NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Jonathan Toews will walk away from this Blackhawks season steaming, and he’s looking to submerge himself in that anger to set the tone for his summer.
He’s been winning nearly his entire career until the last two seasons, and he’ll torture himself again the next two months by watching everybody else in the playoffs.
“It’s a good thing to let it sink in,” he said. “I think that pain and that fear, that missing out, is a good thing. It just makes you hungrier.
“You want to be in that mix, you want to be playing in those big nationally televised games, and you want to be getting the fans going in Chicago … so it sucks to be at home sitting there watching other teams.”
The Hawks’ season is finally — mercifully — over after losing to the Predators 5-2 on Saturday. They allowed 50 shots on goal and couldn’t stop Nashville from claiming the Central Division crown.
Cam Ward, perhaps in the final game of a fine career, had 45 saves in an effort worthy of victory.
The Hawks finished 36-34-12, six points out of a playoff spot. It’s modest progress from the 19-point gap they ended with last season.
Better, but not real success. Not even close.
Jeremy Colliton is new in the building, but he knows that. Very little about this season was up to standard. He has been in a bad mood since being eliminated a few days ago — his version of a bad mood, at least — and it sounds like his work schedule isn’t going to lighten up just because the season is over.
He’ll be watching the playoffs with “envy.” The way he described the viewing experience he anticipates actually sounded more like scouting. Steaming and scouting.
“I don’t think anyone should be satisfied with where we’re at,” Colliton said. “Feel like we’re on the right track, but it’s not enough.”
Most of the Hawks’ younger players don’t know the feeling, but it’s a suffering for Toews and the other pillars of the Stanley Cup runs to go home early. They went all out chasing the second wild-card spot, even if all it got them was an overwhelming first-round opponent.
“There’s nothing more exciting than playing playoff hockey — the whole city’s on your back,” Toews said. “It’s basically like a high when you win. There’s nothing better as a hockey player … You play all year to get to that point.
“That’s what you really kick yourself for leaving on the table. So we can remind ourselves of that, and obviously you’ve got to take the offseason as seriously as you can.”
Toews already has been doing that. The predicament of the NHL calendar is that repeated deep playoff runs wear players down — the Hawks played an extra 128 games from 2008 through ’17 — but seasons that end in April are miserable.
Toews acknowledged the long seasons caught up with him, and that’s part of why his offensive numbers dipped. He scored a then-career-low 21 goals in 2016-17, then had 20 the next season. He totaled 52 points last season, which was a little better than what he did in the shortened 2012-13 season.
There were questions, some from himself, about whether he was slowing down, but he snapped back this season with career bests in goals (35), assists (46) and points (81).
“It’s just exciting knowing I’ve got a lot of great hockey coming my way, and I’m really, really excited to see what I can do down the road,” Toews said.
“I know what I’m capable of, and it comes down to what I think of myself and how I view myself. … So if there’s people that think I’m not one of those elite players anymore, then I guess it’s nice to prove them wrong.”