Editorials

Chicago Blackhawks: Jonathan Toews’ Back Injury Officially A Concern

By Colin Likas
Nov 19, 2016; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Vancouver Canucks goaltender Jacob Markstrom (25) and defenseman Troy Stecher (51) defend against Chicago Blackhawks forward Jonathan Toews (19) during the third period at Rogers Arena. The Chicago Blackhawks won 4-3 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 19, 2016; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Vancouver Canucks goaltender Jacob Markstrom (25) and defenseman Troy Stecher (51) defend against Chicago Blackhawks forward Jonathan Toews (19) during the third period at Rogers Arena. The Chicago Blackhawks won 4-3 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports /
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The Chicago Blackhawks could be taking it slow with Jonathan Toews‘ injury, but there’s more to worry about than the injury’s effect on the present day

Six consecutive games is currently the injury ledger on Chicago Blackhawks center and captain Jonathan Toews. He’s been out that long due to a nagging back problem, though there was hope he could play in each of the team’s previous two games.

Toews’ next chance to suit up is Tuesday at home against Arizona, but regardless of whether he does or not, it’s probably time to be at least a little concerned about Toews’ injury.

Toews had a so-so start to the season with 12 points in 21 games, though he was obviously carrying the Blackhawks’ faceoff percentage to respectability. But this is about more than current stats, or even this current season.

Toews will return at some point soon. He was originally diagnosed with an upper-body injury, which everyone immediately feared was another concussion. It was later leaked that his injury was in fact to his back, which generated some sighs of relief. Maybe those were premature.

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Back injuries far from predictable

There are different degrees of injury in hockey. Blowing out your knee is certainly one thing. Then there’s always broken bones, damaged tendons and the ever-concerning concussions. These are among the things that make hockey fans (and certainly players) cringe.

But when you hear about a player having a back injury, unless there’s some sort of spinal fusion surgery involved, it doesn’t strike much of a chord for hockey fans. Hockey players compete through far worse injuries than a bad back, right?

Well, back injuries aren’t to be lumped into one singular category. There are a ton of muscles in the back, and there are a boatload of athletic movements that require the back to be properly executed.

That’s not even to mention how much attention a player’s back gets in hockey. Think about where Toews usually is on the ice. He gets right in front of the net or along the boards and is ultimately smacked or cross-checked in the back, time and again, by the opposition.

When Toews takes faceoffs, there’s a torquing motion with the back to help push the puck toward his teammates. If Toews wants to have any sort of speed push to be the first forward back on defense, that’s also going to take something out of his back. Skating isn’t just about the legs.

Now, we don’t know specifically where this back injury is, but that’s a lot of different (and important) areas that could be affected by the term “back injury.” And Toews continuing to miss time makes it more concerning, even if the Blackhawks are just playing it safe after piling up points early.

Then, there’s the contract

Of course, if Toews was a guy like Andrew Desjardins, Dennis Rasmussen, Richard Panik — more of a role player — fans would still probably shrug. That’s not to say any of those three or any other Blackhawks like them are unimportant, but they’re not a face of the franchise on and off the ice.

There’s also another matter in Toews’ contract. The longer Toews stays out with this back injury, the more it suggests he’s dealing with something nagging, something that won’t go away. Nagging injuries don’t tend to disappear once a player returns to the ice. They’re still oftentimes playing through something.

Age-wise, Toews is in his peak playing years. Which means his downside years are coming, also meaning injuries should start to catch up with him as he ages. A nagging back injury for an aging player is problematic enough.

Add a $10.5 million per year contract that last another six seasons after this one, and that’s one hell of a concern for Chicago to possibly deal with, especially since the team is constantly pushed against the salary cap.

Now, there’s always the chance Toews turns out totally fine from this. Players deal with injuries in different ways, and their bodies respond to them in different ways. This could be something Toews deals with just this season and it hardly ever comes up again.

But with each consecutive game Toews misses, there has to be mounting concern about everything I just mentioned. Add in the Blackhawks saying Toews’ injury was not getting better prior to Sunday’s game against Winnipeg, and there has to be some concern associated with the captain remaining on the sideline.

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