Blackhawks missed Jonathan Toews 'in a lot of ways' originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
The Blackhawks went into the 2020-21 season planning to give their young players larger roles and that's exactly what they did. They're trying to integrate a new wave of talent into the lineup.
But there was a notable presence missing, both on and off the ice, all season: Jonathan Toews.
In December, the Blackhawks captain revealed he would not join the team for training camp because he had been "experiencing symptoms that have left me feeling drained and lethargic." Nobody knew how long his absence would last, but hockey became secondary at that point and his health was the main priority.
Five months later, the Blackhawks completed their campaign with a 24-25-7 record and did so without the face of their franchise. And to say they felt his absence is an understatement.
"I miss him in a lot of ways," Patrick Kane said. "Off the ice, he's a great leader, great friend. So you miss him just in that sense. And then obviously on the ice, for me, it makes things a lot easier, too. Whether we’re playing together or not, you have that 1-2 punch that gives the other team something to think about, about who they’re going to defend. They've got to be more aware when he’s on the ice and I can come on next and maybe get easier matchups."
Kane wasn't finished.
"You miss him a lot in the faceoff department," he continued. "We saw that a lot with the power play this year. It gets to a point where it becomes frustrating you’re losing the draws and you've got to start on the breakout on the power play. He was so good at that. You took that for granted where you were always starting with the puck in the offensive zone. It seems like when we did that this year, we had a little bit more success and could create more. Miss him there.
"There’s a bunch of other ways we miss him. You expect him to be back, hopefully, he is back, and he’s obviously a big part of the organization."
The good news? Toews' health is reportedly improving and he's expected to be back for the 2021-22 campaign if he continues on the path he's been on as of late.
President/GM Stan Bowman said he talked to Toews a few weeks ago, but declined to elaborate on his status.
"He’s doing well, had a good chat," Bowman said. "We talked for about 15-20 minutes about a lot of things, our team but non-hockey stuff too. It was good to connect with him and catch up. That’s the update I have, though. I don’t have anything more than that. We’re hopeful he’ll be back, but we’re going to let it play out and we’ll see. It’s uncharted waters here. The situation came up and we’re taking it as it comes. When we have more information, we’ll pass that along. I don’t have another update on that right now."
Toews is a three-time Stanley Cup champion and Conn Smythe Trophy winner who has already established himself as one of the greatest players to ever put on a Blackhawks uniform. Everybody wants him back next season, but, most importantly, they want him feeling 100 percent again.
In a rebuilding year, it was challenging for the Blackhawks not to have their captain around. But they handled the situation as best as they could."He’s an extremely important player for us, for our team," head coach Jeremy Colliton said. "He’s meant a lot for the organization and the success we’ve been able to have. I think the team handled it very well, whether it was the players taking on more of a leadership role, the players taking on more responsibility as far as their play, focusing as a team on each game, that’s the most important thing.
"Not worrying so much about who is and isn’t in the lineup and what was being said on the outside about what kind of team we were going to be and who we didn’t have. That’s what you've got do. You've got to focus on the here and now and present and not worry about the outside things. We can’t do anything about it, you've got to focus on what’s in front of you.
"Of course, we hope he’s going to be back. He’s a great player and he’d really help us, but gotta give him time to sort things out and we’ll go from there."