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I feel like I have to preface anything I say about Jonathan Toews these days. So I’ll do it here too: Nothing I am about to say is taking away the accomplishments of Jonathan Toews as a member of the Chicago Blackhawks. He is a first-ballot Hall of Famer, will have his No. 19 retired, and will likely have a statue or some sort of life-long commemoration of his career at the United Center after he eventually retires.
Now with that out of the way, let me say that I believe Jonathan Toews’ days wearing a Blackhawks sweater are numbered. Not out of anyone in the organization or fanbase wanting him to leave, but out of Toews knowing himself better than anyone else and wanting to end his career the right way.
We’ve talked extensively on the CHGO Blackhawks Podcast over the past few days about Toews’ comments following the trade deadline. He spoke about seeing the trades made involving Brandon Hagel and Marc-André Fleury being “disheartening” and has previously spoke about not knowing what the term “rebuild” means in hockey. For as much as Toews may not want to believe it, the Blackhawks are bad. They are a bad team that he is the captain of, and a team that will miss the NHL postseason for the fifth-straight non-pandemic season under his watch.
The time for major overhaul has come.
Toews is the ultimate competitor and someone whose drive to win is nearly unmatched in the sport. But time is undefeated. He’ll turn 34 next month and after missing the entire 2020-21 season due to Chronic Immune Response Syndrome, his playing career may end up being shorter than anyone expected, especially himself.
Now, I’m not in his head or his body, so I cannot speak to how he feels physically. But going off of his comments all season and his play on the ice, it’s clear he is not feeling or playing like the “old Jonathan Toews.” He’s playing like an “old” Jonathan Toews.
His recent comments about starting to imagine what it would be like to play for another team, or to not finish his career in Chicago are a signal to me that Toews is considering his final days in the NHL more now than he maybe ever has. He might not have one foot out the door, but his eyes are looking at the exit signs around the United Center.
There’s a few options on the table for Toews as he moves forward in his career:
- There is the option that he could play out his contract with the Blackhawks, enduring an entire season of questions surrounding his pending UFA status in the summer of 2023, and see where things go from there.
- There’s the option where he could waive his no-trade clause and move-on from the Blackhawks either this summer or at the trade deadline next season, with the Blackhawks doing right by him like they did with Duncan Keith and Marc-André Fleury.
- Or there is the option that Toews swallows his pride and accepts a lesser role, and a lesser contract, with Chicago as they move into the thick of GM Kyle Davidson’s rebuilding plan.
Like I said, I don’t know where Toews truly feels physically, but there is a part of me that senses he knows his playing days are coming to a close faster than he ever thought. His legacy is cemented in Chicago. Maybe he doesn’t want to stick around long enough to become the villain.
In a recent article from Scott Powers of The Athletic, Toews spoke about his role as the captain of the Blackhawks, something he has held since his second NHL season in 2008-09 when he was just 20 years old. In the article, Toews talks about how some days he wishes he could just focus on his own game and have less responsibilities than being the captain. While he’s not giving up the “C” on his sweater anytime soon, you wonder if all these years of being the go-to guy in the locker room and one of the faces of the modern-era Blackhawks dynasty have caught up to him. It makes you wonder if waiving his no-trade clause to go to another team, a contender, and just be “one of the guys” in the locker room and not the go-to guy is enticing to Toews at this stage of his career.
While I consider this highly, highly unlikely to happen, there have been teams that have recently changed captains while the former captain remained on the team. The San Jose Sharks moved from Patrick Marleau to Rob Blake to Joe Thornton to Joe Pavelski, all while Marleau, Thornton, and Pavelski were teammates for nearly a decade. The Los Angeles Kings also went from Dustin Brown to Anze Kopitar in recent years, with both still playing for the club. Again, in no way do I see the Blackhawks entertaining this idea with Toews, but it’s not unheard of.
If and when Toews moves on from the Blackhawks, be it as early as this summer or maybe years from now, you look around the roster for the next leader of the team, and the pickings are slim.
Patrick Kane is in just about the same boat as Toews. Maybe he is not around much longer either. Seth Jones is not the most popular player amongst the fans and he just got here. Not sure he has the locker room unifying power yet. Connor Murphy is a well-respected veteran, but is he in the rebuilding plans? I’m not sold.
Maybe the organization doesn’t name a new captain right away after Toews’ eventual departure from the club. Maybe they go with a trio of alternates like they did in the 2020-21 season when he was away from the team? Who would that be? Looking at the potential roster for the 2023-24 season, for example, one would imagine it would be Kane, Murphy, and Alex DeBrincat, assuming both Kane and DeBrincat take contract extensions with the club.
There’s a sense DeBrincat, one of the most likely and most important building blocks to Chicago’s rebuild, could be and would be the next captain of the club. I would have no problems with that. He’s vocal, respected, talented, and marketable. If the Blackhawks were looking at the current roster and looking to point to the next leader, DeBrincat seems like a no-brainer.
But maybe the next captain isn’t even on the roster right now. Maybe he’s in Rockford? Maybe he’s in college or in Europe? Maybe he has yet to be drafted? Whatever the case may be, the person who is next to wear the “C” for the Blackhawks has the biggest skates to fill when he follows the longest-serving captain in franchise history.
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