The end of an era may be coming in Chicago if the Blackhawks move on from captain Jonathan Toews. The 34-year-old is in the final season of his lengthy eight-year contract that carries a $10.5 million cap hit.
The question stands whether Toews, who carries a full no-movement clause, wants to leave Chicago. But with the team’s current direction, he may want another chance to contend — and that’s not going to happen anytime soon with the Blackhawks. A move at the deadline may grant that.
What Toews brings to the lineup
Any team considering Toews has to be realistic about what he’ll bring to the lineup at this point in his career. This isn’t the same player who helped lead his team to three Stanley Cup championships. Sure, there are the leadership qualities that so many teams crave. And there’s the fact he plays down the middle, which is always a valued position — maybe even more so this deadline considering Bo Horvat was already moved to the Islanders. Unless he is flipped again closer to the deadline, there’s one less center (and captain) available for teams in need.
The problem is, Toews and Horvat are very different players. Toews’ play has clearly declined over the last few years. That said, he’s bounced back a bit on the scoresheet after last year’s disappointing season (that likely included quite a bit of rust after missing 2020-21). Through 46 games, Toews has scored at a rate of 2.04 points per 60. His shot rate has decreased, but he’s still generating quality chances. It won’t be surprising if his goal scoring regresses, however, considering his inflated shooting percentage.
The tricky part of assessing Toews is trying to measure his individual impact on the Blackhawks considering the caliber of players around him. Quality of teammates is very influential on a player’s level of play, and obviously he’s working with so much on this depleted Blackhawks squad. At five-on-five, the center has a sub-37 percent expected goals rate with even worse results backing that up — both stand as the worst numbers of his career. Relative to his teammates, Toews’ two-way impact is also one of the worst he’s seen at the NHL level. So it begs the question of how much of this is on him, his environment, or a mix of both. And that’s a risk an acquiring team has to assess.
The bright side is he’ll have much more to work with on any playoff team. The pivot will have more support, regardless of where he goes, and potentially more sustainable systems that could elevate his game. But that question mark should be reflected in what teams are actually willing to pay.
Why the Blackhawks would trade him
While it helps a rebuilding squad to keep some players who can keep the vibes up in the locker room and lead the way for young players, the lackluster returns from previous trades pump up the need for the Blackhawks to keep clearing out. That means parting with Toews, a player who is not a part of this next core in Chicago — especially if injury concerns lessen the return on Patrick Kane.
Teams who should be in the mix for Toews
Center depth isn’t Colorado’s greatest area of strength, especially when looking at the depth chart behind Nathan MacKinnon. It obviously would help to have a healthy lineup of wingers to truly judge their play down the middle, but the team hasn’t had that luxury much this season.
Alex Newhook has heated up as of late and J.T. Compher has been a utility player for the Avalanche. Neither, however, has fully replaced Nazem Kadri, who was key to their Stanley Cup run. So, this team may want some extra assurances at such an important position come the playoffs. That’s why they could look to Toews.
If he were to step in as the team’s 2C, on a healthy squad, he could have the likes of Gabriel Landeskog and Valeri Nichushkin there to revive his game. If not, he serves as depth on the third line which could make sense.
Can the Avalanche afford it? They’d need the Blackhawks to retain salary, and could even need another team to take on a chunk to make it all work. Then there’s the cost of acquisition. Their best bet, as The Athletic’s Peter Baugh explained, is hoping Toews wants to play for the Avalanche. If he narrows his list, it leaves Chicago with little leverage. That’s what the team has to hope for since they’re already down three picks in both the 2023 and 2024 drafts.