It may be the last week in August, but Olympic fever is running rampant throughout the hockey blogosphere as members of Team Canada and Team USA gather in Calgary and Washington D.C. for Olympic orientation camps.
Yesterday, we discussed how Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane is the face of hockey in the United States, but another player has been generating some serious buzz north of the border.
Captain Jonathan Toews has done it all in his six seasons with the Blackhawks. He has won two Stanley Cups, won a gold medal with Team Canada at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, and has won a Selke Trophy as the league’s best defensive forward. It’s hard to believe that he is only 26 years old, and that he’s already been captain of the Hawks for five seasons, but he has definitely made a huge impact over that time, and Hawks fans aren’t the only ones who have noticed.
Gary Lawless is a columnist for the Winnipeg Free Press, and he had some interesting things to say about Toews and his status as a Canadian icon:
“Really, does Jonathan Toews leave anything to chance? Sure, he can’t guarantee the results he wants but Toews isn’t a starry-eyed dreamer that lets the world turn whichever way it wants. No, Toews tries to turn the world in his direction, and lately, he’s been more successful than any other player.
“This will, this determination, makes Toews the natural leader of Team Canada, regardless of any official designation.”
This may be a bold statement in of itself, considering that Sidney Crosby is likely going to be named the captain of Team Canada and is considered by most hockey pundits to be the best player in the world. However, Lawless goes even further:
“Many will argue – and I’m firmly in this camp – at this moment in time, Toews is the best player in the world. Durable, clutch and complete. He is The Franchise in Chicago and maybe Canada too.”
Those are some really strong words, and while a case can be made that it’s simply an example of overheated hyperbole by a columnist in a player’s hometown, his claims about Toews’ abilities do have merit. Toews is a more complete player than Crosby is, as Lawless also points out, and his leadership has always been something that pundits have pointed to as an example of his value as a player.
People who believe that Crosby is still the superior player to Toews also have some very valid points to make. While Toews is often praised for his abilities on both sides of the ice, Crosby is bar none the best offensive player in the game, and in a league that has long forgotten the days of Wayne Gretzky skating circles around everyone, Crosby is the closest heir apparent to that crown.
In fact, this debate between Toews and Crosby probably wouldn’t be happening if not for a remarkable run of bad luck on the injury front for the Penguins captain. The inadvertent elbow that gave Crosby a concussion that cost him most of the 2011-12 season was a fluke accident, and the puck Crosby took to the face that fractured his jaw and knocked out several teeth during the 2013 campaign was also something no one could possibly prepare for.
Even still, Crosby had a stellar statistical season. In only 36 games, Crosby managed to rack up 56 points, which tied him for third place in the NHL along with Alex Ovechkin, who only achieved that mark by playing in all 48 of the Capitals’ games. Toews, meanwhile, finished 13th in the league in points with 48 while playing in 47 games.
It also was the first time that Toews had ever managed to score a point per game or more in his career. On the other hand, Crosby has accomplished that feat in all eight seasons that he’s been in the NHL, and has eclipsed the 100 point mark on four different occasions.
With that extra knowledge in mind, is Lawless right? Is Jonathan Toews not only the de facto leader of Team Canada, but also the best player on the planet right now? The answer to the first part of that question may very well be yes, but as for the second part, the answer has to be no.
Yes, having a captain like Toews is a huge benefit to the Hawks and would be of tremendous value to any team that he would play on, but Crosby is simply on another level when it comes to NHL players. His offensive flair, as well as his ability to make the players who happen to skate on his line better (just ask Chris Kunitz how that worked out for him) are talents that no other player can match, and as such, he still has to be considered the best player in the game.