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Their Emblems Built of Garbage – ’18-’19 Blackhawks Player Previews: Jonathan Toews

Oh, Jonathan Toews, what are we to believe? Is it all downhill from here? Is the slow, sad decline inevitable? Should we abandon all hope and just accept that the glory days are over and become accustomed to the wilderness stretched interminably before us? Alright, alright, that’s a bit dramatic—and particularly because it’s not actually that bad. Toews is not that bad. And with the right amount of weird hockey luck, he may be due for a renaissance. Let’s take a look:

2017-18 Stats

74 GP – 20 G – 32 A

56.8 CF% – 57.3 oZS% – 42.7 dZS%

19:41 Avg. TOI

A Brief History. We pored over Toews’ performance a few times last year, and the Cliffs Notes version is he had shitty luck, and a linemate with even shittier luck. All this led to a lower point total than usual, which wouldn’t be concerning in and of itself, except that it was the continuation of a trend of decline that started in 2016. Also you just expect your top-line center to be closer to 60+ points, not barely breaking 50, and we’ve (rightly) come to expect the most elite level of play from Toews.

But as we pointed out, Toews’ underlying numbers were good: for example, his xGF% was 52.1 at evens, his possession numbers were solid (56.8 CF% at evens, 58.4 all situations), and his CF% Rel at 4.4 was fourth best on the team. And two of the three guys in front of him on that list were linemates Brandon Saad and Weiner Anxiety (no skypoint). So he clearly had the puck and had a better chance of keeping the puck than not, but his shots weren’t converting to as many goals. Saad’s off year also meant Toews had fewer assists than he normally would. So it seems that much of his struggles last year were due to things like rolling pucks, weird bounces, a goalie standing on his head…I mean, if you’re doing the right things and not scoring, there has to be some fluky shit at play that you can’t control. The problem is, how long can that fluky shit go on, and when does it stop being fluky?

It Was the Best of Times. We all know what the best-case scenario is: Toews pulls an Anze Kopitar and has a bounce-back year, scoring around 70 points, bringing Top Cat into the ranks of elite top-liners with him, and leading a not-pitiful power play (which alone would increase his point total over last year). I keep harping on having Brandon Saad on the top line with Toews and DeBrincat, but after watching him, Schmaltz, and Kane in admittedly brief preseason action, I think we need to find a worthwhile winger (i.e., not Chris Kunitz) to skate with Toews and Top Cat. Who that could be is anyone’s guess—Eggshell? Kahun? Sikura? Who the hell knows, particularly with Q shaking up the lines in camp recently. Like Pullega explained yesterday, there is a decent case to be made for Ejdsell on right wing, with his big shot and playmaker potential. However it shakes out, in this fantasy world we have an aging experienced, resurgent Jonathan Toews flanked by gifted youngsters and the result is a dominating top line.

It Was the BLURST of Times. We also know what the worst-case scenario is: Toews doesn’t rebound but rather gets slower, continues struggling to score, and has at best one winger to pass to. Stuck with useless-clod Kunitz, who couldn’t corral a pass to save his life in the preseason game the other night, Toews’ point total declines and, with fewer quality chances, that shooting percentage continues to tank. The power play remains total clown shoes, and even though he’s not really playing like a 1C, there isn’t a way to gracefully ease him to another line.

Prediction. I’m cautiously optimistic about this one—I think Toews has a better year, if not an amazing year. There will be linemate shenanigans as Q pulls his usual bullshit, but at some point they’ll settle on someone who doesn’t make you cringe, and when that combination does get worked out he’ll rack up just over 60 points on the season. The power play will be not as wretched as last year and that will help the increased point total as well. Please note I didn’t say the power play would be good, only that it will be less horrific. Toews’ possession numbers will stay strong, but his speed won’t markedly improve (maybe it’ll improve a little; he’s certainly a health nut and can probably gain a step back but it won’t be earth-shattering). And if Quenneville loses his job, Toews will be leaned upon and lionized even more by the media for his LEADERSHIP and all that jazz. The Hawks made him the face of the organization…we’re going to keep looking at it.

Previous Player Previews

Corey Crawford

Cam Ward

Duncan Keith

Connor Murphy

Brent Seabrook

Brandon Manning

Jan Rutta

Erik Gustafsson

Henri Jokiharju

Nick Schmaltz

Alex DeBrincat

Chris Kunitz

Artem Anisimov

Marcus Kruger

Victor Ejdsell

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