Dark clouds of doubt are hovering over the Chicago Blackhawks. With losses in the first round of the playoffs in back-to-back seasons, many are questioning the core group of a team that was labeled a modern dynasty not long ago.
At the center of it is captain Jonathan Toews. Over the course of the last two seasons, something has been missing from the player Blackhawks fans have fallen in love with over and over again because of his dazzling ability with and without the puck.
The seat-gripping, awe-inspiring, clutch goals from Toews during the game’s most crucial moments have been missing recently. If the Blackhawks are going to contend for the Stanley Cup, they need their most important player, along with Patrick Kane, to lead by example. They need Toews to return to star form.
Disappointing Stanley Cup Title Defense
During the 2015-16 season, the NHL witnessed Artemi Panarin, Artem Anisimov and Patrick Kane light up the regular season. The Blackhawks’ second line was lethal, and opponents were focused on trying to halt production from the Hawks trio.
But as the second line dominated, Toews struggled. The point production he had come to expect from himself was lacking. In 80 games, the first-line center only managed 58 points, which was his lowest point total since his rookie season in 2007-08, not including 2012-13 (shortened season) and 2011-12 (time missed because of injury).
Regular season struggles were accompanied by playoff struggles, as the Blackhawks squared off against their rival St. Louis Blues. In an emotional seven-game series with supreme talent on display, Toews failed to come up with a single goal, finishing the series with six assists.
In Game 7 against the Blues, it felt like a monumental goal from Toews was destined to happen — it never did.
Monumental Defeat to the Nashville Predators
The 2016-17 season was riddled with questions regarding Toews’ production. For a second straight season, he failed to score at least 60 points (58) with a career-low 21 goals. Fans began to worry about his future with the team.
In the early months of 2016-17, Toews had a frustrating goal drought that extended 13 games, roughly 16% of the season. Despite Toews’ struggles, the Blackhawks entered the playoffs atop the Western Conference with 109 points and faced the Nashville Predators in the first round of the playoffs.
The playoff series was over before it began, as the Predators swept the Blackhawks in historic fashion. By the end of the series, the Hawks’ captain had accumulated just two points in four games.
Huge Season Looming
Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman made a significant flurry of moves and trades during the summer, one of which was trading Panarin for Brandon Saad, who had played a vital role for the Blackhawks in their last two Stanley Cup Championships. He will accompany Toews on the first line.
The Blackhawks made a statement with this trade. In order to win, they need their captain to be successful and Saad is an exceptional addition to the first line. The two had tremendous chemistry in their Stanley Cup Championship seasons of 2012-13 and 2014-15.
When Toews is at his best, the Blackhawks’ chances of winning a Stanley Cup are astronomically higher. As we’ve seen the last two seasons, he wasn’t at his best and because of it the Hawks packed their bags and went home early. As an important season approaches, all eyes will be on Toews.