It was plain to everyone: Jonathan Toews struggled this season. Captain Serious had a serious drop off in production and it launched the many rumors of trades or retirement swirling through the air. We know Toews has been through a lot, especially considering this was his first season coming off of his battle with Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome. Then, finally when he was back on the ice, the team was the most uncompetitive they've been since Toews was drafted in 2007. You can read more about his disdain and frustration in my article from last week about his future.
But they say it's not about how you start it's about how you finish. And it seems as though Toews was finally starting to break out and return to what we've become accustomed to as "vintage Toews form." This of course has its caveats. Toews is 34. There is a lot of mileage on his body from three Stanley Cup Championship runs and two extra Conference Finals runs as well. Gone are the days of face off dominance and 4< point games. We are in a new era of "mature" Toews, and we must learn to accept it, as does he. Regardless, here is why his conclusion to the season leaves me with optimism for the future.
Through the first 52 games that Toews played this season, he was met with a lot of questions: How would his body hold up this season? Would he be the same player? How would he lead a team that was struggling mightily under former coach Jeremy Colliton? How would he handle the pressure of playing despite the off-the-ice noise? How would he lead the team under new coach, Derek King? These questions, among other, were ringing in fans' ears leading up to and throughout the season. This did nothing but mount serious pressure for Toews who struggled for his first time under the expectations of being a leader during a rebuild, which he admitted as such, which you can read about here.
All that pressure and the losing and the feeling of being in a dead end and not knowing your own capabilities anymore really had an effect on Toews and that is when the trade and retirement rumors began, which added more pressure. Ultimately, by the trade deadline on March 21, 2022, Toews was having a very underwhelming season.
Through 52 games, Toews had only recorded 25 points and had a faceoff win percentage of over 70 only 9 times. Pretty underwhelming for Captain Serious. It is clear all of this external pressure and the struggles within the team had its effect on Toews.
I think the trade talks were starting to get to him. Knowing it's a rebuild, he had a feeling nobody was safe, even stalwarts like him and Patrick Kane. He said as much to Mark Lazerus of The Athletic back in March.
Finally, the trade deadline passed. Breathe. Exhale. Relax. Toews was finally able to do all of that. And once that relief set in that he wasn't going anywhere, is when we saw him start to give hints of returning to the Toews of old. In his final 19 games (post-trade deadline), Toews scored 12 total points and had a faceoff winning percentage over 70% 5 times. Aside from the numbers, Toews seemed to just be quicker, playing smarter, leading the way he knew how. There might still be something there.
So what does this mean? First, it could mean that Toews might be a legitimate option for the Blackhawks to carry with them through the rebuild. Maybe, just maybe Toews would be able to produce at a high enough level that he could be with the team when they are ready to compete again. Though, i think that is a romantic thought at best. Realistically, Toews probably will not be on the level needed by the time the Blackhawks are competing again.
Alternatively, this uptick in production could prove to be valuable in trade options this offseason. But it all depends on where Toews wants to go. He surely wants to go to a contending team, but those teams often have their "captain" role occupied. Would Toews be willing to give up the leadership? That is the question he must reflect on as he spends time away from hockey this offseason. If he is up for a trade, some interesting options could be available, which you can read about here.
Toews story has been a fun one to follow. We all have great memories of peak-Toews and he was always built to be a leader. It was genuinely sad to see his fall off in production and inability on the ice. It's like the first time you see Superman exposed to Kryptonite. To see Toews weaknesses become apparent is very humbling and shocking. Thankfully he seemed to start to turn a corner at season's end. I can't wait to see how he might do after a full offseason of training, whether he is with the Blackhawks or another team.