With all the changes the Chicago Blackhawks have made during the offseason, including trading forward Alex DeBrincat to the Ottawa Senators, being curious about what the remaining Blackhawks’ players think when it comes to their futures with the team is a given. Players don’t usually say much during the offseason, as they mostly let their team’s moves do the talking. However, captain Jonathan Toews has not shied away from comments about the club’s state. He made some last season detailing his frustrations with the Blackhawks, and now he has given another interview to check in on his stance since the NHL Draft on July 7. He covered many topics regarding his career and the team. Here are the highlights from his interview with Mark Lazerus of The Athletic (from “Jonathan Toews on his Blackhawks future and beyond: Trade, free agent, retirement or rebuild?”, The Athletic, 07/26/22).
Toews’ Disinterest in Rebuild Timeline
In March, Toews noted his frustration with the Blackhawks parting with beloved teammates in the locker room and on the ice. Specifically, when they traded Brandon Hagel to the Tampa Bay Lightning, which technically was the first signal that significant changes were ahead. He mentioned at the time that he couldn’t answer if he could get behind a new role of ushering in new talent during a rebuild (from “‘We’ll see’: Jonathan Toews mulls his future with Blackhawks in wake of “discouraging” Brandon Hagel trade”, The Athletic, 03/18/22).
Now, Toews seems to have more of a detailed answer regarding the rebuild timeline and general manager Kyle Davidson‘s decisions. He stated, “At the end of the day, we’re talking about a five-plus-year process, according to Kyle. So that part of it doesn’t sound appealing to me at all. I can’t speak for [Patrick Kane], but I definitely feel that the amount of turnover our team has gone through every single year these last three or four years, that’s where it gets really, really draining. And exhausting. You have a guy like Alex DeBrincat who was under Kaner’s wing. And I like to think that Kirby [Dach] and I had that bond in some ways, too. And out they go, out the door. Over and over, we’ve seen that turnover. I’m learning to be more patient, but there’s no doubt that timeline is pretty daunting, and pretty exhausting to think about. So I’m not going to sit here and say what I’m going to do or what the future holds for me, because I really don’t know.”
What makes this statement different from before is how concrete it sounds when Toews states that the timeline doesn’t sound appealing. On the surface, who can blame him? Rebuilds are not a fun time for anyone; players, teams, and fans. It’s likely more taxing to a player who has been used to winning most of his NHL career. The three Stanley Cups and being named one of the NHL’s 100 Greatest Players in league history speaks for itself. The Blackhawks haven’t won a true playoff series in five seasons. Of course, that losing part isn’t “new” to him, but having a definitive answer from Davidson about where the team is headed and not winning for even longer makes everything clearer.
Related: Jonathan Toews: Beyond the Glory
Something else that stands out about this statement is Toews’ use of the word “patient.” The team has looked different every year through all the Blackhawks’ rocky seasons thus far. Kane and Toews have yet to have consistent linemates, which leads to a lack of chemistry. Whenever they get some they think will stick, they get let go. I believe this team will continue to look drastically different in the next five years, and it doesn’t sound like Toews wants to wait to see what that will look like. At 34 years old, that certainly makes sense.
Toews on Having a Broken Heart
One of the more fascinating things that Toews talked about in the interview was Pittsburgh Penguins’ forward Evgeni Malkin. Malkin’s eight-year, $76 million deal expired, making him a free agent this summer. However, he recently signed a four-year, $24.4 million extension. Lazerus mentioned that Toews felt envious of Malkin when he signed his contract extension, as that’s the team that drafted him. In addition, the contract guarantees he will never wear another sweater. Toews noted it carried a “why can’t that be me” feeling.
Toews stated, “I’m not going to say, hey, look at that, look at how the grass could be greener on the other side, but when you go through a couple of tough seasons like this, it definitely puts things in perspective and reminds you how good you had it when things were all clicking and the stars aligned for us. It kind of breaks your heart to think that way, to remember how crazy and how exciting it is in this city to play for these fans when we’re on top. But this is a different stage in life, where the challenges are different, and you do the best you can.”
There’s no doubt Malkin and Toews share similarities in their careers, as they were both part of their own respective dynasties in Pittsburgh and Chicago that accounted for three Stanley Cups each in eight years. The difference is that the Penguins have not missed the playoffs since 2006, which was Malkin’s inaugural season. The Pens just continue to win with the same championship core of Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang, and Malkin. It will likely stay that way for years to come, and, unfortunately, that’s not the reality for the Blackhawks. Kane and Toews are the only two players remaining from the dynasty era, and the team hasn’t been able to build around them to bring them back to a competitive state.
This statement makes it sound like, in a perfect world, Toews would love to remain a Blackhawk for life, and if the Blackhawks were in Pittsburgh’s position, there wouldn’t be a discussion of him playing anywhere else. It shows he sees the writing on the wall that his future might not be in Chicago. Seeing Malkin’s contract extension probably was another reminder of how far the Hawks have fallen.
Toews’ Open to Trade Possibility
Toews is an interesting case because of the full no-movement clause in his eight-year, $84 million contract, as Davidson can not trade him unless he lifts the clause. From Toews’ interview, if a trade happens, it won’t be before the season starts; it will be at the trade deadline. He previously mentioned the thought of playing for another team and what could bring him to do it amidst all the losing. Four months later, it seems like that thought is still on his mind. He stated, “If I don’t play good hockey, what value do I have anyways?” But I’m not going to say that if I’m playing some of the best hockey in my career and a great fit and a great opportunity arises that I might not just go see what that looks like, and see what that feels like. Just for the fun of it.”
For Toews, this seems like a straightforward solution. If he has a bounce-back season from his career-low stats of 12 goals, 25 assists, and 37 points in 71 games and is playing some great hockey, that will inevitably up his trade value. If that happens and Stanley Cup hopefuls come calling, then it would be wise to explore that for both sides. Teams get the most desperate at the trade deadline, and maybe the Blackhawks could shell a good package out of a team looking for a veteran presence to aid their playoff run. On the other hand, if you’re Toews, and a club like the New York Rangers or the Calgary Flames come calling, why wouldn’t that be exciting? His statement also sounds like a convincing argument for free agency, which he will hit at the end of next season.
Toews’ Optimism with Coaching Staff
When the Blackhawks announced that they had hired head coach Luke Richardson, he came with a stellar reputation from the Montreal Canadiens. He had mentioned that he spoke to Kane and Toews about the upcoming season, and now Toews is giving insight into what those conversations were like. He stated, “Luke’s message is we’re going to work hard, we’re going to be prepared, we’re going to play as a team, and we’re going to go out there and try to win every single game. I’m really excited to have a chance to play for Luke.”
This is what you want to hear about the new coaching staff. If Richardson can encourage the star players to play to the best of their abilities during this tough stretch, imagine their impact on the rookies. Hearing that they will try to win was probably a breath of fresh air considering all the talk of “tanking” surrounding the team. Seeing players play with effort and pride is all Blackhawks fans hope to see, even if the losses pile up, so this message is a good starting point. It’s too early to tell if they will entice him to stay, but it sets a good foundation for the future of the franchise.
It sounds like Toews will be playing with a broken heart but also an open mind. He doesn’t appear as angry as he did last season, and maybe that is because he believes 2022-23 will be a successful one for him, which will help with his playing options. These quotes don’t bring complete solace in him sticking around, but whether he is trying to find silver linings while still in Chicago. It’s a productive mindset that should serve the team well. He appears to be motivated, and for now, that’s more than enough.
Just a small town girl with Midwestern charm; combined with a love of dogs, writing, frappuccinos, Chicago-isms, sports, and a whole lot of Blackhawks hockey. Twitter: @brooke_lofo.