For most of the 2018-2019 season, there hasn’t been much to look forward to for the Blackhawks. A team that was once a perennial Stanley Cup contender has instead dwelled near the bottom of the Western Conference for most of the year. Once great goaltender Corey Crawford has an ongoing situation with a concussion that will seemingly never be fully resolved. Meanwhile, a porous defense with Duncan Keith on his last legs can’t stop much of anyone as the Blackhawks are allowing the most goals in the NHL at 195. The bright spots have seemingly come oh so sparingly nowadays for a formerly marquee team.
That is, until recently.
After a 4-3 overtime road win over the Minnesota Wild on Saturday night, the Blackhawks have now won four straight games dating back to before the All-Star break. This recent streak has Chicago almost inexplicably within reaching distance of a Wild Card playoff spot. An up and down season has all of a sudden become relevant once more. It’s largely thanks to the consistently stellar efforts of the two most familiar faces for the franchise over the past decade: Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.
In the midst of the darkness, it should be comforting the Blackhawks can still count on their franchise cornerstones in Toews and Kane. Comforting in the fact that the 30-year-old duo has a lot left in the tank. Whether their collective renaissance of a 2018-2019 season ends up meaning anything of consequence for the team remains to be seen down the stretch. If they’ll have anything to say about it, chances are these two stars’ efforts will ultimately be the reason the team find its away back into the playoffs after a one-year absence.
For the past few years, it was increasingly evident the Blackhawks’ captain looked to be on the decline after a sparkling start to a career that included five All-Star selections, a Selke Award in 2013, a Conn Smythe in 2010, and three Stanley Cup victories. From 2015 to 2017, Toews’ overall point production precipitously dropped each time, bottoming out with a career-low in points (52) and goals (20) last season. Regularly, the gritty two-way first-line center struggled to make much of the same impact he enjoyed early on his career as that extra element seemed to be missing.
Was the punishment taken by one of hockey’s premier two-way players taking its toll? Was Toews simply slowing down earlier than expected? Whatever it was, all sorts of concerns and questions loomed heavily over the prospects of a 30-year-old that shouldn’t have been seeing such a decline in performance for a player of his caliber, but somehow was anyway.
It’s fitting then, Toews has not only been back to his old trademark self this year, but he’s playing at an arguably higher level than ever production-wise. A year after having 52 total points, Toews already has 51, peaking with a stellar five-point nationally televised outing against the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals a few weekends ago. A year after scoring those measly 20 goals, Toews has already surpassed that mark with 23. Provided no sort of drop off happens as the Blackhawks get back to the meat of their schedule this month, Toews will be on a pace to break his previous career-best marks for both points (76) and goals (34).
In the paraphrased words of the great Mark Twain, the reports of Toews’ hockey death were greatly exaggerated.
Meanwhile, Toews’ linemate hasn’t seen nearly the same drop off, but Kane certainly hasn’t played at the degree that earned him the Hart Trophy three seasons ago. In 2015-2016, Kane went off with a 106-point campaign that culminated with the aforementioned league MVP. Rare was the night where the right winger didn’t find himself carrying the Blackhawks with blazing offensive production. A one-man nightmare no one could account for on the ice. Ever since, the decline hasn’t been steep with Kane’s point totals only steadily dropping each of the last few years, but he hasn’t been close to the same peak.
That is, until this season.
After a late assist to Toews against Minnesota, Kane now has an 11-game point streak dating back to early January. Over his last 19 games, Kane has 18 goals and 23 assists, or an impeccable average of over two points a contest. At 76 points, he has now matched his point total from last season in 30 less games. After surpassing 900 points over the course of the weekend, fourth all-time in Blackhawks history, Kane’s not showing any signs of slowing down: he’s better than ever.
Perhaps Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau, who said the best way to slow Kane is to “lock him in his hotel room,” had the right idea.
The rest of this season might be incredibly transformative for the Blackhawks in ways they aren’t accustomed to.
Over the course of the past few days it was reported the Chicago front office asked longtime defensive mainstay Brent Seabrook to waive his no-trade clause. Before that, it was noted that general manager Stan Bowman and company would ask Duncan Keith whether he would like to be traded to a more bona fide contender before the NHL trade deadline on February 25th. Once vaunted anchors of a championship core, those happy days for Keith and Seabrook with the Blackhawks are but a fading memory now. Two players forever ingrained in some of the brightest moments in franchise history. Potentially moving on from those kinds of figures won’t come without weight or emotion.
What is clear with the resurgence of Kane and Toews in particular is not every piece of the Stanley Cup core is ready to fade away into obscurity. The second phase of this Blackhawks dynamic duo’s career has begun. Based on their historic start, there are many more special memories to come.