Jonathan Toews' Return to Form A Reminder That Hockey Should be Fun

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Jonathan Toews’ Return to Form A Reminder That Hockey Should be Fun

Chicago Blackhawks

Jonathan Toews is enjoying a bounce-back start to this season that not many people outside the Blackhawks’ dressing room predicted. Thursday night offered an opportunity for him to dust off his “A Game” against a team he had some incredible battles against during the Hawks’ dynasty years.

Even years removed from the heyday of the Blackhawks-Kings rivalry when Toews, Patrick Kane, and other Blackhawks legends of yesteryear provided us with one of the best playoff rivalries in hockey against the Kings, Chicago’s captain said the respect for those battles is something he still thinks of when Los Angeles comes to town.

After scoring the dramatic overtime game-winning goal in Chicago’s 2-1 win over the Kings on Thursday night, Toews was asked if he still gets juiced to play guys like Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty, and Jonathan Quick.

“Yeah, maybe a little bit,” Toews said after the game. “I think you have to think about how much these two teams have changed since the days when we used to play each other in the playoffs, and there was so much of a rivalry and just kind of, you know, both teams looked at each other as measuring sticks of success in 2010 or whatever it was. But yeah, still a tremendous amount of respect for those three guys and what they’ve done in their career.”

A lot has changed since then for both franchises. A lot has changed since then for Toews personally, who many — including me — doubted would return to the level of play we saw when these two teams battled for Western Conference supremacy year after year.

After a missed season, last year was one filled with struggles; Toews scored just 12 goals and logged 37 points in 71 games last season. No one would have blamed you for writing Toews off ahead of this season. Many people did (check the Twitter receipts and columns from August and September).

With people writing the obituaries on his career and worrying whether or not anyone in the NHL would take on even half of his massive cap hit, Toews has not only proven that he has something left in the tank, but he’s also done it dominantly.

Toews knows that there were no expectations for him this season. He knows that there were no expectations for the Blackhawks this season. Yet Toews is off to the best start of his career with seven goals in 11 games, leads the Blackhawks in goals, power-play goals, and shooting percentage, and is second to Patrick Kane in points and Max Domi in faceoff win percentage.

So, what’s fueling Toews’ rejuvenation this season?

Fun.

Toews said he’s just playing a relaxed and expectation-free version of hockey and having fun doing it after a few years of struggling to get back to where he wants to be mentally and physically on the ice.

“Right now, it’s fun to just go play. I know we were talking about expectations a second ago and there weren’t really any for our team and for myself, especially, this year. I’ve always kind of been talking about taking it one day at a time and just going out there and playing and worrying about the next play the next shift, and that’s kind of what I’m doing. So, it’s nice to see the puck luck and the bounces and it’s definitely a good feeling and something I want to keep going.”

I’m sure some are thinking that the Blackhawks should strike while the iron is hot and try to move Toews while he’s looking like a reincarnation of his old self, but I wouldn’t expect to see anything like that happen until we get deeper into the winter — maybe even beyond the new year.

Early season moves are generally prompted by needs such as injuries or salary cap relief, the latter of which Toews provides the opposite. Moving Toews’ contract will surely involve the Blackhawks eating 50 percent and probably include a third team to eat another quarter of his $10.5 million cap hit.

While Toews’ hot start may make him more attractive down the road, it doesn’t make trading him any easier. For now, I would recommend enjoying the show. If this is the farewell tour for Toews in a Blackhawks sweater, it’s a pleasant surprise to see it going as well as it has thus far.

When I take my writer hat off, I remember that Toews is a franchise cornerstone that helped orchestrate the era of Blackhawks hockey that made me fall in love with this team. I’m a 90s kid, and by the time I was old enough to pay attention to the Blackhawks, they weren’t very good or accessible.

The 19 & 88 era of Blackhawks hockey will forever be the birth of my genuine love for this team, so seeing Toews defy all expectations this season and seeing him smile and have fun is something I’m in no rush to move on from.

Toews (and Kane) being traded is a conversation we can’t duck forever, but for now, I’m going to enjoy what’s in front of me.


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Author: Patrick K. Flowers

Patrick is a Staff Writer at Bleacher Nation. You can follow him on Twitter @PatrickKFlowers.