Jonathan Toews sounded discouraged after the Blackhawks’ loss to the Capitals on Tuesday.
Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images
Tuesday told a tale of two Toewses.
In the morning, Jonathan Toews looked and sounded no different than he has throughout his highly successful Blackhawks tenure.
With the right combination of seriousness and lightheartedness, he took accountability for his imperfect recent play but expressed optimism that he and the team could soon turn things around — something he has needed to do a lot, often with little evidence to support it, the past few years.
In quieter moments, he has admitted that hasn’t always been easy. It has forced him to take his career-long “one day at a time” mentality to the next level, to reflect more deeply on what it truly entails and to integrate it into his life even away from the rink. But he insisted again Tuesday morning he mostly appreciates the adversity.
“The test is special when things aren’t going your way in your external world,” he said. “It’s a challenge, for sure, to keep showing up and having that attitude [that] you’re going to have fun, you’re going to work hard, you’re going to enjoy the grind and the not-so-good aspects of the game.
“I think if you keep doing that, [if] you show up and you work hard and you do the right things, things do turn for you. So you just try to show up with that mentality.”
At night, however, after the Hawks’ embarrassing 7-3 loss to the Capitals in which Alex Ovechkin made history on United Center ice and wooed the Hawks’ own home crowd, Toews sounded much different.
The Hawks’ regular spokesman after their worst-of-the-worst losses, Toews usually strikes an appropriate, captain-like balance of criticism and self-belief. He did exactly that just a couple weeks ago, for example, after the Hawks’ ugly 7-2 defeat against the Jets on Nov. 27.
But this time, Toews sounded more discouraged, overwhelmed and exhausted by the Hawks’ endless and largely predestined struggles than he ever has before. The toll of 18 losses in 21 games seemed to have finally cracked his shell.
“Nothing was good,” he said. “[There’s] not really a straight answer there.”
What’s the biggest area that needs fixing?
“I don’t know what the first thing is,” he said. “There’s a lot of things right now.”
How hard is it getting to stay positive?
“What choice do we got?” he asked, rhetorically, in response. “What else are [we] going to do?”
While rare, this isn’t the first time post-pandemic that Toews has allowed this side of himself slip out publicly.
He was pretty grumpy throughout March 2022, a month in which he called the Hawks’ performances during an eight-game losing streak “embarrassing” and the Hawks’ deadline trades “disheartening” and wondered aloud about “what it’d be like to play for another team.”
That raised some legitimate questions about whether he — as famously one of hockey’s most relentless competitors — could mentally handle the years of losing this long-term rebuild was sure to bring.
Those concerns felt less relevant earlier this fall. Toews sounded like he’d adjusted his mindset to fit the team’s situation and also looked individually rejuvenated on the ice, starting the season on a scoring tear and reclaiming his kingdom of faceoff circles around the league.
Now, perhaps those concerns are worth revisiting again. Not only did his positivity no-show Tuesday night for the first time this season, but his on-ice play has also lagged lately. His power-play goal Tuesday marked just his second goal (and sixth point) in his last 15 games, a sharp contrast from his seven goals and nine points in his first 11 games.
They might not be revisited for long, though. Toews could easily leave Chicago by March 3 if he decides that’s what he wants. And that looming trade-or-no-trade decision will soon consume everything in the spotlight under which he stands.