You might have noticed a fair amount of Jonathan Toews content in this space recently. There are a few reasons for, even excluding the possibility of a trade sometime this season.
Toews is the longest-tenured captain in the history of the Chicago Blackhawks. He is, still, the youngest player ever to make the IIHF’s Triple Gold Club (World Championship and Olympic gold and a Stanley Cup championship). And, as I wrote when that became a reality all the way back in 2010, he is a lock for the Hockey Hall of Fame whenever he decides his career is over.
But after the last couple years, there have been questions about the present and future of Toews. When the Blackhawks came back to the bubble after the COVID layoff in 2020, he wasn’t quite the guy we had come to expect. We now know there were health issues underlying his performance, health issues that led to one of the most competitive players of his era taking a season off to get his body and mind right.
This season, Toews reported to camp healthy and, as the new marketing slogan tells us, “ready to work.” Though some media types questioned his performances during the preseason, he told everyone to relax and wait until the regular season lights turned on. Once the clock turned to Games That Actually Matter o’clock, the Blackhawks captain has shown us that he has a lot left to give.
Indeed, Toews leads the Blackhawks in goal scoring this season, a part of his game many questioned last year when he struggled more than ever before. And he’s been the best faceoff man in the league once again this year, reminding us that he has been part of the Selke conversation for more than a decade (though Patrice Bergeron has owned the award for the most part).
The renaissance of Toews has been a joy to watch because there’s been joy in his game. Toews is smiling more than he has in recent years (maybe there was a coaching issue contributing to that?) and he’s back to barking at opponents and officials alike.
So when I woke up on Monday morning and saw The Athletic‘s latest entry in their countdown of the 99 greatest players in NHL history not-named-Gretzky, it brought both a smile to my face and also a proud chest thump. They put Toews at No. 65 on their list.
Mark Lazerus and Dom Luszczyszyn go to great lengths to support the conclusion that Toews has indeed been a generational talent. Yeah, they start the piece with some tongue-and-cheek talk about the myth of Jonathan Toews, but they then dig into the numbers to remind us that Toews was one of the truly special players of his era.
The ranking of Toews notes his leadership; it’s impossible to ignore that part of his game. There was a legit conversation about whether he or Sidney Crosby should wear the “C” for Canada in the Olympics in 2010. He has a Mark Messier Leadership Award at home because he remains one of the most respected leaders in the game.
But they also go on to point out that Toews was, behind Crosby, the most impactful and consequential player of the last decade in the NHL.
Not Alexander Ovechkin, who is still chasing Gretzky’s goal scoring record. Not Bergeron and his defensive excellence. Not Steven Stamkos, Evgeni Malkin, the Sedins. Not Anze Kopitar, who, like Toews, has been an exceptional player on every inch of the ice for more than a decade. It was Toews who was dominant, the only player who came close to Crosby in impacting the game.
Toews the myth has long since obscured Toews the player. But from 2009 through 2014, no forward in the league had a higher expected goals percentage than Toews’ 59.4. He has 364 career goals and is three assists away from 500. All while playing Selke-caliber defense for most of his career.
(Note: Toews is now one assist away from 500.)
They point out that, between 2009-14, Toews was almost as productive as Kane while admittedly giving up some of his offensive capabilities to, with Marian Hossa and either Brandon Saad or Patrick Sharp, be part of the best shut-down line in hockey. A shut-down line that had three guys who could get you 20-30 goals each.
For a while now, I think people have taken for granted just how good Toews was in his prime. And the questions about his place in the future of the franchise were based on the perception that he wasn’t able to do it any more. But, if you’ve talked to Toews over the years or watched him play, you would know that him showing up for camp this year was likely going to give him a chance to prove everyone wrong. Again.
I talked to Toews for a magazine story during the lockout back in the fall of 2012. He told me about the awful issues he dealt with fighting concussions during the 2011 playoffs, and the lengths he went to in an effort to get back to playing like “himself.” When the lockout ended and that magazine had been published, what did we see from Toews? Here’s how the guys at The Athletic remember that season:
In 2012-13, Toews scored 48 points in 47 games, his only season as a point-per-game player. On top of that, he had a 63-percent expected goals rate at five-on-five — a mark that led the league and was the highest of his career — and outscored opponents by a whopping 44-15 margin. At five-on-five, he was a man possessed and that put his total value at 3.5 wins in just 47 games. That’s a 6.1-win pace. Only Crosby was better at 3.7 wins in 36 games.
If we’re talking about Toews’s prime, his peak, his pinnacle, his apex — that season was the absolute summit of his best years. Naturally, he capped it off with a Stanley Cup. A perfect season.
So when Toews started this season with a bang and has continued to look like a strong, albeit older, version of the dominant Captain Serious we all loved during the dynasty, I wasn’t shocked at all.
Do yourself a favor and read the story about Toews. It’s worth your time remembering how good he was. It also provides some reason for us to have faith that the version of 19 we’ve watched this season is very real, and his leadership and skill are helping the Blackhawks’ transition to the next generation every day.