From handing out tickets on the street to hoisting three Stanley Cups, the Blackhawks core four of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, and Brent Seabrook have done and seen a lot. But there's one thing they have yet to experience: a rebuild.
After being the youngest team to participate in last season's 24-team postseason, the Blackhawks organization finally admitted to the fan base, and quite frankly themselves, that the team is going through a rebuild. But not all rebuilds are built the same. The Blackhawks are not shipping out veteran players for draft picks as frequently as most teams in a rebuild would, but there is definitely a transition in place. One thing that the Blackhawks have that most other teams in this situation don't is experience.
The core four of Toews, Kane, Keith, and Seabrook have played a combined 4,168 regular-season games and 531 playoff games. It is a unique situation for any professional sports team to have four players with this type of longevity. These four have seen the United Center go from an empty arena to a sellout crowd game in and game out. They have played in overtime games, Game 7's, Stanley Cup Finals, and Olympic medal games, but nothing has prepared them for what's next. Their next challenge will be leading a team of young, unproven players in a league that becomes more and more competitive each year.
The Power of Mentorship
Everyone in the hockey world knows of Brent Seabrook's contract. It undoubtedly appears near the top of every "worst contract in hockey" ranking list. But to understand Seabrook's true worth, you need to look further than his play on the ice.
Seabrook is a quintessential "locker room guy". He has done and seen everything there is to in the world of hockey, and he's quick to share this knowledge with teammates. Though his presence may not result in assists or game-winning goals of the past, his mark on the Blackhawks is undeniable.
Along with Seabrook, Duncan Keith has taken on the role of mentor for the Blackhawks' young group of defensemen. Keith has made his home on the Blackhawks top pair for a decade. Whenever the team inserts a young defenseman into the lineup, Keith is tasked with anchoring the top pair, in a way sheltering the young player. And he does this while playing 25 minutes a game. Adam Boqvist will continue to rely on Keith as a mentor while rookie Ian Mitchell will undoubtedly find time paired with Keith this upcoming season.
Up front, the Blackhawks have two of the top 100 greatest players in NHL history. Fans have watched Jonathan Toews go from a fiery leader ready to snap at any second to a poised captain who seems just about unflappable. When the Blackhawks drafted Kirby Dach third overall in 2019, there is no question he would learn from one of the best to ever play the center position. Dach's quick rise as a dependable center iceman has much to do with the teammate showing him the ropes.
Lastly, Patrick Kane is arguably one of the best players to ever don an NHL jersey. With players such as Alex DeBrincat and Dominik Kubalik working to become elite goal scorers in the best league in the world, there is no better player than Patrick Kane for them to watch and learn from on a daily basis.
A Lasting Legacy
The Stanley Cup banners will hang in the rafters of the United Center forever. The faces of the Blackhawks' core four will eventually be enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame. But there is one thing that this group has yet to accomplish; leading the youngest team with the youngest coach in the NHL back to the (non-expanded) playoffs and into another competitive window for years to come. There is no group in the league more capable of doing it than the Blackhawks' core four.