Blackhawks mishandle announcement, but fans give departing Toews a roaring sendoff
Ranking the all-time iconic moments in Chicago Blackhawks history is no easy task.
The top 10 would center mostly around the team's Stanley Cup runs in 2010, 2013 and 2015. Patrick Kane's OT winner in Philadelphia. Brent Seabrook's triple-OT winner vs. the Red Wings. Seventeen seconds. Duncan Keith's Game 6 goal against the Lightning. The Cup being hoisted over and over again on the United Center ice.
Iconic moments all.
The emotional, stadium-shaking national anthem before the 1991 All Star Game -- which came right after the United States launched Desert Storm -- must be included as well.
So here's the big question: How will Thursday's season finale, which was Jonathan Toews' last in a Hawks sweater, be remembered? The Hawks had a chance to build the pomp and circumstance, but instead waited until GM Kyle Davidson met with reporters Thursday morning to announce they will not be re-signing Toews. Even more surprising was how Davidson unveiled the news, almost as an afterthought after thanking fans, coaches and players for their dedication this season.
"We can't thank him enough for everything he's done," Davidson said. "The Blackhawks organization and the city of Chicago will be forever indebted to him for the amazing ride that he took us on."
Both times Michael Jordan retired he held court in front of a horde of reporters, all of whom knew exactly why they were there. Few in that room at Fifth Third Arena knew what Davidson was about to say.
Why not announce what was coming days in advance?
Toews was told in Seattle last Saturday. Release the news Sunday, then hold a joint news conference with Toews on Thursday. Or at the minimum have the captain speak after Davidson.
Now, while Toews is not retiring, he is leaving Chicago.
It's such a monumental moment -- one that deserved more than Toews talking for 10-15 minutes after the Hawks' 5-4 OT loss to the Flyers.
It could have been handled a whole lot better.
Now, as for the fans, they were absolutely terrific.
• The 100 section of the UC was as full as its been all season for warmups, with men, women, girls and boys holding signs and hoping for one last puck from No. 19. As Toews skated toward the bench, he banged his chest three times and gave a lucky patron one last souvenir.
• A huge roar went up when Toews was announced as one of the starters. Public address announcer Gene Honda then had the good sense to pause for a few seconds so Toews could soak in the love. He spun around and raised his stick to acknowledge the faithful before hearing the national anthem one last time as a Hawk.
• What finale would be complete without a Toews goal? Well, fans got one at 7:40 of the second period when he tapped in a pass from Andreas Athanasiou to cut the Flyers' lead to 4-3. An incredible earsplitting roar went up when the goal was announced.
• Then the true storybook ending almost happened in overtime when Toews raced to the Flyers' net on a breakaway. One shot to win it. One shot to make the UC shake to the rafters.
But the five-hole move that Toews has used for so long just barely missed, the puck trickling to the side of the net.
"It was so perfect. The way it went," Toews said. "It would have been nice to see that one go in and finish my last game in that fashion."
• The Flyers won it 25 seconds after Toews' near miss, and then it was time for a final salute. Every single player from both teams stayed on the ice as a stirring video montage was played on the scoreboard. After Toews addressed the crowd, he made his way to the bench thinking that was the end of an emotional night.
Not quite. His teammates insisted on one more well-deserved lap around the arena.
"It's almost hard to accept that love and that praise. So I tried my best to just soak it in," Toews said. "The guys were telling me I should do one more lap. I was like, 'That was one too many already right there.'
"It was pretty cool. It was overwhelming."
• • •
The decision to move on from Toews isn't exactly a shocker.
The soon-to-be 35-year-old is in the final year of an eight-year, $84 million contract, and he missed the entire 2020-21 season and almost half of this one while dealing with illnesses.
The Hawks could have brought Toews back on a one-year deal to help mentor the next generation.
But Davidson decided it was time for others to step up. He referenced the fact that Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook all had the same opportunity to grow into leaders.
That time is now for Lukas Reichel and all the incoming young talent.
"When there's a player like Jonathan or Patrick in your locker room, you defer to them," Davidson said. "You just let them handle the leadership and there's not a lot of development opportunity there. ...
"In the locker room be the voice, rather than deferring to someone who's been here for so long."
When the young GM broke the news to Toews, he had coach Luke Richardson join in.
"I've gone through it as a player," Richardson said. "I'm not a three-time Stanley Cup champion (and) captain for the same team for 16 years. But it's always hard at the end.
"There's hardly any walk off into the sunset smiling. It's never on your terms.
"So for someone to have it on your terms it's a special thing. It might not be his career, but it's the end here. (He'll) have it finish how he wants. ...
"And Jonathan said it himself: How can you not be happy with the storybook career that he's had here?"
So true. And while the final chapter almost included an incredible storybook game-winner, Toews exits with no regrets and a heart filled to the brim after a truly memorable night.
"I was just telling (Patrick Sharp) in the hallway I hope that guys like him and Duncs and Seabs and Kaner -- if they were lucky enough to watch the game tonight -- that they could feel that love from the fans," Toews said. "It's more than a game out there when you're able to be part of some special years where you win Stanley Cups and provide a lot of special feelings for the fans. But obviously it's a two-way street.
"We gave our heart and soul and poured everything we had into this team, this organization, this game for a lot of years and to reap the rewards like that, you can't draw it up any better. I just hope that those guys I've shared a locker room with for a lot of years felt that and were able to share that with me tonight. ...
"It's hard to accept that sometimes life changes. But at the same time, it's exciting. I'm really excited to see where this team goes in the future and it'll be fun to watch. I'll always be a Blackhawk for the rest of my life.
"You grow up dreaming of being an NHL hockey player and you idolize your heroes and you live for those big moments and when things like that happen, you realize it's more than a game. And it makes it all worthwhile. So it's pretty special."
• • •
Jonathan Toews' final career stats with the Blackhawks:
Games played: 1,067
Goals: 35 (2018-19)
Assists: 46 (2018-19)
Points: 81 (2018-19)
30-goal seasons: 3
25-goal seasons: 8
20-goal seasons: 12
• 4-time all-star
• 2009-10 Conn Smythe Trophy winner (playoff MVP)
Games played: 5th
Power-play goals: 7th (93)
Short-handed goals: 8th (17)
Game-winning goals: 3rd (69)