Every great era must, and take its place in history. As a sports team, the Chicago Blackhawks were the NHL's gold standard for years. The team won three Stanley Cups from 2009 to 2015. There's no doubt that players from that team will make their way in the Hockey Hall of Fame, the only real question is, how many?
Leading the charge during that span was Jonathan Toews, aka, "Captain Serious". Toews has shown up to play every time he's on the ice, and even if he hasn't always been 100%, it was obvious he was committed to his task. This is why, as the team's captain, a decorated and respected leader, Toews' comments this season have become so frustrating.
Wednesday afternoon (March 23), Toews answered some questions from Chicago Tribune reporter Phil Thompson. Excerpts were posted to Thompson's Twitter account, but this one (posted below) has spread rapidly:
There are mixed messages here, and a lot of honest sentiment. In fact, these comments from the team's captain are maybe even too sincere. Back in 2020, when Stan Bowman was the General Manager, the Blackhawks had formally announced the team was rebuilding, and Toews reacted very much the same way. Scott King of NBC quoted an article from Mark Lazerus at The Athletic where Toews said,
"“Bottom line is, I want to win,” Toews told Lazerus. “The expectation for the other leaders on this team and myself is to come ready to training camp every year to be a playoff team. We prepare ourselves to win a Cup for our fans. I’ve never been told that we were going through a rebuild. That has never been communicated to me, for that matter. A lot of this comes as a shock because it’s a completely different direction than we expected.”"
The difference then is that Bowman did an about-face and tried to turn the team into a contender in just one off-season. We've all seen how this year has played out, and know that the efforts to re-tool the roster were expensive and ineffective. Now, Toews is looking at a situation where he knows that the team is going to be bad for a few years, but he'll be due a new contract. It's hard not to hear Toews' comments and feel a bit concerned about his role as the team's captain.
What may be the biggest issue is that, Toews' obvious could just be chalked up to him being hyper-competitive, but these opinions aren't necessarily conducive to creating a "winning culture". Mario Tirbasi at CHGO sports said it right.
If Toews wants to compete, and win more, then he can ask to be traded. I'm sure Kyle Davidson will do his best to find a team that would take on Chicago's captain. As long as he doesn't disclose that he may have talked about a deal with Kyle Dubas in Toronto, then the whole thing will go very smoothly. Probably.
On the other hand, Toews may want to take a hard look in the mirror. He's the captain, and he's won A LOT during his career. At the moment though, he's racked up 25 points (8 G, 17 A) in 52 games this season, and is being paid 10.5 million dollars per year. If he were playing up to the level of that contract, then the Blackhawks might be in a better position right now.
Toews is clearly unhappy, and that's understandable. Chicago has been a strong team for pretty much his entire career. None of that should matter though. As the person that leads the team, Toews has to set the tone for everyone else. If the captain is talking about how disappointed he is, and imagining what it's like to be traded to the reporters, it's hard not to wonder if he's not already looking for a way out.
As an aside, Calvin de Haan had some interesting comments about the fact that he wasn't traded. What stood out the most though from an article for NBC by Charlie Roumeliotis was his reaction to the state of the team, and how the season played out.
""I'm not young in hockey years anymore, unfortunately," de Haan said. "It would've been nice to get some playoff hockey in again. But we can always treat these 20 games left as playoff hockey for the Blackhawks. There's no reason why we can't be competitive and maybe embrace that underdog role a little bit more than we have in the past. It's a good opportunity for everybody, really. "You've got to still be a pro and guys are trying to make impressions. It doesn't matter if you're UFA or restricted or you have a 10 or eight-year deal, it doesn't make a difference. You've still got to obviously go to work every day. It is what it is.""
That's light years away from Toews' attitude, and de Haan sounds more like a leader than Captain Serious. If I had to choose what kind of outlook I wanted to see in the locker room, it wouldn't be Toews', and that's a problem. Rebuilding doesn't just mean re-stocking the organizational depth with talented players, it means resetting the mindset of going out to compete, no matter what the odds. With Chicago fully embracing its status as a rebuilding team, maybe it's time to consider a new captain. The Blackhawks will need to transition away from Toews and Kane at some point anyway. Giving another player the "C" could be a good first step.