Jonathan Toews still believes in himself and the Blackhawks, even as rebuild looms
Despite lingering health concerns and uncertainty about the future, Toews insists he hasn’t yet played the best hockey of his career.
PHILADELPHIA — A battle between Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews’ body and his soul is raging.
Toews’ health issues in the last two years — and how they’ve taken a toll on his abilities even when he has been healthy — are impossible to ignore. But his determined, tenacious mindset hasn’t changed at all.
After returning from a five-week concussion absence Thursday, having now missed 59 of the Hawks’ last 104 games, Toews opened up about how those conflicting forces are playing tug-of-war in his mind.
‘‘I still don’t like to believe that, you know, [the end is near],’’ he said. ‘‘I should say these last few years have been frustrating. That saying goes in hockey, ‘You’re only as good as your last game.’ It’s tough to not think that way sometimes.
‘‘In my heart, I feel like I haven’t played my best hockey in my career. At this age . . . your experience really adds to how you play the game, how you approach it, how you prepare off the ice. [I’m] just fighting for my health and to find a way to get my body to cooperate and get back to that level I know I can play at. [I’m] trying to push that sort of thing off a little bit longer and keep enjoying the game.’’
Given Toews’ personality, he probably still will be saying his best days are yet to come when he’s 70. It’s that drive that has powered him to the precipice of the 1,000-game milestone, which he’s on track to reach March 31.
But are they really yet to come? That’s difficult to believe. Toews’ remarkable daily preparation — he often is seen in arena hallways hours before games, stretching or puck-handling by himself — seemingly can take him only so far. His body can tolerate only so much.
With just more than a year left on his contract, the retirement speculation already has begun. Although he’s trying to block it out, reality starts sinking in when he sees so many longtime contemporaries now in different stages of life, such as Duncan Keith with the Oilers and Niklas Hjalmarsson in retirement.
And then there’s the question of how the Hawks’ rebuild will affect him. Will new general manager Kyle Davidson eventually approach Toews about the possibility of a trade? And, if not, is this much effort — this much risk to his long-term health — really worth it on a team that’s not trying to win?
Toews said Thursday he doesn’t have any specific answers in those regards, but he praised Davidson’s assertiveness with the rebuilding plan while not-so-subtly roasting former GM Stan Bowman.
‘‘I don’t know if I really understand what [‘rebuild’] means yet,’’ he said. ‘‘Obviously, this has been an underwhelming year. . . . We know, somewhere in there, we have much better than what we’ve shown.
‘‘With Kyle, I think he’s the right person for the job. He’s that kind of guy that knows how to make decisions not based on attachment or ego, and he’s going to do what’s right for the organization. At the same time, there’s still a lot of uncertainty. But it’s exciting to at least know that this team will have some direction in the next little bit here.’’
Toews still can make an impact. His assist Saturday gave him a respectable 20 points — although only four are goals — in 45 appearances, and he ranks sixth in the NHL with a 58.4% faceoff percentage.
But the battle is raging.