Let’s move from the new guys, some of whom come with a fair bit of mystery, to the surest bet the Hawks have among the forwards, and maybe the roster, in captain and #1 center Jonathan Toews. It almost seems silly to do a preview of Toews, because we know what we’re getting. He’s going to take on some of the toughest competition, he’s almost always going to outplay it, he’s going to score between 28-32 goals, 66-78 points, be a possession monster, and just when you wonder if he’s having a disappointing playoffs he’ll win a game by himself. And then Ryan Kesler will tell us this is the year he’s got him. At 27, Toews is certainly ensconced in his peak years, and should be for a little while yet.
Last Season: 81 games, 28 goals, 38 assists, 66 points, +30, 36 PIM, 55.4% Corsi (+3.1% Relative), 50.9 Corsi Competition
I suppose, if you really wanted to, you could argue there’s been something of a decline in Toews’s offensive production from the age of 25, which isn’t unheard of. Both in ’11-’12 and the ’13 season Toews put up point-per-game seasons, though both were shortened through either injury or a Bettman lockout. He hasn’t averaged a point-per-game since, not that anyone is sneezing at 134 points over two seasons. Also, that Corsi, as dominant as it is, isn’t the 58+ that Toews had put up the previous three seasons.
The counter argument, if one is even needed, would be that in the past couple years Toews’s role has changed every so slightly. Two seasons ago, Dave Bolland and/or Marcus Kruger was taking the toughest assignments defensively. And Kruger still does, but the past two seasons it has been a common sight to see Toews playing the other teams’ top line, playing mine-sweeper as it were so that the Hawks forward depth could win out. Basically, Q was saying that even if you can match the top line, and the second line, chances are you can’t match our third and fourth.
Still, that seems a stretch of an argument, given the numbers and the way Toews pushed around whoever he faced. As stated, you know exactly what you’re getting with Toews. It’s basically metronomic.
This Season’s Outlook: I guess the only thing to watch with Toews, other than injury or fatigue, is how his usage by Q indicated what the coach thinks of his scoring depth. If he thinks he really needs Toews’s to be constantly scoring and approaching 80 or even 90 points, you might see Kruger take the grenade-diver role to get Toews and Hossa some easier matchups and a better chance of scoring. I think the Hawks’ forward depth could turn out to be pretty impressive, but it would involve a few unknowns proving to be contributors (Panarin, Teuvo over a full season, Tikhonov possibly, Anisimov, Dano, etc…).
Of course, if Toews starts the season in any kind of funk everyone’s going to blame the Brandon Saad trade and won’t that be a blast?
Most likely, I think Q likes the depth he has and will continue to use Toews as all things to man. It’ll keep him from putting up eye-popping numbers, which will probably keep him from every contending seriously for a Hart Trophy. Not that his production will be bad (it had better not be, that would be trouble).
Of course, everyone should have a little caution over what Toews will look like after three straight extended runs well into the spring. Anze Kopitar did that before last year and he saw a major dropoff in production (though the Kings ask even more of Kopitar if that’s even possible). Toews has played 269 games the past three years, playoffs and regular season. It’s a lot of mileage for anyone. But that’s just about the only worry.