Since Jonathan Toews injured his back Nov. 23 in San Jose, the Blackhawks have handled his injury with the type of cautiousness any player deserves, let alone a franchise cornerstone.
They’ve let Toews skate and practice at his own pace. There’s been no outside pressure (that we know of) for the captain to push himself to get back. There’s been no let down in the locker room without the team’s top center playing in the past nine games.
There’s no rush. Period. And if the Hawks are going to make another run in the postseason, there shouldn’t be any now that Toews is joining the team on their three-game road trip.
Of course, it’s unknown if Toews will play in any of the games. Just the fact that he’s been frequently skating and is seeing some positive signs is more than encouraging for someone dealing with a nagging injury. Which is why the Hawks need to make sure he’s 100 percent healthy before getting back to playing. Anything below that won’t cut it.
Simply put: The Hawks cannot afford to sacrifice one of it’s best three players in the short term. This roster doesn’t have enough reinforcements to compete in the long term should Toews’ injury start bothering him again.
The worst thing that happens with a couple more games, or weeks, off for Toews is Chicago drops a few games. Even if the eight teams behind the first place Hawks somehow leapfrog past them in the Western Conference, it’s still not worth jeopardizing the health of a guy who is key to postseason success.
This is exactly why winning early in the season matters so much. Not because a team could clinch the President’s Trophy, or lock up the division or get a favorable matchup in the playoffs. Points in October, November and December are a special kind of currency. They’re an insurance policy most teams aren’t able to take out. Every team at some point or another will deal with injuries during an 82-game season. There are only a handful of them that can brush it off.
In Chicago’s case, it’s captured 14 of a possible 18 points without Toews in the lineup. The Artemi Panarin-Artem Anisimov-Patrick Kane line is returning to its form for a season ago. And that’s to say nothing of a revitalized Marian Hossa and his 15 goals — tied for fourth in the league.
Imagine how much of a boost a healthy Toews will provide the 37-year-old winger. Imagine how much stronger this team becomes with two legitimate scoring lines.
Imagine how easily that can disappear if Toews tries to come back too soon.
"It is the type of injury that's really tough," Toews told reporters last weekend. "You almost have to sit around and wait for it to heal and get better. Sometimes you feel good and all of a sudden you do some little movements here or there that seem to just fire everything up. So yeah, I guess in that sense it is frustrating."
Toews went on to say if this were the postseason he’d be playing right now. That’s great. It’s the mentality hockey players are revered for and helps supply an endless and absurd memes explaining why LeBron James isn’t tough.
But this isn’t the postseason. It’s December. And Toews had been playing since the World Cup of Hockey in early September. He has just four goals and eight assists on the year, and as much as we can talk about his lack of productive wingers, Toews is considered one of league’s superstars despite having shown much of that this season. A long break away, a chance to get fully healthy and a return to a team on the roll can only help the center find his rhythm on offense.
The Hawks have done the right thing so far. There’s no need for them to try handling this any other way.