cup run, the attention turns toward the future.
Chicago needs some of its younger centres to develop quickly, including prospect Teuvo Teravainen. The promising 19-year-old forward from Finland played in three games for the Blackhawks this year and could take on a more prominent role next season.
"We're not going to put any pressure on him," Bowman said. "He's 19 years old still. The one thing we have done very well over the last few years is we've given players time to develop."
Coach Joel Quenneville said Teravainen "has skills to play here," but needs to add strength and develop the ability "to go into hard areas" on offence.
Forward Ben Smith and backup goalie Antti Raanta are restricted free agents. Brandon Saad will be after next season, and Bowman sounded as if he plans to keep all three players.
"That's the goal here is to keep this thing going," Bowman said. "I think the reason we've been able to do that is twofold. No. 1, we've been able to keep the main players together. But No. 2, we've been able to bring in some young players, and they've been able to support the role. We have to be able to continue to do that."