For all he’s done, Blackhawks’ Jonathan Toews has just begun
BY MARK LAZERUS Staff Reporter September 21, 2013 12:40AM
Jonathan Toews — or is it ‘‘Toes’’? — scores the only goal in a shootout Friday to give the Hawks a 5-4 preseason win over the host Washington Capitals. | Nick Wass/AP
Updated: September 21, 2013 4:24PM
WASHINGTON — Jonathan Toews, the unquestioned leader of the two-time Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks, the NHL’s consummate captain and the best two-way player in the world, made his preseason debut Friday night at the Verizon Center.
He was introduced as “Jonathan Toes.”
OK, so maybe there is a higher ceiling for Toews, another level of notoriety and respect to be achieved. For all he’s done, he’s not yet Sidney Crosby, the face of the NHL, who skated against the Hawks on Thursday. And he’s not yet Alex Ovechkin, a three-time Hart Trophy winner, who skated against them on Friday. Those guys have more trophies, more endorsements and more instant recognition. They’re far and away the two biggest stars in the NHL.
But as the captain of two Stanley Cup teams — the only trophy that matters in the end — perhaps no player in the NHL has the resume to match Toews. The question is, what’s next?
With his career’s worth of accomplishment and his grizzled veteran’s gravitas, it’s easy to forget that Toews is merely 25 years old and just entering his prime — a decade or more of elite hockey still ahead of him. And after stepping back from the game and staying off the ice for the entire offseason — short as it was — Toews had plenty of time to think about what he wants now.
The short answer? More.
“A lot of people ask you, ‘What’s next?’” said Toews, who said before scoring the lone shootout goal in Friday’s 5-4 win against the Capitals that the strained hip flexor that kept him out of the first week of camp is no longer an issue. “ ‘You’ve had the chance to win the Stanley Cup, [so] what motivates you coming off a season like that?’ I think as a player, you always want to get better. And personally, on a selfish level, you always want to better the way you contribute to your team.”
Yes, selfish by Toews’ standards is doing more to help the team. It’s why his coaches love him, his teammates respect him and his fans revere him.
But Toews is still a competitor, and he acknowledged that a Hart Trophy could be in his future. He was fourth in the voting behind Ovechkin last season after posting 23 goals and 25 assists in 47 games, while winning the Selke Trophy as the league’s top defensive forward. And he’s not so consumed with his team-first mentality to deny he wants it. It’s just not his priority, merely a byproduct.
“I like to consider myself able to compete with the best players in the league and push myself to get to that level,” he said. “At the same time, with team success, individual success always seems to follow. I didn’t score a lot of points compared to the top scorers in the league last year and somehow I was in the Hart Trophy talk, and I think that says something right there. I’ll focus on what makes me a good player and keep improving that way and maybe someday that will be a reality.”
Hawks coach Joel Quenneville, who has coached the likes of Patrick Roy, Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Chris Pronger and Al MacInnis, said Toews is right up there with the best he’s ever seen.
“Who knows what [his] resume is going to took like at the end of it, but it’s already pretty special today,” Quenneville said. “And it could be as good as it gets.”
Does that mean Toews is a future Hall of Famer?
“He’s definitely heading in the right direction,” Quenneville said.
For now, though, it’s not about individual honors, or career milestones, or even chasing a third Cup. For now, it’s about getting back into game shape after a taxing championship run, after a summer of “quiet time” and reflection, and after eight days of missed practices. It’s about working on timing and chemistry, on preparing physically and mentally for the long season ahead.
The rest, Toews believes — the recognition, the honors, the championships — will take care of itself. After all, he’s only 25. He’s just getting started.
“We don’t care about the little things, all the individual achievements on the side,” Toews said. “It’s about that legacy. It’s about what our team and our franchise means to the city of Chicago after what we’ve accomplished in the last four years. We want to keep that success going and I don’t think the hunger is going to go anywhere. We want to make winning a habit.”