Blackhawks & Jonathan Toews at a Crossroads with Recent Comments

The Chicago Blackhawks made headlines this week with a blockbuster trade on March 18 that sent Brandon Hagel to the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for two first-round picks (in 2023 and 2024) and forwards Taylor Raddysh and Boris Katchouk. Although Hagel was only with the Blackhawks for three seasons, he quickly became a fan favorite and a favorite in the locker room.

It was an unpopular move given what Hagel meant to the team on and off the ice, albeit an understandable one for a rebuilding team. Mark Lazerus, a Blackhawks journalist for The Athletic, spoke with Jonathan Toews after the Hagel trade and his comments were disheartening (from ‘We’ll see’: Jonathan Toews mulls his future with Blackhawks in wake of ‘discouraging’ Brandon Hagel trade,’ The Athletic, 03/18/2022).

Here is a rundown of what was said.

Toews Still in the Dark about Chicago’s Rebuild

Lazerus asked Toews if he had a sense of general manager Kyle Davidson‘s intentions after the Hagel trade, as it looks like the rebuild will now take years. His response was: “I can’t really comment on that, other than what happened with Hags today. I haven’t spoken with Kyle. Haven’t really gotten any specifics from him. But, yeah, like you said, that makes it pretty clear that we’re in this for the long haul. Reality definitely sank in with that one.”

Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks
Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

When Toews was asked his thoughts on the Hagel trade, he stated in part, “I had a hard time thinking in my mind that he would be one of the guys to get shipped off, considering what he brought in. Yeah, that was a tough one to see. I’m pretty shocked, for sure.”

Related: 5 Veteran Blackhawks Who Could Stick Around Through Rebuild

When Davidson was named permanent GM on March 1, he stated that he planned on keeping Toews and Patrick Kane in the loop and that there would be no surprises from the front office and their decisions about the team. With Toews implying that the Hagel trade was a shock and that he had not spoken with Davidson raises questions about Toews and Kane’s influence. Both players have stated that they would like to be a part of the process, which is understandable considering their significance to the team.

Granted, the GM isn’t required to include them and can make moves as he sees fit, regardless of influence. It would be a courtesy more than anything. However, the fact that Toews is voicing his shock and displeasure makes it seem like the new front office and Toews are not on the same page. It isn’t exactly the “fresh start” you want to see between management and their star players.

Toews’ No-Movement Clause May Be Up for Grabs

When Toews and Kane signed their matching eight-year, $84 million contracts in 2014, it included full no-movement clauses, making any trade reliant on their discretion. Toews and Kane have been adamant that waiving their no-movement clause didn’t interest them. However, that doesn’t seem to be the case with Toews anymore.

When Lazerus asked him if he would waive his no-movement clause at this point, he stated, “Again, I’ll leave it at what I just said. My main goal is just getting back on top of my game, and my health, and my performance. It’s just been a process this last year of taking baby steps in the right direction. I feel like I’m doing that. So that has to be my primary focus, to get back to a place where I feel like I’m in control of my own destiny, then maybe we’ll start evaluating what the future looks like. So, we’ll see.”

This is eye-opening. In October 2020, Lazerus asked Toews if management had him re-thinking waiving his no-movement clause, he responded, “I haven’t been part of that conversation. This has all happened very suddenly, but the answer is no. Chicago is my home, and I want to win here again.” (from ‘Blackhawks’ latest moves shock, upset core vets like Jonathan Toews: ‘It’s sad’,’ The Athletic, 10/11/2020).

Jonathan Toews Chicago Blackhawks
Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The fact that less than two years later Toews seems more open to the possibility of a change is in stark contrast to what he has said in the past. Yes, he is looking out for his best interests, and a lot of factors have been stacking up against him with his health, his age (33), and the fact the Blackhawks are still nowhere close to competing after five seasons of missing the playoffs. Don’t expect a trade at the deadline, but his “we’ll see” is an open-ended statement, and this offseason will be telling about his future in Chicago, and that quote doesn’t make it look promising.

Toews’ Disappointment with Blackhawks’ Direction

Lazerus asked Toews if he is willing to embrace a rebuild, ushering in the new generation of Blackhawks. He stated, “It’s a good question, honestly. I don’t know if I can answer that right now. I feel like these last three to four years, that’s what it’s felt like, constantly trying to work on your own game and improve and adapt to how good the game’s gotten, but also, part-time, here and there trying to bring young guys along in some way, as best as you can. There’s always room for improvement there. Of course, you invest a ton of energy and emotion, and care with your teammates, because you’re all working toward that common goal. Now, all of a sudden, you realize no one on our team is safe, and we could all be going in different directions shortly. It’s pretty discouraging. I’ll leave it at that for now.”

Related: Jonathan Toews: Beyond the Glory

The word that sticks out is “discouraging.” In general, rebuilds don’t leave room for positivity because losing games and losing teammates can take their toll. Yet, some rebuilds leave room for excitement: The Ottawa Senators have a lot of draft picks and young talent that will only get better; the Detroit Red Wings took a step forward this season with new prospects who have made their rebuild faster than anticipated. Those situations leave room for optimism.

The Blackhawks are a different story. They don’t have high-end prospects besides Lukas Reichel, who can put the team’s rebuild ahead of schedule. They also don’t have many assets. There isn’t much room for excitement with the team going in different directions, and decisions haven’t panned out, and Toews seems to have implied that.

Toews’ Season Contains Some Bright Spots

Although the interview wasn’t a fun one, it did end on a high note. Lazerus asked Toews if despite everything and being angry with the team’s direction, is he enjoying himself? He responded, “Yeah, listen, I’m really impressed by how the guys in our room have stuck together through thick and thin this year because I think, deep down, we still have that belief that if we simplify our game and really get our structure, there’s so much more potential than we’ve been able to show. It’s been fun being a part of the group with these guys, we’ve got some great guys in the room. I think that’s a big reason why losing Hags is such a kick to the you-know-where at this point.”

I’m glad to see some positivity from Toews. For what it’s worth, the Blackhawks seem like a close-knit team, despite all the hardships, but there is also a difference between beliefs and facts. There were high expectations going into the season for the club with the acquisitions of Seth Jones and Marc-Andre Fleury, yet, it backfired.

The team shows their potential on occasion, but not enough to expect them to be better than they are. That is where the frustration comes in; believing they can be better, but not proving that in the standings. Yet, the Blackhawks have produced some fun characters this season like Hagel, Dylan Strome, Alex DeBrincat, and Sam Lafferty to lessen the sting of a poor season.

Overall, Toews’ quotes are revealing, and he and the Blackhawks may be at a crossroads. With a rebuild, keeping both Toews and Kane on the roster doesn’t seem like a solution to get back into contention, especially given their contracts. One or the other will likely remain with the team, and by his comments, it seems Toews might be more likely to leave.

Toews has always been realistic when assessing his team, even in their winning years. He sees the writing on the wall and can’t ignore it. He has faced a lot of hardships in his game and because of his health. His 25 points this season are on pace to be the lowest of his career, and it might be time for a change. I think the Blackhawks and fans would love him to stay long as possible, considering he is one of the greatest Blackhawks of all time and their captain. However, if Chicago is serious about rebuilding from the ground up, they should take Toews’ comments to heart, however painful it is to hear.

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