Yesterday was a wild one for the Chicago Blackhawks news cycle. Of course, there is no escaping the allegations and lawsuits against the team and former video coach Brad Aldrich. There shouldn’t be.
But damned if it wasn’t close yesterday with the trade rumors surrounding Duncan Keith and the reappearance of Jonathan Toews after nearly a year of silence from him. With the video posted to Toews’ Twitter account, he spoke about why he was away from the team for the entire 2020-21 season and the mysterious medical condition that kept him off the ice for months.
“They’re calling it Chronic Immune Response Syndrome,” Toews says in the two-minute video. Toews said he is excited to get back on the ice, playing with the team, and is ready to get back in front of the united Center fans.
Following the release of the video and the release of emotions from the Blackhawks fan community, another wave of information came out revolving around Toews and his return, this time from Mark Lazerus of The Athletic.
EXCLUSIVE: I met with Jonathan Toews today to discuss the specifics of his illness, how COVID is involved, what the last year was like — "the best worst thing that ever happened to me" — and the sexual-abuse allegations engulfing the Blackhawks.
— Mark Lazerus (@MarkLazerus) June 30, 2021
Right off the bat, I’m going to encourage you to read the full article, because it is dense and there is a lot to dissect from it. If you haven’t subscribed to The Athletic by now, I don’t know what to tell you, but the work of Lazerus and his Blackhawks partner Scott Powers are worth the price of admission on their own. Anyway, go read it.
A number of bits of information come out, right from Toews, about what he has dealt with physically, mentally, and emotionally since the spring of 2020. Toews, who is still a regular human being like the rest of us, has not had a great 16-17 months.
First off, Toews says he believes that he had a case of COVID back in February 2020, before the entire world was made aware of just exactly what COVID-19 was and would be.
From Lazerus’ interview:
Yes, Toews acknowledges, he’s probably a COVID long-hauler, having had all the telltale signs of a particularly nasty bout with COVID-19 back in February 2020, before the pandemic had consumed life in the United States.
He acknowledges that the Chronic Immune Response Syndrome that he has been diagnosed with was likely already an issue with him, not allowing his body to recover from the years and years of physical stress that hockey had placed on his body. When talking with Lazerus, Toews said over his years of playing in the NHL, through his 20’s and 30’s, he had never felt his best physically. That’s odd for someone like Toews to feel, given that he treats his body more like a science project than as a vessel to take himself from place to place, like 95% of the world does.
With the toll that hockey has taken on him and likely being predisposed to having the stress response syndrome, Toews’ bout with COVID put things over the top.
I’m not a doctor, but from what I’ve learned about a lot of these COVID long-haulers is that a lot of them had pre-existing conditions or some kind of stress they’re dealing with, and all of a sudden, (COVID) is the straw that breaks the camel’s back. That’s why I look at this thing as a whole. I think a lot of things just came to a head.
When it was announced that Toews would miss the beginning of the 2020-21 season, we were told that he had been dealing with an undisclosed illness that left him feeling “drained and lethargic” and that he had been dealing with those feelings ever since the Edmonton bubble postseason in August of 2020. Turns out, he had been dealing with it much longer than that, saying he had felt that way ever since the end of the 2020 regular season (March) and through the pseudo-training camp prior to entering the bubble (July).
Following the bubble postseason, Toews says he felt no improvements through the fall and winter, and it was at that point he said he needed to address what was happening to him. At that point, Toews isolated himself away from hockey and from much of society. He doesn’t say where he went, and really we don’t need to know.
While away from the team and away from the game, he went through numerous tests to try and figure out what was wrong with his body. But with aliments like his, there is extreme difficulty finding and pinpointing the exact cause.
And Toews didn’t have a lot of things. But mostly, he didn’t have any answers.
“We all want simple answers to simple questions, and it’s not always like that,” he said.
And so Toews, who’s constantly seeking “total human optimization,” plummeted lower than he’d ever felt. He cut himself off from just about everyone, wallowing in despair and endlessly “mulling over” everything that was happening to him, everything that scared him, everything he couldn’t explain. There were days he didn’t want to get out of bed. Days when he didn’t answer his phone or respond to texts from concerned teammates. Days when he wondered if his career was over.
If life as he knew it was over.
Not something you ever want to experience or ever want to have someone else have to experience. But for Toews, who has seen and done it all in his hockey career, maybe he thought this was really going to be it for his playing career. Luckily for him, and for the Blackhawks, it won’t be. Not yet at least.
Toews says his goal is to take the opening face-off of the 2021-22 regular season for the Blackhawks and be out there on opening night. But he can’t guarantee that he will.
Everything has progressed in the right direction so far for Toews, but he also acknowledges that he doesn’t have the answers to defeat these symptoms, only to manage them and be able to have his body work for him, and not against him. The symptoms could return. He could miss games again next season. But his goal is to play as much as he can and be back to the Jonathan Toews of old. Something we all hope for both on and off the ice for Toews.
Again, I highly recommend reading the full piece from Lazerus in The Athletic.
While the news of his return to health and return to the Blackhawks was incredibly welcomed and a huge relief for both him and the Blackhawks fan community, the timing of it was super suspect. Right in the middle of the cluster-F that has become the story of the lawsuits and allegations against the team, here is some MAGICAL news about one of, maybe the most, beloved Blackhawks player of the modern era.
But in his interview with Lazerus, Toews acknowledged that the decision to make this announcement was on his terms and was planned way before the news of the lawsuits and allegations became known. The video was filmed at the Blackhawks’ practice facility in Chicago, the Fifth Third Bank Ice Arena. The facility is open to the public and with Toews being in Chicago and skating at the facility more often in recent weeks, it was probably only a matter of time before someone saw him there with teammates. So rather than dragging out his return announcement any longer, Toews decided now was the time. Not the Blackhawks public relations department.
I’ll give Toews the benefit of the doubt here before I ever give it to the Blackhawks. I believe Toews when he says this was his plan the whole time. It should be, because this was his health journey the entire time.
When it comes to the allegations against the team, against former video coach Brad Aldrich, and the alleged incidents in 2010, Toews says that everything that has been said and reported on the matters may not be the exact truth. Previously, reports have come from former players from the 2010 team, both named (Nick Boynton, Brent Sopel) and unnamed, that “everyone” on the team knew about the incidents.
For Toews, that wasn’t exactly the case…
“I don’t know who the player (that talked to The Athletic) is, but it kind of annoyed me because it seemed like it fed the fire a little bit,” Toews said. “When that player commented that everybody on the team knew, that wasn’t true. As far as I know, some guys may have caught whispers of it and some guys were clueless until the next year. I don’t think that was an accurate statement.”
Toews, who has been Captain of the Blackhawks since the beginning of the 2008-09 season, says he had no knowledge of the alleged incidents involving the two former players and Aldrich until the beginning of the 2010-11 season, after Aldrich had left the team.
All of the facts still have to come out on the investigation. The Blackhawks have brought in lawyers to lead an “independent review” of the alleged incidents and the team’s handling of everything from back in 2010, but there should be more done to make sure the entire scope of the situation is covered, not just the scope that the Blackhawks can control with their hired team of investigators. As much as they want to call it an independent review, it can’t be that if the team is funding the investigation.
Toews can’t speak on the matter beyond what he said to Lazerus in the interview, but it seems to half agree and half disagree with what has previously been reported. Did he know specifically? Appears not. Did others have knowledge? It appears that is still plausible. Either way, Toews says the allegations and investigations are a “tough situation” and offering sympathy for the former players who were involved in the alleged incidents.
Toews’ return to the team has been something we have all been waiting on pins and needles for ever since the first announcement came that he would be away from the team to begin the 2020-21 season. As the days, weeks, and months passed, we waited to hear any update on Chicago’s Captain and wanted to know what was keeping him out of hockey. Speculation was rampant and the thirst for knowledge about Toews was incredible. Wild theories and heresay rumors swirled all season, and we were given just one small 24-second clip of Toews during Patrick Kane’s 1,000th game celebration.
That was all we had.
Until the video dropped on Twitter yesterday morning and the interview with Lazerus was published yesterday afternoon. Now, we’ll have to wait again for more updates on Toews, if any, and the team as the summer continues to inch closer to the beginning of training camp in September.
If Toews feels ready to get back on the ice regularly and he feels ready to rejoin the Blackhawks and play NHL-level hockey again, I have no reason to think he won’t be the Toews we know him to be. But until he is out there for training camp, until he is out there for warmups on opening night, and until I hear Gene Honda announce “The Captain, Jonathan Toews!” all we’ll have is another small clip, a two-minute video. And it will be enough.