(Editor’s Note: In our Playoff Preview edition of the THN magazine, we asked the question, “Who Would You Take” if you were a GM and were building a team from scratch to win in the playoffs? Most said Sidney Crosby, but three THN writers had another opinion. Below you’ll read why Adam Proteau would build his team around Jonathan Toews. Also check out Rory Boylen’s column on Steve Stamkos and Ryan Kennedy’s on Drew Doughty)
There’s currently one NHL captain who has two Cup rings and a pair of Olympic golds. It’s not Sidney Crosby. It’s not Henrik Zetterberg. It’s not Ryan Getzlaf, Steven Stamkos, Henrik Sedin or Alex Ovechkin. It’s Jonathan Toews of Chicago, the first guy I’d pick to give my team a shot at winning hockey’s ultimate prize.
Readers of my work know I come by my Toews crush honestly. I’ve never claimed he’s the sport’s best scorer or flashiest presence. But add up all the things he does at an astonishingly high level, and you have a sum far greater than its already-great parts.
When listing all Toews does right, it’s tough to know where to begin. He’s the epitome of consistency: he’s produced offense at a near point-per-game pace (440 points in 484 games) and he almost had the third 30-goal season of his seven-year career this season. He creates space for his teammates and unselfishly dishes off the puck, but he can easily pick a corner or rip a wrist shot past a goalie if the situation calls for it.
There’s not a brand of hockey Toews hasn’t excelled at. If you want to skate, he’ll skate with you. If you want to grind, he’s good on that level as well. And his international resume is impeccable: world under-17 gold medal? Check. World juniors gold? Check. World Championship gold? Check. Olympic gold? Double-check. When people talk about developing a winning pedigree, the standard by which all others are being judged has been set by Toews.
But it’s not only team honors that have come Toews’ way. In his rookie Olympic experience in Vancouver, he was the tournament’s best forward. Later in 2010, he posted 29 points in 22 playoff games to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as post-season MVP. And last season he won the Selke Trophy as the NHL’s top defensive forward.
Did I mention he only turns 26 in late April? Yeah. There’s that, too.
Let’s talk a little more about Toews’ defense. This is a No. 1 center who plays 20 minutes a game against the opposition’s best players and who in seven seasons has never had a plus-minus rating below the plus-11 he recorded as a rookie. From last season to the current campaign, he’s a plus-54 in 123 games. Yet his defense is about so much more than that. He’s one of the league’s best faceoff men, with a win percentage close to 60 in recent seasons. In 76 games in 2013-14, he’d turned the puck over just 30 times and never has had more than that total in a single season.
I want to emphasize that last point, because I don’t think it’s talked about enough. The playoffs aren’t decided by highlight reel goals or big-personality pre-game speeches. You win Cups by minimizing mistakes. And nobody is better at being a consistent threat to create chances while at the same time preventing chances for the opposition than Toews is. This is why every coach he’s ever had has felt comfortable playing him in any situation, particularly in the highest-pressure situations. There’s a good chance he’s going to score, but an even better chance he won’t be scored on.
Sure, many fans will gravitate to a player more outwardly charismatic than Toews, or to a star closer to the top of the scoring race, as their choice to build a playoff team around. But a charged persona and a ton of points is what you need to see from an All-Star Game, not the leader of a Cup-winning squad. In that role, your first choice should be someone with ice in his veins and fire in his engine. He should be a Swiss Army Knife of a superstar, a crackerjack of all trades. He should be the closest thing the NHL has to the man with the Midas touch.
He should be Jonathan Toews.