photo credit: Zimbio
By Brad Gardner
Jonathan Toews is returning for the second season of his five-year $31.5 million dollar contract extension as the Blackhawks’ leading scorer, cracking the 70 point mark for the first time in his career last season with 76 points in 80 regular season games. Of his 32 goals, just two short of his career-high of 34 set in 2008-09, eight of his markers were game-winners. Toews finished second on last year’s club with a plus-25 rating. He had 10 power play goals as well.
His strongest stretch came in the season’s second half as the Blackhawks hovered in and out of a playoff position on an almost nightly basis. The ‘Hawks captain scored 14 goals and 21 assists in 26 games during February and March, supplying the team with just enough offense down the stretch to hang on to the 8th seed in the Western Conference.
Toews struggled to continue that level of production in the postseason when Chicago ran into the rival Vancouver Canucks. The much-anticipated match-up between fellow Selke finalists Toews and Ryan Kesler ended up with both players relatively neutralized. One year removed from the Conn Smythe trophy, Toews scored just one goal and four points in the seven playoff games against Vancouver. Of course, that one goal was the most memorable of the season as the captain, shorthanded and knocked down to his knees as he tried to get to the net, picked up a rebound off Roberto Luongo and fired it past the netminder to tie game seven with less than two minutes left in regulation.
Memorable is nothing new for Jonathan Toews. There is little left to say about the 23-year-old ‘Hawk captain at this point in his career. His leadership, work ethic, and ‘hockey butt’ have all garnered praise in Chicago as well as around the league. His trophy case and dazzling international resume illustrate his propensity for coming up big in the most important games. Toews is the heart and soul of the Blackhawks and it is unequivocally understood in Chicago that the team’s heart is not at peace with how the 2010-11 season ended.
The respect he has earned in the locker room was questioned at times last season, especially when the Blackhawks struggled out of the gate. Toews’ place as the team’s top dog should only be bolstered by the veteran additions made by GM Stan Bowman in the off-season, not to mention help ease some of the defensive assignments and penalty kill responsibilities of the captain. Averaging 20:45 of ice time per night during the regular season last year, Toews ranked fourth on the entire team behind oft-used defensemen Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, and Brian Campbell.
There was good reason for the ice time, though, as Toews was easily Chicago’s best player when it came to the puck possession game. He has been the Blackhawks’ best faceoff man among everyday centers over the last three years (Ryan Johnson’s 63.1% success rate on 312 draws last season being the lone exception). He also takes care of the puck once the team has possession – while the rest of the ‘Hawks struggled with giveaways (Duncan Keith, for example, amassed 83 giveaways last season to 56 takeaways), Toews reversed the trend with just 30 giveaways and his total of 93 takeaways was almost 30 more than the next best player. It often looks as if his core is as solid as a tree trunk, making it nearly impossible for him to be knocked off the puck and difficult to contain when he gets the puck in close to the net.
Toews is again poised to lead the Blackhawks into 2011-12 and will be the team’s top center option. Whether it be on the power play or penalty kill, the first draw of the game or a defensive zone faceoff late in the 3rd period, Toews will be Joel Quenneville’s guy in the middle. While some fans might like to see him score more points or bring more consistency to the score sheet, just having such a strong, dependable presence at the center position does more to right the ship than many observers give him credit for.
Given his voracious work ethic and outstanding hockey ability, it is hard to believe he won’t keep getting better year after year. It is not unreasonable to expect him to be Chicago’s best player next season in every department because it seems as if he expects that of himself. There is always the hint of another gear for Toews and seeing him reach that next level is just one of the many pleasures that the Blackhawks’ faithful have had while watching their captain develop into one of the NHL’s premiere centers.
In addition to covering the Blackhawks for TheThirdManIn.com, Brad is also the Blackhawks’ correspondent at HockeysFuture.com.