Jonathan Toews’ Blackhawks future uncertain as he considers ‘what it’d be like to play for another team’
Toews has realized the rebuilding Hawks are heading in a new direction, but otherwise he’s just starting to sort through conflicting thoughts about his own future.
ANAHEIM, Calif. — Jonathan Toews didn’t hold back Wednesday when discussing his thoughts about his Blackhawks’ future.
It’s impossible to paint Toews’ current mindset into any one corner or direction, because he admits he doesn’t even know exactly what the best course of action is. But it is clear Toews’ future on the Hawks has entered uncharted seas of uncertainty.
“For the longest time, the thought never entered my mind to leave Chicago,” Toews said. “In this case, you can’t help but picture yourself and what it’d be like to play for another team and what that experience would bring. That pops into your mind.
“But Chicago’s my home. I love the Blackhawks. I love the organization. It has been my family for a long time. And I’m not putting the cart before the horse or getting ahead of myself in any way.”
Entering March, Toews said he didn’t know yet what general manager Kyle Davidson’s rebuild declaration meant. A few weeks later, the trades of Marc-Andre Fleury, Ryan Carpenter and particularly Brandon Hagel have shown Toews that Davidson’s definition of rebuilding is a lot truer to the conventional definition than Stan Bowman’s definition was.
And as Toews’ 1,000th NHL game (March 31 at Florida) and 34th birthday (April 29, the date of the Hawks’ season finale at Buffalo) approach, he knows a true rebuild doesn’t align so well with his late-career trajectory.
“It has become pretty clear the direction we’re heading in as a franchise,” he said. “And I’m not going to lie, it was disheartening to see a couple of your really good friends go, regardless of what’s to come in the future.
“There’s a lot of challenges that these guys have grown through as a group, and when you cultivate that chemistry, friendship and connection with your teammates, you want to keep building off of it. So it’s definitely a little disheartening.”
Toews did credit Davidson for upholding his promise to keep him and Patrick Kane in the loop with his decisions, something that previously caused strife with Bowman.
“Kyle is sincere,” he said. “He has obviously had some tough decisions to make already. [I’m] looking forward to just being in touch with him on his thought process and what the near future looks like, at least this summer. At the end of the day, [I want to] hear what he thinks about my game. It’s never easy [but] it’s always good to hear some honest thoughts from his vantage point.”
Toews’ conflicting emotions foreshadow a difficult stretch ahead for him, one that’ll be especially difficult for the next month as he juggles his in-season captain duties while also trying to figure out what he personally wants moving forward.
He’s still consumed by unwavering belief in himself and the team. He insisted earlier this month he still hasn’t “played my best hockey in my career,” and he said Tuesday the Hawks — who entered the day with 22 wins in 63 games this season — are “never far off if we show up and have that work ethic and that consistency.”
The latter opinion certainly isn’t shared by management or any objective pundits around the hockey world, and the former likely isn’t, either. Thinking through his fate might require first taking off the rose-tinted glasses, and doing that might be challenging and disheartening in itself.
And then there’s the issue of, if he decides he does want to play for another team, which team would that be. His $10.5 million cap hit for next season wouldn’t be simple for any team to fit in, and that combined with Toews’ health issues and slowing production, will diminish the list of theoretical suitors.
But for now, the captain is determined to get through the season smoothly, without his uncertainty becoming a distraction.
“There are a lot of situations where you want to take the shortcut, take the easy way out and say, ‘Ah, there’s no point in doing it right or doing the hard thing,’ ” he said. “We’re all focusing on what are the hard things, what are the sacrifices, what are the commitments we have to make? Regardless of the end result this year, we have to commit to doing that.”
Interim coach Derek King isn’t concerned, either, that that could happen.
“It’s a challenge for some of these guys, especially [Patrick Kane] and even looking at [Alex DeBrincat] . . . to stay up[beat],” King said. “But it’s their job. They’re professionals and I have no worries about them not doing their job and [not] helping these kids along and teaching them.
“I’m not even thinking the other way that these guys won’t be able to do it. They will do it, because that’s the type of people they are.”