Toews, Saad & Keith Comeback Revisited

Prior to the start of the 2018-19 season, I wrote a piece on whether or not Jonathan Toews, Brandon Saad, and Duncan Keith could make a comeback. Since the Chicago Blackhawks are a little more than a quarter into their season, I thought it would be a good time to revisit this topic.

Jonathan Toews

At the start of the season, Toews had a lot of pressure to improve after the 2017-18 season was the worst of his career. Toews changed his training regimen over the offseason, which has definitely had a positive impact since he has tallied 11 goals and ten assists in 26 games this season.

Going into the season, he had a simple goal: “I want to play and stay healthy for 82 games and be a consistent contributor and have one of the best seasons I’ve had in a long time.” (from ‘Jonathan Toews puts pressure on himself for bounce-back season’, Chicago Sun-Times – 9/16/18).

Seeing that his start to the 2018-19 season is one of the strongest of his career and he already has scored half of the number of goals he scored in the entirety of last season, he appears to be accomplishing what he set out for.

Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews
Jonathan Toews had very high praise for his linemate Alex DeBrincat. (Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports)

Proud of his strong start, he told the Chicago Sun-Times back in late October, “I feel really good, really explosive, and my conditioning is better. It allows you to just go out there and play your game and do the things that, mentally, you want to do. Sometimes, if you don’t have the energy or the strength or the speed, the options just aren’t there. But I definitely feel a little bit more able to get in and out of tough spots with the puck this year.” (from ‘Blackhawks’ Jonathan Toews not feeling like his old self — in a good way’, Chicago Sun-Times – 10/28/18).

Like the rest of the Hawks, Toews has slowed down the past few games but remains optimistic that the Hawks can get back into shape. 

‘‘We’re close to being back in the mix, and we’re close to a winning streak that takes us right back where we want to be,’’ Toews said recently. ‘‘So we’re sticking with that belief.’’ (from ‘Blackhawks’ Jonathan Toews on fans, the word ‘rebuild’ and his need to be better’, Chicago Sun-Times – 11/28/18).

Jonathan Toews Blackhawks Brian Elliott Flyers
Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks and Brian Elliott, Philadelphia Flyers, Nov. 9, 2017 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Toews has made a wonderful comeback so far this season, and fans everywhere are hoping he keeps it up and helps the Hawks improve on the way.

Brandon Saad

When Saad returned to the Hawks after they traded Artemi Panarin prior to the 2017-18 season, expectations were high. Unfortunately for Saad (and the Hawks), he performed underwhelmingly below expectations last season with 18 goals and 17 assists in 82 games while Panarin tallied 27 goals and 55 assists in 81 games for the Columbus Blue Jackets. For Saad, a comeback was necessary for his position on the Hawks’ roster. Fortunately, for Saad, he seems to be improving.

His start to the season didn’t appear to be in his favor, as it was contemplated he would become a healthy scratch if he didn’t show improvement. He wasn’t fond of the idea, as he told NBC Sports Chicago, “I don’t think anyone wants to be wearing white around here,” he said. “But it is what it is, and there’s nothing you can do but keep trying to improve. It’s their job to make the call to put the best team out there to win hockey games.”

Brandon Saad Blackhawks
Brandon Saad, Chicago Blackhawks, Nov. 9, 2017 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The possibility of being scratched seem to light a fire in Saad, as he has become one of the best goal scorers on the Hawks ever since with seven goals and seven assists in 24 games. He’s not quite where he or the Hawks want him to be, but he’s heading in the right direction.

When it comes to his recent progress, he told the Chicago Sun-Times, “I think the sky’s the limit, really, with the type of players we have here and my ability,” Saad said. “You’ve seen it in the past. Whether it’s 20 goals or you’ve hit 30 before, I think I’m very capable. I don’t want to set a goal, but at the same time, if I’m playing well every night, the sky’s the limit whether it’s points or helping the team win or contributing in those types of production aspects.” (from ‘Blackhawks’ Brandon Saad hoping ‘fresh start’ helps him rediscover scoring touch’, Chicago Sun-Times – 10/28/18).

Hopefully, Saad will continue progressing and help the Hawks improve throughout the season. He’s already made somewhat of a comeback, and it’s up to him to finish what he started.

Duncan Keith

Saying that Keith, a Conn Smythe Trophy winner, three-time Stanley Cup champion, and two-time Norris Trophy winner had a bad season last year is an understatement. With two goals and 29 assists in 82 games in 2017-18, improving this season was on the top of his list of priorities last April, as he told famed Hawks writer Mark Lazerus. 

“The training has to be high end, as hard as I can go and push the limits and come back in great shape.” (from ‘At 34, Blackhawks’ Duncan Keith to go ‘above and beyond’ to regain lost form’, Chicago Sun-Times – 4/11/18).

Unlike Toews’ change to his training regimen, it hasn’t appeared to be very beneficial for Keith, who has no goals and nine assists in 26 games so far this season. Although it can be argued that he “is still hugely important” to the Hawks’ blue line, it sure doesn’t feel that way. Defense is one of the Hawks’ greatest weaknesses, and Keith’s recent decline isn’t making that much easier.

Duncan Keith Blackhawks
Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks, Nov. 9, 2017 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Like fans, Keith isn’t happy with his recent performance, as he told the Chicago Tribune, “It’s hard not to get frustrated. I think the biggest thing (is) staying positive and for myself, especially, I can do a better job of that and help us get out of here, get out of the losing streak.” (‘Frustrated’ Duncan Keith knows staying positive is necessary for scuffling Blackhawks”, Chicago Tribune – 11/10/18).

Fans hoped 19-year-old rookie Henri Jokiharju could bring the spark back to Keith’s game when the season began. Despite having a rocky season so far, even Jokiharju is having a more consistent season than Keith. Not all hope is lost, but Keith and the rest of the Hawks’ blue line are in desperate need of a comeback sooner rather than later. If the Hawks’ defense keeps playing like they have been playing, they can likely kiss the chances of making the playoffs goodbye before the first half of the season is over.

As the Hawks pass the first quarter of the season, the question of some of the core members making comebacks still remains. Toews has made a great comeback, but it all depends on if he can keep it up for the rest of the season. Saad is getting there, and if he continues down his current path, he certainly will. When it comes to Keith, he’s far from where he needs to be. A comeback is still possible, but it is far easier said than done.