Jonathan Toews leaving the Blackhawks once was unthinkable. Now it seems inevitable
Will Jonathan Toews finish his career with the Chicago Blackhawks?
Or will he be wearing a different sweater at some point?
This conundrum is on many minds as the Stanley Cup playoffs get underway this week.
While there's no clear answer, the guess here is Toews will indeed play for another team at some point next season. The writing has long been on the wall and it seems inevitable that a contender will make an offer the Hawks -- and Toews -- agree to.
Let's start with the fact Toews -- who has one year remaining on his deal -- is absolutely sick and tired of losing. The Hawks haven't been a true contender since 2017 and don't figure to be one again for three to five years.
Toews may not have that much time left, so the prudent move would be to waive his no movement clause.
Now, no team is going to take on Toews' $10.5 million cap hit. But watch for one GM to absorb half of it and send the Hawks a prospect and/or draft picks, as well as a bad contract.
This could happen during the offseason, but is more likely as the 2023 trade deadline approaches.
The return for the Hawks doesn't figure to be stunning, but it would help the rebuild.
Toews' value to a playoff team would be similar to what Brad Richards brought to the Hawks in 2014-15.
The similarities are actually a bit disturbing.
Richards was 34 at the time (the same as Toews) and scored 12 goals and 25 assists for the Hawks (the same numbers Toews just posted). Richards flew under the radar that season, which is what Toews could do on an uber-talented squad such as Colorado.
Toews was asked about his future in multiple interviews late this season and gave a similar response each time: He's staying in the moment and refuses to look too far ahead.
Two instances were telling, however.
On March 23 -- just days after the Hawks traded Brandon Hagel and Marc-Andre Fleury -- Toews admitted he could see himself playing elsewhere. "For the longest time the thought never entered my mind to ever leave Chicago," he said. "In this case you can't help but picture yourself and what it would be like to play for another team and just what that experience would bring. Thought pops in your mind."
On April 14 Toews was asked what it would be like to play for a Hawks squad trying to lose so they can improve their odds at winning the 2023 draft lottery. A few seconds passed as Toews gathered his thoughts. "I don't want to think about that," he finally said. "I feel like I just need to take it one day at a time. Obviously there's some learning for me to just be in the moment and not be so results oriented all the time.
"But I don't know. I don't know what's going to happen this summer."
There's no doubt this was a rough season for Toews, both on and off the ice. Early on, he didn't seem like himself in front of the media. It was the same thing behind the scenes as Toews tried to get his body back in shape after missing the entire 2021 campaign with an illness.
His captaincy seemed to weigh on him as well, something he spoke about twice in the last few weeks.
So what does Toews want out of the rest of his career? He summed that up nicely by saying: "Ultimately I want to play great hockey. I want to go out there and show what I'm able to do once again. It's been a while since I felt that way."
He also wants to compete for a Stanley Cup every year. Barring a miracle that won't happen in Chicago next season, so the best way for Toews to show he can still "play great hockey" is to join a contender.
Toews' would be a beautiful complementary piece on teams like the Avalanche, Rangers, Hurricanes or Panthers.
Going elsewhere obviously wouldn't be easy. After all, Toews loves the city, the fans, the organization and playing in the United Center.
"Guys like Kaner and myself (were) so lucky that we came in when we did," Toews said. "Really, the stars just kind of aligned.
"At the same time, it felt like a family. It felt like there was some real togetherness (and) just understanding of the tradition -- especially when you're around guys like Stan Mikita and Bobby Hull, Tony Esposito and Denis Savard. ...
"It was always great to have that interaction with the fans (during the annual conventions). I don't know if it's COVID but so many things have changed. It's just been so different.
"Those are just part of the traditions of being a Blackhawk that are really special -- that you're trying to pass on, instill or at least remind these young guys what we really have here.
"Yeah, there's a lot to it, obviously.
A lot would go into leaving as well.
But have no doubt -- if Wayne Gretzky and Bobby Hull could leave their teams -- so could Jonathan Toews.