By Adam Hess
While the Chicago Blackhawks remain one of the top teams in the NHL’s Western Conference this season, they have ascended to that spot on the backs of just a few of their top players. Corey Crawford has been the NHL’s best goaltender thus far this season, and Patrick Kane has been producing at an efficient rate, even if not the same torrid pace he was at last season, as he has 20 points in 20 games so far.
However, one of the big name players that has been extremely underwhelming this season for the Blackhawks is their captain and number one center, Jonathan Toews. ‘Captain Serious,’ as he is often referred, has been seriously disappointing to start this year, as he’s produced just twelve points (four goals, eight assists) in the team’s first 20 games. That has him on-pace to post just about 48 total points this year, which is hardly worth even half of the $10.5 million he accounts for against the salary cap.
There have been many hypotheses from Blackhawks fans and experts alike as to what has been the biggest cause of Toews’ struggles this year. Inconsistency in linemates – a theme that was also present for much of last season for Toews – has been considered, and may have some legitimacy to it. Toews has played with several different wingers this year, including Richard Panik, Nick Schmatlz, Tyler Motte, Marian Hossa, and Patrick Kane. However, two of those names on that list – Kane and Hossa – are both having excellent seasons early on.
Kane is at a point-per-game pace through 20 appearances, and Hossa has been quite close to that as well, with 17 points (11 goals, 6 assists) in 19 contests. The “demi-god” found the back of the net for the first time this year in the Hawks’ fourth game – earning his 500th career goal in the process – and has hit a stride ever since. It’s a refreshing bounce back for Hossa after a largely disappointing 2015-16 campaign.
So while Toews has seen a bit of a carousel of linemates so far, one would think their success would rub off on him. After all, Toews is still considered one of the game’s elite forwards, and he didn’t get that reputation without reason. He has plenty of offensive skill within him, and has showed it in droves in several past seasons.
The biggest concern Blackhawks fans should have regarding Toews is not his linemates, though; it’s that maybe this is not just Toews starting slow, but rather Toews starting to slow. It’s no secret that in today’s NHL, a player’s prime is no longer his age 25-30 seasons, but his 20-26 seasons. At age 28, Toews is past that, and starting to inch closer to that dreaded age of 30, when several players’ games start to deteriorate rapidly.
That’s not to say that Toews cannot bounce back and end up hitting a hot streak and finishing with upwards of 65-plus points this season. A hot run in December or January could end up being the difference in a disappointing mid-40’s point total, or a satisfying mid-60’s. He certainly has the talent on both ends to produce at that level. But if he doesn’t start showing more flashes of that offensive prowess it might be browbeating time for the Hawks and their fans.
Follow Adam on Twitter: @_adamhess.