Well if Poe reference doesn’t officially mark me as too fucking old, nothing will. BUT THAT’S NOT WHY YOU CALLED.
It seems the way of the world these days is that we have to have a referendum on Jonathan Toews every couple of months or so, if not more often. Certainly it’s hard to think of a non-Seabrookian player that’s been more scrutinized this year than the captain. Of course, that comes with the territory of being the captain. You are the barometer, the forefront, the focus. And this is the first time in Toews’s career he’s been under a serious microscope. Even last year when he wasn’t matching his usual points-total, he had a dominant two months in the season and the Hawks were winning. Now he’s not producing and they aren’t winning. The hot lights are only getting more so.
And sadly, there’s little I can add here that’s any different than the last time we did this. A lot will scoff, and I won’t necessarily blame them, but analytically Toews is actually having a better season than he has in the past four. It’s his best CF% season in four, his best relative CF% in four, his best expected goals season in four, best relative in that as well, he’s averaging more attempts personally than he has in five seasons, and his individual expected goals is higher than it’s been in four seasons. These are the numbers.
Toews hasn’t been helped by the fact the power play has been a Chicago construction site for the whole season, though he obviously takes some responsibility for that as well. But say we penciled in ten more points on the power play, three goals and seven assists for him, if this unit was even mediocre. Suddenly Toews’s numbers are 17-26-43 in 52 games. Maybe not what you’d come to expect from Toews because of his past, but that would hardly be bad.
Toews is also somewhat being held up to an impossible standard, namely his simply unconscious season-in-a-can of 2013. Not only was he dominant, he also got a little lucky in terms of his own and the team’s shooting percentage as well. Keep in mind he was on pace for a 43-goal, 83-point season if that one was a full 82, with a 58% Corsi and stupid 62% expected goals. No one’s keeping that pace up.
Toews has seen his shooting-percentage at evens dip for the past three seasons, to the point where just like Marian Hossa we wonder if this isn’t just the new normal. Toews used to be anywhere from 13-16% at evens, and this is his third straight season of being around 8%. Again, it’s hard to pinpoint why this might be. He’s getting the same chances and the same quality of chances, if not better, but they’re not going in. We can’t really measure his release, accuracy, or velocity, and none of these are getting better as the pressure mounts.
Another thing we can’t measure is just how much Toews was asked to do in the past is weighing on him now. Yes, everyone points to the amount of games but that’s hardly the whole picture. After the ’15 season, and even during it, when Marian Hossa’s decline started for real, Toews’s job description became that much harder. Not only was he expected to carry out all his defensive duties low in his own zone, but he also had to be the first forechecker into the offensive one because Hossa just wasn’t getting there like he used to. Or he at least had to get their quicker because Hossa couldn’t Atlas a forecheck by himself for as long as he used to. Because really, who could?
It’s was shaded somewhat by Saad helping out in 2015 with the heavy lifting, but it’s no surprise that Toews’s numbers dropped when Saad left. It was only up to him to take up what Hossa couldn’t do anymore, as Hossa always paid attention to his defensive duties first. He would sacrifice some forecheck to be where he needed to be defensively. And Richard Panik clearly wasn’t enough, at least for anything more than a spurt here or there.
This was obviously the thinking in bringing Saad back. Someone who could get first into the zone and do things while Toews would obviously only have to support. But it hasn’t worked that way. Either with Saad’s in-and-out nights, or the fact that there wasn’t anyone to make anything of the work they are doing. Saad-Toews-Hossa was such an unholy force they didn’t need a playmaker. They could just bludgeon and force and cycle their way into chances. This is what you see Q trying to compensate for with Top Cat flanking Toews and Duclair, with Duclair now assigned what Saad was supposed to be doing. Debrincat has the vision and hands to use up that space being created. Patience and we could see some real numbers from this line very soon.
But that’s not the whole story, is it? Because there are still things you see from Toews on some nights that just don’t look right, do they? Who’s this getting beat back up the ice in OT for the winner against?
That’s not totally fair. It’s overtime 3-on-3 and people get in weird spots. Sean Monahan is younger and faster. That’s just the way things are.
Again here in Vancouver:
There are factors here. Toews is at the end of a PP shift and clearly tired. It’s not his turnover but ADB’s. But there’s a lack of anticipation, some hesitation, that we’re just not used to with Toews no matter the state of his legs on a given shift. And these haven’t been isolated incidents.
To try and explain Toews’s season with one or even two reasons if folly. In some ways it’s been what it’s always been. And he’s also been a victim of watching the league get faster while he might have lost even a half step. You don’t get a half-step in this league anymore. He’s been letdown at times by teammates. He might not be getting any luck again. He and no one else can seem to save themselves on the power play. And there’s probably more.
While I hate to steal a line from “Dark Knight Rises” because it’s terrible, it seems in some ways victory has defeated Toews. Because of him and the way the Hawks played and won and basically ran over the league there for a while. the game had to get faster. Everyone came to the Hawks level or more right at the time when the Hawks couldn’t quite maintain it anymore. It makes the gap look bigger.
Maybe Toews’s focus isn’t what it used to be, and I wouldn’t blame him if it wasn’t. After three rings, two gold medals, a Selke, a Conn Smythe (which should have gone to Keith or Sharp but we’ll save that for another time), there is nothing left for Toews to prove. He could retire tomorrow and be a first ballot Hall of Famer. So if a backcheck in Vancouver in February isn’t quite as important as it was, that seems almost natural.
Toews has also borne the brunt of criticisms for things that have nothing to do with him. His paycheck to start, and you know our policy on that. It wasn’t Toews who shipped off valuable youngsters that would be providing depth now to compensate for dumb contracts either the GM handed out or was forced to hand out. Imagine what Teuvo might have been doing on the other side of Saad and him? If Danault could have picked up some of his checking assignments?
Toews can still save this season, and I would never bet against the man. Because there’s enough here to say that it isn’t as bad as some would have you believe, and it wouldn’t take much for the underlying numbers to turn into tangible results.