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A reminder of what Jonathan Toews can contribute to the Blackhawks

Does anybody remember this guy? No, just me? Okay.

Chicago Blackhawks v Vegas Golden Knights - Game Five
Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks celebrates a goal in the 2020 NHL playoffs
Getty Images

Hey, remember this one Blackhawks center from 2009-2020?

This guy who was the team captain — the youngest in Blackhawk history — who led the team to three Stanley Cups, including winning the Conn Smythe for the first Cup in Chicago since 1961?

No, just me? Okay.

Well, his name is Jonathan Toews and while he spent the 2021 season out with ... something, he is expected to be back in ‘21-22. Just in case you need a reminder of whatg what that actually means to the Blackhawks on the ice, here’s what Toews did last season:

These maps show where more shots come from (red) versus where fewer shots come from (blue) as opposed to league average when an individual is on the ice versus when they’re on the bench.

Toews has elevated his offensive production in recent seasons, going from 52 points in 74 games in ‘17-18 to 81 points in 82 games in ‘18-19 to 60 points in 70 games in ‘19-20. A large part of that drop-off was Toews’s goals being cut in half (going from 35 to 18), a result of a drop in his shooting percentage (14.83 percent to 10.47) and his shooting rate (8.22 shots per 60 to 7.45).

However, Toews’s special team minutes may play into those per-60 rates falling. Toews played the exact same amount of minutes per game on the power play (3:21) while playing more penalty kill time (2:02 in 19-20 versus 1:47 in 18-19).

Toews remained a dominant player on the puck, as his giveaways fell (from 1.81 per 60 to 1.73) and his takeaways remained consistent (2.51 per 60). Toews continued to drive high-danger chances and his points themselves remained close, as he went from 2.82 points per 60 in 18-19 to 2.6 in 19-20. That’s largely because of his improvement in primary assists (1.01 to 1.04).

Part of that is who Toews played with, as Toews and Dominik Kubalik were an excellent duo together. Toews played his best hockey with Kubalik last season. All of his possession numbers (with the lone exception of high-danger chance percentage) went up at 5-on-5 with Kubalik, all while taking a more defensive role.

Toews had the best goals above replacement (11.2) and wins above replacement (2) marks for the Blackhawks in ‘19-20. That’s in large part due to the offensive production Toews represented, as he had 14.6 offensive GAR. It was an improvement over his 18-19 numbers when he had 12.8 oGAR.

There are some things to be cautious of when expecting Toews back, however. Early in his career, Toews made his name as one of the best two-way forwards in the NHL. He may no longer be in that category, though, as his defense has fallen off in recent years.

Toews’s expected GAR versus his real GAR is a night-and-day difference. Despite 6.4 expected offensive GAR, Toews’s full xGAR was 0. That’s largely because of his -5.6 expected defensive GAR, an improvement from his -7.8 the season before.

Toews is still good on the shorthanded units, but his even-strength defense has been better and putting him with more defensive wingers like Kubalik (and Saad in ‘19-20) helps balance him out now that he’s in the latter stages of his career. That may mean a Kubalik-Toews duo with Philipp Kurashev or Brandon Hagel as the third linemate next season. It could also result in Alex DeBrincat joining a line with Toews, as DeBrincat took a step forward defensively this season, which would then free up Patrick Kane in an attempt to maximize another winger’s offensive potential (perhaps a Kane-Kirby Dach-Pius Suter line).

While Toews may not be the same player defensively, his offense made up for it in ‘19-20 and it could happen again, especially if Kubalik is back on his line in ‘21-22. It’s also the case that many players are suffering defensively under the current coaching staff, but Toews’s defensive struggles began towards the end of Joel Quenneville’s tenure (Toews dropped off initially sometime near 2015 and then really dropped off in 2017).

Toews was one of the better high-danger chance drivers on the Blackhawks’ roster in ‘19-20. His 47.29 HDCF% was a marked improvement over his 43.62 in the previous season. He is a player who has been missed, both on the power play and at 5-on-5. Kubalik was better with him in 19-20 than he was without him in 2021.

Putting him back in to the lineup will be a positive addition, even if he’s a player who needs to see more of an offensive role than he did in his 20s.