It seems kind of silly that I feel the need to create this post, but here we are. Yesterday afternoon, Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews attempted to fight Anaheim Ducks pest Ryan Kesler, who had spent most of the first period antagonizing Toews in a number of ways. It culminated in Toews actually dropping the gloves and grabbing Kesler off the faceoff, but officials quickly intervened and the two were sent off for two minutes each.
Toews seems far more feisty 23 games into the 2015-16 season than he did in his previous eight seasons combined. After posting single fights in each of the 2008-09, 2009-10 and 2013 seasons, Toews already has two fights in the 2015-16 season and was nearly involved in a couple more.
I’m sure Joel Quenneville has made this clear to Toews, but the captain needs to stop getting involved in extracurriculars unless absolutely necessary. What qualifies as necessary? If he or a teammate is being dangerously harmed by an opponent, in my mind. That’s pretty much it.
So far this season, we’ve seen Toews get up in opponents’ grills seemingly over nothing. Of course, it probably wasn’t nothing each time; surely words were at least exchanged prior to the fisticuffs with New Jersey’s Adam Henrique and St. Louis’ David Backes, as well as in attempted/discussed fights with Calgary’s Brandon Bollig and Kesler. But they’re just words. No one is going to be put out of action for weeks or months by words. What I’m saying is, Toews needs to control his emotions a little better in these situations.
It’s interesting, because Toews is typically so locked in as Captain Serious, but some foes have gotten him to break in recent months. It was specifically disappointing to me that he engaged Kesler, who is only seeking that result with his consistent antics. He succeeded in his goal, and it ultimately hurts the Blackhawks (more on that later).
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Now there’s always the argument that a player needs to stand up for himself, and I get that. You can only handle so much talk — which is likely worse than what some fans could imagine — before you want to knock a guy out of his skates. Is Toews trying to set a tone for the Blackhawks that suggests “You won’t be intimidating us, either physically or verbally?” Perhaps. But he’s also setting a tone that you can get in the team’s collective head if you chirp enough. That’s certainly never been the case in previous seasons with Toews at the helm.
But there are two more things that are cause for concern beyond the mentality attached to the Blackhawks as a result of Toews’ actions. First, whenever Toews goes off the ice for a fighting or roughing penalty, or heaven forbid a game misconduct, it hurts the Blackhawks’ chances of winning. Not only is Toews the captain, he’s also a consistent faceoff winner and point producer. While two or five minutes in the box may not seem like much of a problem, consider how much time the Blackhawks needed to turn around yesterday’s game in Anaheim. In less than two minutes, the Blackhawks went from down 2-0 to tied at 2. That same thing can happen the other way, and it’s more likely to happen with Toews off the ice. Such comebacks would be harder to achieve as well.
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You can make the argument that Toews wouldn’t commit such penalties in crunch time, and I agree. But it doesn’t have to be crunch time for the penalties to hurt. There could be a five-minute stretch in the middle of a game where a team takes control and essentially decides the result. Having an all-around effective player like Toews sitting in the box when a team needs offensive production and sound defense is just painful.
Second, Toews has a history of concussions. Guys don’t have to get in a punch-for-punch slobberknocker to become concussed. They don’t even have to get in a real fight. What if Toews and Kesler tie up, then they go to the ice and Toews suffers whiplash or has his head hit the ice? Yes, this could happen with guys jostling for position around the net, but that’s something that happens over the course of trying to win a game. Intentionally putting yourself in harm’s way is a different story entirely.
While Toews’ intensity makes some guys uncomfortable on the ice (Bollig suggested he didn’t want to fight Toews after the latter accepted Bollig’s challenge, and Kesler backed down to some extent when Toews actually engaged him), other guys will just go to town on him. Other guys meaning Backes and Joe Thornton, guys who could put him on the shelf pretty easily (Thornton gave Toews a black eye in their 2013 bout).
Toews is a big boy and can make his own decisions, but I think it would be wise for him to reconsider the attitude he’s been taking on to the ice this season. Sometimes, things will happen in the heat of the moment. But a lot of what has happened this season has appeared drawn out or even pre-determined. If someone is spewing such verbal garbage that Toews can’t take it anymore, send Andrew Shaw, Ryan Garbutt or the otherwise-useless Brandon Mashinter out to shut up that opponent. Toews needs to stay on the ice as often as possible for the Blackhawks and get back to setting a tone of laser-focused intensity on scoring goals, taking faceoffs and winning games. The Blackhawks will benefit more from it than they do from him trying to drop the gloves.