There was a moment or two during this year’s playoffs when I wondered if Jonathan Toews might ascend another rung on the superstar ladder and join the truly elite players in the hockey world.
After he came down to earth a bit during the Cup finals, I’m not sure if he’s quite “there” yet. Instead, I guess Toews will just settle for this pittance of a year: an Olympic gold medal, being named a top forward for that tournament and now the dual honors of being the youngest captain to ever win a Stanley Cup (take that, Sidney Crosby!) and a Conn Smythe. All that for a 22-year-old nicknamed “Captain Serious” – who happens to rock some serious sideburns, to boot.
Considering the fact that the playoffs are often jam-packed with hockey heroism, debates over the “most deserving” Smythe winner will crop up in many circles. Before tonight’s game, I stated that Chris Pronger should win it (Cup or not) while Brandon picked the Blackhawks’ fantastic defenseman Duncan Keith.
While he faced similar struggles as his teammate, one could also make a decent argument for Patrick Kane, as well (and not just because of his courageous decision to grow a playoff mullet). Toews had three assists in the Cup finals to augment his 29 points overall (second only in the playoffs to the Flyers’ other dark horse Smythe candidate, Danny Briere, who scored 30). Kane wasn’t far behind with 28 of his own, though. The thing is, Kane put up much better numbers in the championship round. He had three goals and five assists for eight points, all in the last four games. Oh yeah, he also scored that oddball overtime game winner that clinched the first Blackhawks Cup since 1961. It’s at least reasonable to wonder if Kane’s late surge made him just as MVP-worthy.
Really, though, all that talk is just nitpicking at this point. Toews never stopped fighting … even when he wasn’t putting up numbers and even when he was on the wrong end of a Pronger collision. His “puck luck” seemed to run out after putting up a crazy 26 points through the first three rounds, yet few questioned his leadership or determination during the postseason.
He might not have the magical skills of a Gretzky or a Lemieux (or even his partner in crime, Patrick Kane) but he’s mature beyond his years when it comes to leading by example. I’ve heard the comparisons to Mark Messier – and while he might not match the bloodthirsty brutality of the man who broke the New York Rangers curse – he certainly seems to share that do-whatever-it takes DNA. And, really, you cannot complain too much about Messier comparisons, can you? (Unless someone says you have a “Messier-like” hairline. Then they’re being mean to you.)
For all we know, Toews could have 10-18 seasons left in his career. Chicago will have a “bulls-eye” on their collective backs during every game next season as contenders use those games as “measuring sticks” for their own progress. With a roster that could be at least dented – if not seriously damaged – by salary cap issues, the team will lean on Toews even more as time goes on. In other words, it’s only going to get tougher for the young Canadian leader to experience the joy of hoisting the Cup again.
Something tells me he’s not particularly worried about that right now, though.