Could Toews be back next season? Reports say his health is getting better
First of two parts
Out of sight. Definitely not of mind.
That's been the case for many hockey fans when it comes to Jonathan Toews, who has missed the entire season with a health condition.
We'll lead off this Q&A mailbag by addressing the Toews' situation, which was broached by a few of you.
While there has been plenty of speculation, there has been no solid information about what is wrong with Toews. TSN's Darren Dreger, however, did go on NBCSN during the Blackhawks-Predators telecast and said Toews' "health is getting better."
Dreger, citing no sources, added the expectation is Toews will return next season as long as he stays headed in the same direction.
That's fantastic news, if true.
Toews turns 33 Thursday and we haven't heard from him in nearly five months.
Returning after an entire year off would be difficult for anyone, but if Toews can get back to 100% ... it's plausible he could pull it off.
Q: How are the players adjusting without Toews? Has anyone taken from his leadership to impact the team, especially the rookies?
A: Coach Jeremy Colliton said Wednesday "it's definitely been leadership by committee, no question" and that Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Connor Murphy and Alex DeBrincat have all done a fine job. Colliton didn't name any of the young players, but he's a firm believer leadership is also demonstrated on the ice with "your competitiveness and your work ethic. A lot of our young guys, our rookies, have shown leadership by how they carry themselves and how they compete. That's the type of mentality we want to have here."
Q: Why not give the young defensemen more time?
-- Dave Hoffman, Arlington Heights
A: I was thinking the same thing after the Hawks' 5-2 loss to Nashville Monday. There is risk in hurting a guy's confidence if he's not ready for tougher assignments, but it seems like Wyatt Kalynuk is up to the task.
I'd like to see Kalynuk with Connor Murphy on the top pairing, Duncan Keith with Mitchell on the second and Nikita Zadorov or Calvin de Haan with Adam Boqvist on the third.
Rotate Zadorov and de Haan every game the rest of the way. Decrease Keith's minutes. Play Riley Stillman or Beaudin as the seventh D-man some nights.
Q: Do the Hawks have the right players and prospects to get back to the playoffs? Or will they need to make trades and add from the outside?
-- Jennifer B. Ottawa, Ill.
A: We could do an entire article on this, but the short answer is this: The Hawks overachieved this year thanks to a hungry group that mostly bought into Colliton's team-first philosophy. The internal competition drove everyone to play at their best.
GM Stan Bowman did a nice job the last three weeks by adding speed (Vinnie Hinostroza), a proven veteran scorer (Brett Connolly), a defenseman (Stillman) and a reclamation project (Adam Gaudette). He also stocked his draft cupboard, which is always important.
If Toews returns next year, this should be a playoff team.
Still, I'm not sure Kevin Lankinen is a franchise goalie. This defense corps can't stand up to the top teams. And there's not enough size or depth scoring.
Kane's contract is up in two years and I wouldn't be surprised if he left via free agency. A lot can happen in a year or two, but there's still a lot of work left if the Hawks are to be a true contender again.
Q: Which player did Colliton idolize or appreciate growing up? Did that player influence the way you played and does he influence you in terms of your coaching style or teaching points?
A: Colliton: "I always liked (Joe) Sakic and (Steve) Yzerman. Those are two heart-and-soul players; captains on Cup winners. (They) always came through in big games.
"I don't know if it's influenced how I coach, but certainly a big part of how I view the game is play for the team all the time. Individual priorities (have) to be set aside for team priorities and (that's) a big part of the reason why they had so much success in their careers."