Chicago Blackhawks‘ captain Jonathan Toews made waves on March 18 when he spoke with Mark Lazerus of The Athletic, following the trade of Brandon Hagel to the Tampa Bay Lightning. He made discouraging statements about how he felt about his future with the Blackhawks and the team itself. If you missed it, I covered his comments in the first installment of this series.
The Hagel trade occurred three days before the NHL Trade Deadline on March 21. Toews decided to elaborate further on his previous comments when the trade deadline officially passed. These comments were more descriptive than those he gave to Lazerus, and they deserve recognition. So, here goes another analysis of his newest remarks.
Toews Unhappy With “Key Parts” Departing
When speaking with Lazerus, Toews made it clear that losing Hagel was “disheartening.” The Blackhawks parted ways with goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury and center Ryan Carpenter at the trade deadline three days later. When Toews was asked to reflect on the trades, he responded, “It’s become pretty clear the direction we’re heading in as a franchise and I’m not going to lie, it was disheartening to see a couple of good friends go, regardless of what’s to come in the future. I think this group has been through quite a bit this year on and off the ice.
“Obviously, life’s been weird, it’s been hard for a lot of people. There have been a lot of challenges that these guys have grown through as a group and when you kind of cultivate that chemistry and that friendship and that connection with your teammates, I think you want to keep building off it. So, it’s definitely a little disheartening to see some key parts to our lineup and our group get traded away.”
The two words that stick out to me are “key parts.” Ever since 2017, nothing with the roster has been the same except for the constants that are Toews and Patrick Kane. Everyone else around them has been interchangeable, so it’s natural to automatically name Kane and Toews as the primary players in the equation.
Hearing Toews mention Hagel, Fleury, and Carpenter as essential parts was interesting, and I don’t think he is wrong. Although Hagel was with the Blackhawks less than three seasons, he became a big part of the locker room. He was someone who Seth Jones called an “identity piece.” Fleury is beloved around the league, and many Blackhawks’ players described him as being one of the best teammates they had in their careers. He made a huge impact, even being in Chicago for only half of the season.
Carpenter was with Chicago for three years. He was a steady leader and played the right way in his fourth-line center role. Those are not easy pieces to lose for sure, even if it makes sense for the bigger picture of the rebuild. However, the “key parts” stand out because where does Toews think he falls into in regards to the significant pieces of the team? It seems almost like a deflection by taking that notion off of himself, which brings me to the following quote.
Toews’ Uncertainty Taken up a Notch
When previously speaking with Lazerus, Toews mentioned uncertainties about where his future lies with the Blackhawks when asked if he would consider waiving his no-movement clause in his contract to go to another team. Although his answer seemed conclusive in some ways, it was also vague and ended with, “we’ll see.”
In the latest interview, he brought further details that make his stance clear. He was asked again if the rebuild timeline made him question his future with the Blackhawks. He responded, “I wouldn’t say it makes me question it as much as, for the longest time, the thought never entered my mind to leave Chicago, and in this case, you can’t help but picture yourself and what it’d be like to play for another team and what that experience would bring. That pops into your mind obviously, but again, Chicago’s my home, I love the Blackhawks, I love the organization, it’s been my family for a long time and I’m not putting the cart before the horse or getting ahead of myself in any way” (from ‘What’s important to Blackhawks’ Jonathan Toews for rest of his playing career?’, The AthleticNHL, 03/23/2022).
Toews’ new answer is akin to the previous one he gave to Lazerus as he mentioned that Chicago is his home and that he loves the Blackhawks. The stark difference of this quote is that he is picturing himself playing with another team, which seems to be the most eye-opening quote yet. His last answer was more open-ended. Now, he is actively implying that he doesn’t see a future here. He also said he doesn’t want to put the cart in front of the horse, but it seems like he is.
Although he is still dancing around the subject, he looks more descriptive and confident. Furthermore, the more he speaks, the more he sounds decided. When speaking with the media, he has always been a player that responds to interviews very matter-of-factly. He doesn’t say more or less than he has to, and this seems like the most insight he has given fans in a while regarding his future. It doesn’t seem like an open-ended question anymore. It looks like a flat-out statement.
Toews’ Captaincy Dilemma
Toews’ captaincy is something he has held close to his heart his entire career. The role fits him like a glove, and he was always regarded as one of the league’s best captains. He rarely had a bad thing to say about his leadership role and embraced it wholeheartedly, so his newest comments about it were perplexing.
Toews was asked if he was enjoying being the Blackhawks’ captain right now? He stated, “There’s no doubt some days you want it easy and you want to just say, ‘Screw it, focus on your own thing,’ It’s just a lot lighter and a lot less responsibilities in some ways, but at the same time, I’ve been given so much for my teammates and the organization and the fans, and everyone’s given me so much credit over the years for our success just because I have a ‘C’ on my sweater, so I think when you’re in that position, a lot of responsibility comes with it but you’re given quite a bit as well, so I think that’s the way I look at it and it’s all part of the learning process and you can’t shy away from that.” (from ‘What’s important to Blackhawks’ Jonathan Toews for rest of his playing career?’, The AthleticNHL, 03/23/2022).
This quote sounds like it’s coming from a man that’s burned out.
Toews has been the captain of the Blackhawks for 14 seasons. It seems natural that things might become stale when you have been doing something for a significant amount of time. The problem is that the Blackhawks are not a team that can afford that type of apathy at the moment. He has a right to feel the way he does. He is a Hall of Fame player who has given his heart and soul to the city of Chicago. No one can take that away from him, and fans will always admire him for it. But, of course, being a captain of an Original Six franchise has to come with stressors, especially when you’re the leader of a team that is not doing well. However, the Blackhawks need leadership at the moment. They’re going through the motions of a rebuild with many young players that need guidance from their captain as they build up their status within the team.
If he genuinely feels like he is over it, then maybe that is a sign that a change is needed for Toews’ and the team’s sake.
Overall, these quotes can hurt the Blackhawks. Toews talked about his uncertainties with the team’s direction and future, looking more sound in his responses by the day, all while having tough days as the captain — it seems like a recipe for disaster. If the train’s conductor is not happy, it can produce a domino effect. Negativity spreads fast, and you don’t want to see the team feeding off of their captain’s unhappiness.
Although Chicago is out of the playoff picture, there is a solid case for finishing the season strong and not with dejection. Again, Toews is a legend and one of the greatest Blackhawks of all time. He has done so much for the city of Chicago, and he is entitled to his opinions. They hold weight, which is why what he says is so important. The 33-year-old is in a position where he needs to win another championship now, and the Hawks can’t give that to him, which is the challenging part of this. But his stance is needed as Chicago goes into their next chapter.
He knows he can’t shy away from this tough predicament either, but do you know the saying, “If you love something, set it free?” I know Toews loves the Blackhawks, and Blackhawks’ fans love him, but turning the chapter may be in everyone’s best interest, as painful as it is to say. In the meantime, let’s hope for some joyful moments as the season comes to a close.