As the son and nephew of many, many Baby Boomers, I’ve heard the term “life isn’t fair” more than I can count.
“Rub some dirt on it and move on.”
But it’s never that simple. Sunday afternoon, the Blackhawks announced that team captain Jonathan Toews, who has not played a game since January 28, would be shutting down his season indefinitely due to the effects of long COVID and the Chronic Immune Response Syndrome that cost him the entire 2021 season.
Toews, who is in the last year of his contract with Chicago, was spending most of this season considering his future. Would he waive his no-trade clause for a chance at a Stanley Cup run? Would he opt to stay through the end of the year and test the free agent waters? Would he re-sign in Chicago? Would he retire? Whichever of those outcomes he would have chosen, it would have been on his own terms.
Instead, Toews is the victim of something he cannot control. One of the game’s most legendary and decorated (though imperfect) captains has to sit at home hoping things get better, and it sucks. It’s not fair to him and it’s not fair to the Blackhawk fans who want to send him off in style, whether that’s this year or two or three years from now.
“It has been really challenging to play through these symptoms,” Toews said in a statement. “In the last few weeks, it has reached the point where I had no choice but to step back and concentrate on getting healthy.”
“I had no choice.”
Talk about unfair.
There is a chance that Toews does return for the end of the season. “We’ll take it day by day, but the hope is that he can still play some games here down the stretch,” Davidson said.
I hope that happens.
Toews deserves a night like Patrick Kane had after his hat trick Sunday night, where for 60 minutes, the clock was turned back and everyone remembered the glory days again. Even if he can’t put together a four-point night like Kane did, the acknowledgement would be enough. The Blackhawks fans went out of their way to make Kane feel the love before he even scored Sunday night. Blackhawks fans know what might be coming in a couple of weeks, and they wanted to make sure Kane knew how they felt about him. Toews may never get that chance.
If this is truly the end for Toews, either in Chicago or in the NHL, I hope Blackhawks fans remind themselves how great he was.
Take a look at this image from The Athletic, illustrating Toews’ greatness from 2009-2014.
There was a five-year period where he was one of the game’s all-time greats. Even when the dominance dropped off, he remained one of hockey’s finest all-around forwards. In 2017, he was named to the NHL’s Top 100 all-time list.
Jonathan Toews will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. He will have his number retired and a statue at the United Center, but he deserves better than the hand he’s been dealt.
Get well soon, Captain.
The Week Ahead
Tuesday, February 21 vs Vegas Golden Knights
7:30 pm on NBC Sports Chicago & WGN Radio
The next two games for the Blackhawks feature two of the teams that could end up being destinations for Patrick Kane, should he agree to waive his no-movement clause. With Mark Stone on long-term injured reserve, the Knights find themselves with $9.5 million in cap space. Remember, once the playoffs begin, there is no salary cap.
Winners of five in a row, Vegas is now clinging to the top spot in the Pacific Division with 72 points. L.A. and Seattle are right on their heels with 71 and 70, respectively. Like most Stanley Cup contenders, they are deep, but might lack the firepower to contend against some of the league’s true elite teams. If they could bring in a weapon like Kane, or even a lesser forward like Detroit’s Tyler Bertuzzi, it could be enough for them to pull off a long playoff run. Vegas always likes to make a deadline splash. I’m thinking this year will be no exception.
Wednesday, February 22 @ Dallas Stars
8:30 pm on TNT & WGN Radio
Like Vegas, the Dallas Stars are clinging to first place in the Central Division. Also like Vegas, the Stars are a much-rumored destination for Patrick Kane. In fact, The Athletic called the potential trade a “perfect fit.” I’m not sure I’d agree with that, as Dallas doesn’t have a first-round pick in the loaded 2023 draft, and that will surely be Davidson’s primary focus as it pertains to trade returns. That said, if Kane says he wants to be traded to only one or two teams, the Blackhawks’ options will be limited and they may have to accept a less-than-ideal return.
As for the Stars as currently constructed, it’s the Jason Robertson show. Yes, Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn and all the Stars of yore are still there and playing well, but Robertson is one of the league’s brightest young stars. Unfortunately, due to the NHL’s inability to promote anyone aside from Connor McDavid, Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin and the Bruins, he’s not the household name he deserves to be. He has 71 points in 57 games this season. He has 71 more shots on goal than his closest Stars teammate. Watch No. 21 on Wednesday. He’s going to be great for a long time.
Saturday, February 25 @ San Jose Sharks
9:00 pm on NBC Sports Chicago & WGN Radio
The above graphic is correct. Erik Karlsson does indeed have 76 points in 58 games. His resurgence this year has been remarkable. Unfortunately for the Sharks, it hasn’t done much for their season. They have the fourth-worst points percentage in the league, behind only the Anaheim Ducks, Columbus Blue Jackets and your Chicago Blackhawks.
I’m sure the Sharks would love to sell high on Karlsson at the deadline, but his contract is trade-prohibitive. After this season, the 32-year-old still has four more years at an astronomical $11.5 million AAV. The Sharks can trade him and eat half of his salary, but do they want $5.75 million of cap space tied up in an empty roster spot? Further, which contender is in a position to take on that kind of a deal? To get this done, the Sharks and their trade partner would need a third-party facilitator. Someone to take on more of Karlsson’s salary for a big asset in return. Could the Blackhawks get involved? Perhaps.
The real name to watch at the deadline is Timo Meier. The 26-year-old forward’s $6 million deal ends after this year. After that, he will be an arbitration-eligible restricted-free agent. With Ryan O’Reilly off the market, Meier is likely the biggest offensive piece available at the deadline, and that includes Kane. He is currently day-to-day with an upper body injury, but is still expected to be dealt ahead of the deadline.