Chicago Blackhawks, Jonathan Toews

Blackhawks & Jonathan Toews Make Split Amicable

April 13, 2023, will be a date that Chicago Blackhawks fans will remember for a while. It signaled the end of the regular season, which holds hope that they will receive a top draft pick that will help bring the team back to glory, but it also marked a bittersweet ending to a storied hockey dynasty that will live in infamy. Blackhawks general manager Kyle Davidson announced on the morning of the 13th that they would not be re-signing captain Jonathan Toews this summer and that their home game against the Philadelphia Flyers would be his last as a Blackhawk. Although the team lost 5-4 in overtime, it was an excellent sendoff in what Toews himself described as “perfect” and a “fairy tale,” but did the fairy tale really have to end there? Here is how the decision breaks down. 

The Blackhawks Could Have Kept Toews, But…

Toews was the last player remaining on the roster from the dynasty group, and many thought he would ultimately ride his contract out with the team. When he and Patrick Kane signed their matching eight-year deals in 2014, it seemed like they were destined to be Blackhawks for life until they weren’t. Kane ultimately got traded to the New York Rangers at the trade deadline in February, and Toews was out of the lineup dealing with Long COVID and Chronic Immune Response Syndrome, so he and the team decided it was more important for him to recover than pursue a possible trade at the time. Toews endured so much this season, starting with beginning the season on a high note with 10 points in his first 13 games of the season, to then ultimately having to miss 29 games this season due to his health (which is 18 games less than he played last year), to him stunningly coming back to play in the final seven games. Did it warrant another contract?

Jonathan Toews Chicago Blackhawks
Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Davidson explained that the reasoning behind not re-signing Toews had to do with clearing the deck to pave the way for the new players. In that sense, the only reason to keep Toews around would have been for leadership. Leadership is essential, especially in a rebuilding year; no one does it better than him. Now, questions remain on who the replacement is.

One thing that stands out is that head coach Luke Richardson has been working with the team to help them find their voices and to step up in the leadership role, even when Toews was out of the lineup because they are a “quieter” team. He was not going to play forever, so now was as good a time as any for players to be more vocal, and that will be a good test for them next season. Seth Jones, Connor Murphy, Tyler Johnson, and Jarred Tinordi will pave the way in leadership roles. It’s almost as if the coach’s vocal drills foreshadowed what the team knew was possibly coming. Of course, it won’t be the same, but sometimes change is necessary.

Related: Jonathan Toews: Beyond the Glory

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The other tidbit that Davidson mentioned is that for development purposes, keeping players like Kane and Toews can be a detriment because players always defer to them. Retaining players like Toews aids development on and off the ice, not hinders it, but at this point, the team hasn’t succeeded in years. Management has been swiftly trying to start this team anew since 2021, and if the Blackhawks want players like Lukas Reichel, Philipp Kurashev, Taylor Raddysh, and other prospects to shine on their own, they are never going to if they are stuck in the shadows of the greats. They will know how far these players can go once they can forge their own path.

A Blackhawks & Toews Breakup Was The Last Step

Blackhawks’ fans have been saying a slow goodbye to Toews since 2020, when he missed the entire 2020-21 season due to his health, then followed by a shaky return where he had 37 points in 71 games, which drew concerns on if he could return to form, and then finally with Kane getting traded. When he got traded, that signaled that the end was near for Toews, too. You don’t keep one without the other. However, one of the criticisms of the Toews news is that, just like with Kane, it can look like a force-out instead of them leaving the Blackhawks on their own terms because no contract extension was offered.

One thing to keep in mind is that we don’t know what was said during Davidson and Toews’ meetings. Davidson mentioned he has been in contact with Toews and his representatives all season. Still, all the information released about the move has been from Davidson’s point of view and his reasonings. Even in Toews’ press conference, he talked about the decision from Davidson’s standpoint from when he was told of management’s plans. The 82-game season is a long time gap for talks, so who knows what Toews said to him. It could be more mutual than it looks, and that would make sense.

Ever since last season, it seemed like Toews had one foot out the door. He openly discussed being discouraged with the team’s direction stemming from the Brandon Hagel trade, and he has talked previously about picturing himself playing for another team. (from ‘We’ll see’: Jonathan Toews mulls his future with Blackhawks in wake of ‘discouraging’ Brandon Hagel trade’ – The AthleticNHL – 03/18/2022) Lastly, he said he knew in his heart that it was time to move on after this season, even before he talked with management. Considering all that, the odds of Toews re-signing were slim. Both sides have been drifting apart for a while. But even if the team had offered, it would have been the wrong decision.

One of the things that Davidson mentioned that stood out to me was him saying, “I don’t know if resting on sentimentality or the past does us any good in the future.” Toews getting re-signed would have been phenomenal for nostalgia purposes and considering everything he endured this season, but the team can’t continue down this path. Look at the Pittsburgh Penguins. They gave contract extensions to Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang over the summer to keep the “Big Three” (including Sidney Crosby) around for their 17th season together, and although they continued to play at an elite level, the Pens missed the playoffs for the first time in 16 years. As Penguins’ journalist Dan Kingerski mentioned, even though those three were great this season, the team around them was mediocre, and now there’s no denying changes have to be made. In other words, what good has keeping them around done for them at this point?

Related: 4 Blackhawks Who Won’t Be Back Next Season

The Blackhawks have tried to win with sentimentality, and it likely extended the rebuild timeline. It’s better to cut the cord, no matter how much it hurts. It is the last step to forging a new path and identity for the Hawks. Moreover, keeping Toews around would do little for the team. They will likely finish in the bottom-10 next season, even if they do get Connor Bedard or Adam Fantilli, and it’s not fair to Toews either, who is 34 years old. If he decides to continue playing, he needs to be on a contender.

Toews’ Blackhawks’ Legacy Remains

Overall, no words can describe what Toews means to the Blackhawks. His stats speak for themselves, as he is top 10 in games, goals, assists, points, game-winning goals, and overtime goals in franchise history. Plus, three Stanley Cups and a Conn Smythe Trophy to match. He is one of the best two-way players ever to play the game, and the dynasty started the second the team drafted him third overall in 2006. He was one of the youngest captains in NHL history, and his 15-year reign in that role is the fourth-longest in NHL history. It’s disappointing that it has to end this way, but there is nothing more Toews-like than scoring a goal in his final game to bring the Blackhawks to a one-goal game against the Flyers (4-3) while winning 74 percent of faceoffs.

Jonathan Toews Chicago Blackhawks
Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Toews has overcome so much since 2020, and the fact that he has had to miss so much time but still put up 31 points and led the league in faceoff wins with a 63.12 percent success rate this year is impressive. No one knows if he will ultimately retire or try to chase another Stanley Cup elsewhere, but accolades and personal feelings aside, moving on is best for all involved. The Captain built the ship and is now going down with it. But, just like the infamous book title states, not all fairy tales have happy endings.

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