Jonathan Toews' troubling, sudden decline has Blackhawks in a bind

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Jonathan Toews (Getty Photographs)

Barring a late-season surge, the Blackhawks seem destined to overlook the playoffs for the primary time because the 2007-08 season. It’s been a fairly exceptional run of success in Chicago — three Stanley Cups and convention finals journeys on two different events — however there are a lot of things behind the precipitous decline this yr.

Marian Hossa had his profession come to a weird finish. Corey Crawford has been injured. A few of the Blackhawks’ prime gamers have gotten older. Their try and put the band again collectively has not gone as deliberate with Brandon Saad and Patrick Sharp struggling to make a vital impression. 

And there’s one other elephant in the room that basically hasn’t been addressed a lot: The straightforward proven fact that a few of Chicago’s prime gamers have carried out under expectations.

Most particularly, captain Jonathan Toews. 

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Toews is in the center of what is going to be, by a fairly vital margin, the worst offensive season of his profession. The reunion with Saad has not produced the outcomes the Blackhawks anticipated, and he has merely not been an elite middle, no less than so far as his manufacturing is worried. 

It’s a sensitive topic to deliver up as a result of Toews is so revered across the NHL as an elite participant. He’s a Stanley Cup champion, a Conn Smythe winner, an Olympic Gold medalist and, for a few years, was considered not solely top-of-the-line gamers in the world, however relying on who you requested, maybe even the greatest.

Following the 2013-14 season, the Blackhawks signed him and Patrick Kane, the inspiration of their resurgence and mini-dynasty period, to matching eight-yr contracts that paid them every greater than $10 million per season. 

I can’t blame the Blackhawks for these investments as a result of on the time it was the fitting factor to do. It was going to make constructing a workforce round them harder, however you continue to want these excessive-degree gamers to win. You retain the superstars and discover methods to make it work round them. On the time the Blackhawks signed Toews to that contract, he was one of many elite gamers in the NHL. 

Proclamations of him being the most effective participant in the world have been all the time a bit excessive, however he was on the very least a prime-10 participant and a prime participant on a mini-dynasty. 

Between the 2009-10 and 2013-14 seasons, Toews was certainly one of simply 5 gamers in the NHL to rank among the many prime 20 in each factors per recreation and Corsi proportion. The one different gamers to try this throughout the identical span have been Henrik and Daniel Sedin, Pavel Datsyuk and Anze Kopitar. He was a distinctive participant who scored like a prime-line middle and performed a possession-driving two-means recreation. After the 2013-14 season is when Toews signed his new contract extension.

Earlier than it formally kicked in, he had one other massive yr and helped lead the Blackhawks to their third Stanley Cup in six seasons. 

Since then, although, it’s been a little downhill for Toews and the Blackhawks. On a workforce degree, they misplaced in the primary-spherical of the playoffs in again-to-again years and at the moment are in hazard of lacking the postseason completely.  

For Toews, it has been a mildly regarding drop from one of many league’s elite gamers to at least one that’s merely … fairly good.

Keep in mind the stat talked about above about that 5-yr run the place Toews was in the highest-20 in factors per recreation (he was seventeenth) and Corsi proportion (the place he was third)? Properly, because the begin of the 2015-sixteen season, Toews is 52nd in factors per recreation and seventieth in Corsi proportion. 

Nonetheless good. Nonetheless that of a prime-line participant. However hardly what you anticipate from a participant making greater than $10 million per season. And that’s the drawback the Blackhawks are dealing with. If you pay somebody that a lot cash and commit that a lot of your wage cap area to a participant, you expect them — and wish them — to be nice. 

There are 9 forwards which are going to make no less than $9.5 million in precise wage subsequent season, a group that’s made up of Toews, Kane, Kopitar, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel, Alex Ovechkin and Jamie Benn. 

5 of these gamers (Crosby, Malkin, Kane, McDavid and Benn) are all among the many prime 10 in factors per recreation because the begin of the 2015-sixteen season. Alex Ovechkin is sixteenth, however is at present nonetheless the most effective objective-scorer in the league. Kopitar is twenty second in factors per recreation and in addition sixteenth in Corsi Proportion. Eichel is thirtieth in factors per recreation — a type of seasons he was an 18-yr-previous rookie, and in the 2 since has averaged a level per recreation. 

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Then there’s Toews, down at 52nd. You possibly can speak about all-round play, and protection, and management, and intangibles, and anything you need to throw in there about Toews’ recreation (all of which can be true!), however for that a lot cash there has to be an expectation for the participant to hold the offense. Toews has not been that participant, and even worse, he doesn’t even appear to be fairly the identical with regards to his all-round play. Look no additional than the very fact he went from one of many prime-5 possession gamers in the league right down to seventieth over the previous three years. To be truthful, that facet of his recreation has bounced again a bit this season, however the drop in offense and scoring just isn’t nice. 

The Blackhawks aren’t going to commerce Toews, and as I stated above, they didn’t actually make a mistake by signing him. However the best way he’s performed the previous 2 1/2 seasons has to be considerably of a concern, particularly as his offense solely continues to worsen. 

With Toews and Kane making greater than $20 million per season for the subsequent 5 years, and vital contracts tied into Saad, Brent Seabrook, Duncan Keith and Artem Anisimov, the Blackhawks’ wage cap state of affairs isn’t best, particularly given the ages of these gamers. There’s nothing incorrect with paying superstars massive cash. You simply want these gamers to carry out like superstars when you signal them. If Toews continues to supply like he has the previous couple of years, it’s going to be awfully troublesome for the Blackhawks to be a lot better than they’re now. 

The very fact his possession numbers and shot metrics have rebounded this season ought to at the very least present some hope that he can get again to a minimum of being nearer to the participant that he was a few years in the past. However the reality he will probably be getting into his age-30 season subsequent yr can also be a fairly respectable pink flag. Most gamers hit their offensive peak between the ages of 23 and 26. It makes for a very troublesome state of affairs for the Blackhawks. 

Toews has been a large a part of what was some of the profitable eras in the historical past of the Blackhawks franchise. However his present wage and present degree of manufacturing is a huge cause they’re struggling proper now.