Before we head into the weekend, let’s dial back to Wednesday and some comments made by Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews.
The full text of what Toews said is available here, via NBC Sports Chicago.
Phil Thompson of the Chicago Tribune also tweeted a few videos to provide an accurate portrayal of Toews’ tone as he spoke:
The one thought that kept running through my mind after reading Toews’ comments and listening to how he spoke was something like this:
The character traits that made Toews the right captain for the Blackhawks when they were thriving could make him the wrong captain for the Blackhawks when they are rebuilding.
Every hockey leadership cliché matches up with Toews’ sports persona, the kind of personality that led Chicago to hand Toews the “C” back in 2008, when he was only 20 years old. With Toews as the team’s undisputed leader, it enjoyed one of the best runs by any professional sports team in the salary cap era. Perhaps no moment signified Toews’ attitude better than the intermission before overtime in Game 7 of the 2013 Western Conference Quarterfinals against the Detroit Red Wings. After a game-winning, series-clinching goal was overturned in the final minutes of regulation, Toews famously told his team that they’d just win 3-1 in overtime. That undaunted, determined demeanor was indicative of the collective mindset of that entire team during that zenith of Blackhawks hockey.
But the team’s in a wildly different place right now. The Blackhawks may not reach the postseason for several more years, let alone make a run at a potential Stanley Cup that would be the fourth of Toews’ career. Someone like Toews may get sick of all that losing, all that disappointment — and Brent Seabrook isn’t around anymore to talk some sense into Toews as things spiral out of the captain’s control.
Toews’ age is another obvious factor here. Approaching his 34rd birthday, Toews likely knows the remaining clock on his NHL career is running out and if he doesn’t wish to be part of a rebuild, that’s completely fair. There really isn’t much else left that Toews can give to this franchise that he hasn’t already.
And Toews’ frustration is understandable, considering his journey through the last few years. Prior to this season, Toews’ last game was in the Stanley Cup Playoffs (feel free to add an asterisk here if you like). As Toews emerged from the ailment that sidelined him for the entire 2021 season, Chicago made several summer moves — acquiring Seth Jones and Marc-Andre Fleury chief among them — which suggested that the Blackhawks were done missing out on the playoffs. And then the team lost 11 of its first 12 while off-ice mistakes of the past were brought to light, effectively ending the ‘21-22 season by Thanksgiving. It’s hard to blame Toews for being discouraged by the team’s shift in trajectory from mild ascension to downward spiral.
At the same time, though, it’s not a good look for the team’s captain to be airing grievances publicly like this. Toews did say that he’s had good communication with general manager Kyle Davidson and used the word “sincere” to describe Chicago’s newest GM. But making public comments tends to lead to even more questions for Toews down the road, raising the potential for future controversies based around how Toews’ answers to those questions. If Toews had responded like Patrick Kane — who politely dodged the question by tabling it for future discussion — then the only talk this week would’ve been on Monday’s trades and the games that followed.
This saga isn’t over. As soon as this season ends, the No. 1 question for Davidson will likely be updates on the futures of Toews and Kane. While Kane has bought himself for time with his answer, Toews’ comments this week ensure the spotlight on his future plans will not be dimming.
For a player who’s entire persona seems to be antithetical to everything associated with a rebuild, it’s fair to wonder if Toews will be a good fit in the locker room as Chicago embarks on this new path, one that’s miles away from what Toews has experienced throughout the majority of his career.