Jonathan Toews’ departure completes slow disintegration of Blackhawks’ golden era

The Hawks won’t re-sign Toews this summer, meaning the last holdover from their mid-2010s Stanley Cup generation is now gone. The biggest disappointment might be how fruitless the second chapter of his tenure proved to be.

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Jonathan Toews looks for the puck, with Patrick Kane behind him, in December.

Jonathan Toews played his last Blackhawks game Thursday, making him the last player left from the Stanley Cup era to say goodbye.

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images file photo

The golden city that once represented the Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup dynasty era has been beaten down for years.

And now, the one-horse town has officially become a ghost town.

Jonathan Toews, the last remaining relic from those glory days, played his final game for the Hawks on Thursday.

The era is, at last, completely over. The bulldozers can be brought in; the town can be razed and, if general manager Kyle Davidson’s long-term scheme goes according to plan, slowly but surely rebuilt into a new metropolis.

“I don’t know if resting on sentimentality or the past does us any good in the future,” Davidson said Thursday, minutes after announcing he won’t re-sign Toews this summer.

To look around and see nothing but a ghost town left is jarring but hardly surprising. The Hawks haven’t won a postseason series in eight years — their last victory came in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final — and have sputtered between varying levels of bad for five years. The exodus of beloved stars, meanwhile, has taken nearly as long.

First it was Patrick Sharp, not counting his one-year return. Then it was Niklas Hjalmarsson; then Marian Hossa, then Brandon Saad (for the second time), then Corey Crawford, then Andrew Shaw, Brent Seabrook, then Duncan Keith and then Patrick Kane. And now, finally, Toews.

The hurricane of the sexual-assault scandal toppled most of the golden city’s remaining — albeit already crumbling — skyscrapers in 2021. The smog of irrelevance has clouded over most everything else since.

It is fitting that Toews, the team’s steady captain for 15 years, turned out to be the last to leave.

After 1,067 regular-season games, 137 playoff games, three Stanley Cups, six NHL All-Star selections, two Olympic gold medals, one Conn Smythe Trophy and one Selke Trophy, Toews’ legacy as an all-time great is beyond cemented — just as was the case for many of his peers.

But considering Toews’ enormous health issues over the last three years, even this moment doesn’t feel overly shocking. He is about to turn 35, after all. Stars come and go; so do dynasties. It’s how the cycle of sports works.

The biggest disappointment might be how remarkably fruitless the second chapter of his Hawks’ tenure proved to be, rather than the fact that its final page turned out to be written in 2023 — a fairly predictable year, honestly, if one was to have predicted such a thing back in the Hawks’ heyday.

From summer 2017 through Tuesday, the Hawks won only 139 of the 349 games in which Toews played.

All the while, his own decline — multiplied by far inferior linemates — whittled his once-unbelievable 58.6% career 5-on-5 goals ratio down to 55.0% and his elite 55.4% 5-on-5 scoring-chance ratio down to 53.1%. This season, he endured dismal 33.3% and 37.8% ratios in those two categories, respectively.

Ex-president John McDonough and ex-GM Stan Bowman — the mayor and city planner of the once-golden city — and their many ill-advised decisions deserve much of the blame for that ugly downward slide. (Not that they’ll take it; they’ve become ghosts themselves since their veneers of untouchability came crashing down two years ago).

So too does, unfortunately, Toews’ body.

His mysterious Long COVID and Chronic Immune Response Syndrome conditions have inflicted much less mysterious, much more tangibly significant damage to his stamina, strength and speed. There have been multiple stretches since 2020 during which he struggled to get out of bed, much less skate.

All the while, though, he continued to defiantly believe he could restore himself (and the Hawks) back to the unstoppable forces he (and they) once were, even as his body led him down a different path. His unflappable, unstoppable mental approach to the game — one of the key traits that powered him through all three championship runs — has never faltered.

Ideally, the energy-sapped version of No. 19 that fans have watched slog around the ice recently hasn’t overwritten their memories of the dominant No. 19 of yesteryear.

That former version of Toews was one of the league’s most well-rounded players and greatest defensive forwards. He possessed some inexplicable, omniscient ability to always position himself in the correct place, make the correct decision and execute the correct play, no matter whether he was nine or 199 feet away from the goal.

Sure, he never mass-produced highlights at the same rate Kane did — although Toews’ final franchise total of 883 points is impressive nonetheless — but considering his overall body of work, he contributed just as much as Kane did to the team’s success.

On that note, considering Toews and Kane’s inseparability as teammates and friends and the synonymous nature their names took on, it actually would’ve felt quite strange had Toews returned next season without Kane.

“He turned that franchise around,” Kane said Thursday in New York. “It’s pretty impressive [not only] what he has done with his career, but [also] just for that city. [He was] great with the fans, great with the people. He was a guy that led our team. He’s a legend.”

It will also feel quite strange if Toews decides to forge ahead through one more NHL season, signs elsewhere and returns to the United Center wearing a different jersey.

But the same will be true for Kane. The same was true for Keith. Goodbyes and off-putting, brief, emotional returns have become the norm over the last five years — and, realistically, have been the only Hawks events that have actually attracted attention around Chicago, the real-life city whose sports scene they once sat atop.

Indeed, the Hawks’ make-believe golden city is finally, thoroughly abandoned. The bulldozers are driving in already.

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