by Neil Becker
Former Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews can be best described as a hard-working, fearless, natural-born leader.
Toews, drafted in 2006 3rd overall by the Blackhawks, became an immensely popular player who produced hall-of-fame numbers during 15 magical seasons in the Windy City and played a major factor in helping Chicago capture the 2010, 2013 and 2015 Stanley Cups.
Since first putting on the Blackhawks jersey, this star forward, whether by signing an autograph, making time to pose for a picture or offering fans an encouraging word, got Blackhawks fans pumped about their team. As a supreme athlete, Toews seemed almost indestructible, but unfortunately for Hawks fans, not even this Winnipeg native could escape father time.
"Words fail to adequately summarize everything that Jonathan's done for the organization, the amazing memories that he's provided," Blackhawks GM Kyle Davidson said. "He'll be a Blackhawk forever… We can't thank him enough for everything he's done."
During his illustrious career as a Hawk, Toews played 943 games in his first 13 years before having to sit out the entire 2020-21 season due to what was termed an immune system disorder.
"I think there are a lot of things that I piled up and my body fell apart," Toews said. "I couldn't quite recover and my immune system was reacting to everything- any kind of stress."
Alarm bells first began to sound among Hawks management and fans when, in January 2021, at training camp, prior to the COVID-shortened NHL season, Toews began feeling symptoms that left him feeling extremely fatigued. Following the 2020-2021 season, which saw the Hawks not make the post-season, Blackhawks fans had reason to be excited as their heart and soul captain stressed that he was much better and, once he got the green light, was hungry to come back:
"I'm excited to get back to the United Center and play and just go out there and have fun," Toews said on his Twitter account. "And I think my best is going to come through and I'm excited to get back in front of the fans."
Throughout the years, Toews, who is affectionately known as 'Captain Serious,' has constructed quite an impressive playing resume, which includes being a six-time All-Star (2009, 2011, 2012, 2015, 2016 and 2017), winning the 2013 Selke Trophy, the 2015 Mark Messier Leadership Award along with being named the 2010 Conn Smythe trophy winner.
Unfortunately for Blackhawks fans, it was announced last April 13th that this beloved captain, who symbolizes what it means to be a Blackhawk, wouldn't have his contract extended. His eight-year $84 million contract officially ended last year with, ironically enough, Toews playing his final game, the season finale against the Philadelphia Flyers. This is ironic because Toews won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2010 when he led the Hawks to a Stanley Cup win against the Flyers.
In the summer of 2008, shortly following a solid 24-goal, 54-point rookie campaign, 20-year-old Toews was named the Blackhawks 34th captain in franchise history. Eventually, he became affectionately known by teammates and fans as "Captain Serious," the nickname due to his ultra seriousness on the ice. Toews and 2007 first overall pick Patrick Kane grew to be close Blackhawks teammates, often seen doing funny commercials or singing "Take me out to the ball game" at Wrigley Field. For years, these young superstars symbolized the Chicago Blackhawks.
The Hawks could always count on a big season from Toews until having to sit out that 2020-21 campaign with that chronic immune response syndrome. The Hawks couldn't recover from losing their captain as they finished the COVID-shortened 56-game season out of a playoff position. Showing tremendous heart and a strong passion for the game, Toews would rebound from missing that shortened season and return in 2021-2022 to score 12 goals and 37 points in 71 games.
This past season, Toews had to sit out some games due to sickness but still managed to play 53 games, where he scored 15 goals along with 31 points in what was the final year of a lucrative eight-year contract signed in 2014.
The Jonathan Toews era in Chicago officially ended last April 13th when Toews scored his 15th goal of the season in front of an appreciative United Center fanbase in an eventual 5-4 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers.
"There's absolutely no hard feelings," he said. "I have nothing but love and gratitude for the Blackhawks."
Following that final game, Toews, along with teammates, came back on the ice and witnessed a video of the captain's Hall of Fame career being played on the United Center scoreboard. As fans showed their love with a thunderous ovation, the captain responded by waving and tapping his heart. Needless to say, it was a very emotional evening as fans got a chance to express their love and gratitude to Toews.
Currently, Toews, an unrestricted free agent, is stepping away from hockey for health reasons but has not retired. One thing is certain: he will be awfully missed by not only Blackhawks fans but everyone around the globe who follows hockey.