The Chicago Blackhawks tasted plenty of glory in the last decade, but the face of the franchise isn’t so comfortable with the direction the team is now heading down.
Jonathan Toews has spent the entirety of his 14-year NHL career in Chicago and has been the team’s captain since 2008. While he has lifted the Stanley Cup three times and has won multiple individual awards, the squad around him is in the middle of an aggressive teardown after years of mediocrity.
The highest the team has finished in the last five years is sixth in the Central Division, and after winning just 28 games last season, the team traded away young top-tier players Alex DeBrincat and Kirby Dach.
With the front office choosing to undergo a long-delayed rebuild, Toews knows the club won’t see success for a while and doesn't see himself tagging along for the ride.
“At the end of the day, we’re talking about a five-plus-year process, according to [Blackhawks GM Kyle Davidson],” Toews told Mark Lazerus of The Athletic. “So that part of it doesn’t sound appealing to me at all."
The 34-year-old is not alone in this predicament, as longtime teammate Patrick Kane finds himself in the final year of an eight-year, $84 million deal, identical to the contract signed by Toews in 2014, in the midst of their dynastic run of three Stanley Cups in five seasons.
“I can’t speak for [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," he said. "You have a guy like Alex DeBrincat who was under Kaner’s wing. And I like to think that Kirby and I had that bond in some ways, too. And out they go, out the door. Over and over, we’ve seen that turnover."
At 34 years old, there is only so much time left in Toews’s career and he knows that it might be enticing to cement his legacy elsewhere. Somewhere he might be able to win more hockey games – something that he used to do regularly.
“I’m not going to say, hey, look at that, look at how the grass could be greener on the other side,” Toews said. “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."
Armed with a no-move clause, Toews can decide where he wants to get traded at the deadline next season – if he desires a move. Or he can just wait it out, head to free agency and sign somewhere to start the final chapter in his career.
Of course, there is the dreaded notion of Toews succumbing to his injuries – those which he has struggled through in recent years and was forced to – and deciding that his body is too weathered to think of another contract, and retiring at the end of the 2022-23 season.
“I really can’t answer that for you,” he told The Athletic when asked if retirement is a real possibility. “As boring of a response as this is, that’s the beauty of it — I can just be in the moment. I learned to really love the game again and find the joy in it, and to play with energy, play with passion, play at a high level. I feel like I still have so much to give to this team and to the game, and I’m excited to show that not only to myself, but to everybody."
No matter what he does next, Toews has already had a career that is deserving of some recognition. No one can blame him for not wanting to stick around in the mess that the Blackhawks are creating for themselves by trading away some of their best young talent for questionable returns and bottoming out.
Through 1014 career games, Toews has scored 357 goals and 852 points, most recently registering a 37-point campaign in his comeback 2021-22 season.
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