There was an interview with Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews in Sportsnet recently that I had missed until it was discussed by CSN Chicago’s Charlie Roumeliotis on Tuesday night. In it Toews talks about changing his training routine after being disappointed with his performance last season.
But more than the admittance that he “might have overdone it” with his training regimen in 2016, I thought this paragraph from the center stood out.
“When you see the top players nowadays they’re all on the ice,” said Toews. “They’re on the ice all the time just working on skill and that’s something I’m really going to focus on going forward. Just getting back to playing with the puck, knowing that that’s the type of player I am, and not just being overly concerned with the defensive two-way hockey but knowing that I can go out there and contribute with the best of them, too, if I put my mind to it a little bit more.”
One of the most common reasons that fans give for Toews’ offensive performance, which has ranged from elite at his peak to merely good last season, is that he’s so focused on playing a two-way game. It’s not inaccurate to say that Toews has taken on difficult assignments with the Hawks, but this was always couched as a reason for why he should be considered better than his point production would indicate.
However, this sounds like Toews saying that approach might change soon. Of course he’ll always prioritize being a solid defensive center, but the message here seems to be that playing at a faster pace and pushing for more offense is what will get Toews back where he needs to be.
“I came into the season and just couldn’t move, just felt slow. I mean the game is so fast nowadays. It’s kind of a wake-up call in that sense,” he told Sportsnet.
This is pretty interesting to me. First, you have the dynamic where Toews has put up back-to-back 58-point seasons that don’t quite match up with his $10.5 million cap hit, even if you love what he brings defensively and in the faceoff circle. He’s been a point-per-game player in the past, but that was years ago. Getting closer to that level of production, even if not all the way, would be huge.
And then there’s the reality that the Blackhawks will likely need to score a lot next season. The defense just lost Niklas Hjalmarsson, Brian Campbell, and Trevor van Riemsdyk. They’re being replaced with Connor Murphy, Gustav Forsling, and either Jan Rutta, Ville Pokka, or someone who isn’t even in the organization yet. Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are also a year older, and who knows how they’ll continue aging.
Oh, and you’ve gone from an elite backup in Scott Darling to an unproven (albeit talented) one in Anton Forsberg.
So the Blackhawks’ goal prevention for next season is a massive question mark. They finished 10th in goals allowed last season, largely because their goaltending was so good. They were a middle-of-the-pack team in shot prevention last season with a very good defender in Hjalmarsson. Corey Crawford will likely be asked to do more than ever next season to keep this team in games.
As a result of all that, there seems to be a recognition that this team can’t keep playing the way it did last season and maintain its footing in the modern NHL. Stan Bowman more or less said it during the Blackhawks TV preview special.
Stan Bowman says in TV preview the 2017-18 Blackhawks will be a “different team” with a “new identity” after offseason changes— Satchel Price (@SatchelPrice) August 22, 2017
The blue line will be much younger, but the skating ability of Murphy and Forsling offers some upside if things come together. The coaching staff also has a different look, which wasn’t done for no reason. Given that Hjalmarsson didn’t NEED to be traded and Campbell didn’t NEED to be let go, it seems like these were deliberate choices by the Blackhawks to change how they play.
So maybe I’m stretching this quote from Toews beyond the initial point, but it’s interesting to see where this Blackhawks season could be heading based on the crumbs.
Toews is back with Brandon Saad, and the goal there is clearly to get the team back to having multiple high-level scoring lines (with Patrick Kane anchoring the other). Maybe Alex DeBrincat is thrown into the mix if they’re really trying to remake this team into a more offensive-minded one. Or at least one that’s focused more on possessing the puck and pushing for chances than the counter-attacking style they’ve settled into the past two years.
I’m intrigued. It’s all intriguing. The Blackhawks are going to look a lot different next season. October should be fun.