No surprise: Toews and Kane believe Hawks can turn things around in a hurry
Professional athletes are nothing if not extremely optimistic.
No matter how bleak things may appear from the outside, most pros believe they can win the next game, climb out of a deep hole in the standings or compete for a playoff spot when each season begins.
So it should come as no surprise that Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Seth Jones and coach Derek King all wholeheartedly think the massive rebuilding project the Blackhawks are supposedly about to undergo may go quicker than many anticipate.
"It's all noise," Kane said after practice Tuesday. "You can talk about 'rebuild.' It seems like that word is brought up a lot. But as a player it's more about trying to be the best you can be and try to help the team win.
"And I think there's parts of our team where we can come back next year and surprise some people and win a lot of hockey games."
Toews echoed those beliefs before the Hawks beat Vegas 4-3 in a shootout in their home final Wednesday.
"That's an opinion that Kaner and myself definitely share and we deserve to express," Toews said. "Like we've seen with other teams, things can turn around pretty quickly.
"If a lot of different guys are given the right environment and right opportunity and keep taking steps forward, things can turn around pretty fast. It's a fine line these days in the league."
The cynics will chuckle or flat-out blast these comments. The Hawks, after all, are 28-42-11 for a reason. There are gaping holes everywhere and there aren't any up-and-coming superstars in the pipeline.
But to believe Kane, Toews, Jones and King all live in a dream world would be a mistake.
"You can win and still be in a rebuild. There's teams that have accelerated that too, right?" said Kane, who pointed to the L.A. Kings and New York Rangers as good examples.
There are certainly parts to build around, starting with Kane, who has 92 points despite the fact he's dealt with an injury all season and has been the focal point of every opponent's game plan.
Let's not forget that Alex DeBrincat is a bona fide superstar scorer, Jones a true No. 1 defenseman and Lukas Reichel a forward who's on the rise. Also, Toews has shown improvement and still plays a full 200-foot game.
After that, there are plenty of questions.
Does GM Kyle Davidson re-sign Dylan Strome? Can Kirby Dach take a significant step? How much untapped potential is there in Taylor Raddysh? Just how good can all of these young defensemen be?
Will Davidson add the right free agents? Is he going to hit on multiple draft picks this year? And next? Could the Hawks win the draft lottery in 2023 and snag generational talent Connor Bedard?
Will Davidson hire the right coach?
And who will be manning the pipes? Next year's a crapshoot, but if Drew Commesso emerges as a legit goalie in 2023-24 -- and a few of the aforementioned question marks become exclamation points -- perhaps this "accelerated rebuild" dream becomes reality.
"All this pain, all the ups and downs of the season has to be for something," Toews said. "Each guy has to figure out what that means to him and what they want out of their life and their hockey career.
"If we can all find ways to be better individual players and people and teammates, then I think there's huge potential there."
That's quite a statement from Toews, almost Michael Jordan-like when you think about it. Figure out what you want out of your life and your hockey career.
So are you willing to do the hard work? Or are you off on vacation for a month?
When the 1995 Bulls season ended in a crushing defeat to the Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference semifinals, Jordan told his trainer he'd see him the next day.
He worked his tail off to get back to being the player he used to be. And he dragged his teammates along during the next training camp.
And what happened? The Bulls put together the best season in NBA history, going 72-10 and eventually claiming a fourth title in six years.
The Hawks are obviously not anything like those Bulls. But the young players need mentors if they are to improve and reach their potential.
"You've got to add a couple of older guys," King said.
Without these voices -- of which the Hawks don't have enough of -- it's easy for young players to drift off course. Coaches can only say so much before it becomes white noise.
Dach, in particular, could use someone to help him become everything he can be.
"I'm not saying he's not a good pro," King said, "but there's a big learning curve there. He's still got lots to learn. He's young and he's a good hockey player."
As for Toews, he was hoping to produce more than the 12 goals and 25 assists he had heading into Wednesday's game, but he also realizes that coming back after a year off was harder than he thought.
"It was a tough year in a lot of ways, but more than anything, it was a huge learning experience," he said. "I feel like I learned more about myself and the game than any of those years where we were on top of the world. It wasn't easy, but definitely a lot of blessings in there."
A moment later, Toews was asked if he expects to return after his contract expires in summer 2023.
"I'm not going to comment on after next season because I have no idea," said Toews, who added that the trials of the past few years have taught him to stay in the moment. "I'm not going to think about that too much and just going to enjoy this offseason.
"Just love every part of the process of getting myself ready for next year and ... feeling like myself again and just kind of take next year however it comes."