Behind the scenes, Jonathan Toews is still doing Toews things — putting others before himself to fulfill his duties as Blackhawks captain.
Yet another example came to light Thursday. Toews has allowed Reese Johnson, plus his girlfriend and dog, to move into his home to finish out this season.
“[We’re] kind of a lot,” Johnson said with a laugh. “[It’s] probably a little bit too much hair around the house for him. But it has been awesome, really special.”
Outwardly, though, Toews hasn’t looked or sounded like his old self in a while.
Renowned for his intensity and competitive drive, Toews is frustrated with the Hawks’– and his own — poor performances, and he hasn’t hidden those feelings in his public comments.
“Across the board, these last few outings have been pretty embarrassing,” Toews said Thursday before the Hawks faced the Sharks. “The effort wasn’t there. There’s no connection in our team game. There’s no valuing what we have and what we get to play for our fans.”
Interim coach Derek King tried to downplay it as simply a “grumpy” day for Toews, but he also understands where he’s coming from.
“I do understand . . . it’s not easy for him [and Patrick Kane], where they’re at in their careers,” King said. “It’s not fun, especially when guys . . . are used to winning, used to winning [Stanley] Cups. They’re used to having strong teams and everybody pushes everybody. Now it’s a little different because they’re the voices. There’s nobody else around them helping with the voice. So I can see the frustration setting in at times.”
Toews also grumbled about the Hawks’ coaching staff repeatedly reminding players not to mentally check out.
“We’ve had meeting upon meeting on this subject,” he said. “We get to play for the Blackhawks in front of 20,000 people in Chicago. Why would you check out ever? I don’t think that should be an issue.”
King didn’t agree with that Toews complaint quite as much.
“They are leaders, [and] they should understand why we’re having meeting after meeting: It’s because we’re a young team,” King said. “A lot of players need to know what’s going on. They need it pointed out to them. I’m sure when they were winning Cups, you didn’t have to have any meetings because, ‘There’s the puck; go get it,’ and they just played. We don’t have that luxury.”
Thursday wasn’t even Toews’ most disheartening media appearance this spring. He made bigger waves in March by openly contemplating his future, admitting thoughts had crept in about “what it’d be like to play for another team.”
As far as anyone knows, Toews — who has one more season left on his contract with a $10.5 million salary-cap hit — hasn’t made a decision yet on whether he might request a trade this summer.
He did add that he’d “like to sit down more often” with general manager Kyle Davidson to “know exactly what’s going on in some detail,” so it’s clearly something he’s thinking through.
But at this point, it’s fair to wonder from the outside if it would even be fair to Toews to remain on the Hawks next season. Or healthy for him.
This losing isn’t going to change. In fact, it might get worse. The organizational apathy about the losing isn’t going to change, either. In fact, losing may well be part of Davidson’s plan; it would benefit the Hawks’ rebuild, as far as maximizing their draft picks.
Could Toews really stomach that? Could he go through another full year of it without it eating away at what makes him a great player? Only he can decide — and he has certainly earned that right — but it seems hard to believe.