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Jonathan Toews’ resurgent season with the Blackhawks

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The Captain found his old form in the 2018-19 season.

Chicago Blackhawks v Arizona Coyotes Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Jonathan Toews’ numbers were declining for several seasons. His goal totals dropped from 28 to 21 to 20, assists from 37 to 32 and his points from 66 to 58 (twice) to 52. Plus, he was turning 30 years old. So, surely, the best of Toews’ NHL production was firmly in the rearview mirror.

The Blackhawks captain had the best numbers of his career in 2018-19, setting career-highs in goals (35), assists (46) and points (81). The only time Toews came close to this level of production was the shortened 2013 season, when he had 23 goals and 25 assists in 47 games.

Chicago’s power play improvement did help, with Toews notching nine goals and 14 assists on the man advantage, numbers he hadn’t hit since ‘10-11. But the most noticeable change was in shooting percentage. After posting numbers of 10.6 and 9.5 in the last two seasons, Toews’ shooting percentage soared up to 14.9, not far from his 14.1 career average. Combine that with 354 shots on goal — another career-best — and there’s the simple explanation for why Toews had such a turnaround season.

The analytics tell a stranger story.

The staunchest Toews supporters, in the last few seasons, have pointed to Toews’ positive metrics as indication that he was still performing at a high level but was victim of some unfortunate luck — at least somewhat corroborated by the decreases in shooting percentage. But all of Toews’ possession metrics regressed last season. The even-strength numbers from the last seasons are detailed in the chart below, with all data coming from Corsica:

Although the production on the front end improved, the majority of the numbers on the back end decreased. Toews had virtually identical zone starts in each of the last five seasons, and his possession metrics were typically some of the best on the team. Even the loss of linemate Marian Hossa after the ‘16-17 season didn’t hurt Toews’ analytics. There’s nothing in the above numbers that suggests Toews is due for a massive market correction next season. It’s not like the recent roller-coaster ride for Los Angeles Kings center Anze Kopitar, whose shooting percentage numbers went from 8.0 in ‘16-17 to an unsustainable 17.5 the following season before returning to 14.1 in the most recent season (career average of 12.7).

In fact, there’s an argument to be made that, should Toews improve his possession numbers next season and find a way to produce at the same rate, his numbers could be even better in the next 82 games. But let’s save that discussion for September.

One cause for concern

It’s a good thing Toews’ offensive numbers were so much better in ‘18-19, because one area of his defensive game cratered: the penalty kill. The numbers below detail Corsi events, shots, goals and expected goals against per 60 minutes of PK time, beginning with the ‘16-17 season and ending with ‘18-19:

  • CA/60: 105.44, 104.95, 114.05
  • SA/60: 58.36, 57.24, 69.05
  • GA/60: 11.27, 9.06, 12.47
  • xGA/60: 7.57, 7.59, 10.43

They all went up sharply last season, which means opponents were getting more chances, shots and goals on the PK while Toews was on the ice. And Toews’ numbers were among some of the worst in the league. Per Corsica’s data, among NHL forwards who played at least 50 minutes on the penalty kill last season, Toews’ CA/60 was 7th-worst, his SA/60 was 4th-worst, his GA/60 was 2nd-worst and his xGA/60 was the worst in the league. A few of Toews’ teammates pop up in the top 10 of those statistics, but Toews had the worst numbers in each category. That specific part of Toews’ game is the biggest area where he can improve in next season to help the Hawks get back to the playoffs.

s/t to Shalyn Brady for compiling the statistics