Today marks the last of Madhouse Enforcer’s 22 player evaluations, and it seems appropriate the finale should focus on Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, who helped the Hawks to their second Stanley Cup championship of his tenure wearing the “C”, something no other captain in team history has done.
Toews has always been knocking on the door of being a point per game player ever since the Hawks won their first Stanley Cup of their new era in 2010. Since that year, in which he had 68 points in 76 games, Toews has come within four points of pulling off the feat in 2011 and two points in 2012, but he finally broke through in 2013, with 48 points in 47 games.
Even more impressive than his continued high scoring output was the fact that his defense continued to be a strong element of his game as well. He was the winner of the Selke Trophy, given to the league’s best defensive forward, and even though it could be argued that Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins was more deserving, the fact remains that Toews is among the best defensive centers in the NHL.
Toews also was the lynchpin of the Hawks’ puck possession game, which has been talked about for years but only now is really becoming a marvel leaguewide. Partly because he won 59.9% of the faceoffs he took during the regular season, and partly because he racked up a 1045 PDO while he was on the ice (anything above 1000 is considered good), Toews demonstrated the value not only of having a center capable of winning draws, but also how important it is to have forwards who are aggressive on the backcheck and are able to win puck battles, which then lead to scoring chances going the other way because of the quality forwards that Toews often plays with.
All in all, the 2013 season was a perfect microcosm of Toews’ career with the Blackhawks. He excelled in all the areas that he has been good in over that time, and thanks in large part to his efforts, the Hawks not only won the President’s Trophy but also the Cup title as well.
Small sample size or not, one area of his game that Toews will need to improve upon is his scoring when the playoffs roll around.
In the 2011 playoffs against the Vancouver Canucks, Toews took 19 shots over the course of seven games, but only one of them, a rebound chance late in the third period of Game 7, actually went in the net.
In the 2013 playoffs, Toews once again took a huge number of shots, 70, but only three of them found the back of the net, and that 4.3% success rate simply has to be higher in order for the Hawks to consistently find success.
There are several factors that absolutely should be considered before hammering Toews about his offensive decline in the postseason. Obviously we have no idea whether or not Toews was fully healthy for the run, although head coach Joel Quenneville did trim his regular season minutes quite a bit in order to keep him fresh for the playoffs.
Also, the fact that the Hawks played three teams with excellent defensive centers that were regularly deployed against Toews, including Pavel Datsyuk, Anze Kopitar, and Bergeron, would have something to do with his struggles. Obviously, that means that Toews had to defend them when he was on the ice as well.
The key to refuting the validity of that second point is to remember that Toews was shielded quite a bit from the tough defensive matchups in the playoffs. His offensive zone start percentage of 60.3 is really high, especially compared to the 33.6% that Dave Bolland had, and it shows that Quenneville was cognizant of his star’s struggles and was trying to get him more ideal matchups as the postseason wore on.
Now, a dip in production when the game gets more physical is to be expected, especially for a guy who so much defensive attention is paid to, but Toews has to do a better job of rushing the net and getting quality chances from in close in future playoff runs. In fact, his biggest goal of the playoffs, a tip-in against the Bruins in Game 4 of the Cup Final, came because he parked himself in front of Tuukka Rask and used his size to get inside position in order to get a stick on the puck.
Toews is definitely capable of doing these things, but he has to actually execute when push comes to shove.
Best Game of 2013:
Toews had a ton of great games to choose from, including his Game 6 peformance against Boston in which he had a goal and an assist, but it was his Game 5 performance in the Western Conference Finals against the Los Angeles Kings that brought his skillset to the fore.
In addition to the five shots on goal Toews had in the game, he also picked up two assists, including the assist to linemate Patrick Kane that ended the series and sent the Hawks to the Cup Final. It was a beautiful play, with Toews and Kane breaking out of the neutral zone on a 2-on-1 break. When Toews feathered the pass across the ice to Kane, it was an absolutely perfect dish, and Kane fired home a great shot to give the Hawks the victory.
That one play was the perfect encapsulation of the rapport that Kane and Toews have, and with the way they dominated once they were paired together in the playoffs, it would take a lot of people by surprise to see them separated when the 2013-14 season begins.
Outlook for 2013-14:
There are two main storylines to keep an eye on when it comes to Toews in the coming season.
The first will be whether or not his minutes continue to be limited with a condensed schedule and in keeping an eye on the fact that he will be rejoining the Canadian Olympic team in Russia. In a perfect world, that would be the case, but with no one in a position to help Toews cut back on his time spent on the penalty killing unit, it doesn’t seem like Quenneville will be able to trim much more off of his ice time.
The other will be who will end up skating alongside him on opening night. When the playoffs concluded, Bryan Bickell had ascended to the top line, and Kane was reunited with him as well.
With guys like Andrew Shaw and Marian Hossa in the offing, no one can say it would be shocking to see Quenneville break up that top grouping, but it would be an interesting decision considering how much success the trio found in the playoffs.