‘Just really appreciate everything’: Jonathan Toews opens up as he skates with the Blackhawks

CHICAGO – Since last January, he’s been doing a lot of work alone, watched his longtime teammate get traded, all while thinking about an uncertain future that lies ahead this offseason.

“That part of it’s not easy,” said Jonathan Toews of being away from the team as he dealt with symptoms of long COVID and Chronic Immune Response Syndrome. “So it’s definitely nice to be back and be on the ice with the guys.”

So maybe that’s why it was quite a moment for the Blackhawks’ captain to take part in something he’s done so many times since arriving in Chicago in 2007 on Tuesday.

A morning skate.

Toews did so for the first time at the United Center on Tuesday since January 28, when he last played for the Blackhawks against the Oilers in Edmonton. The flare-up of the illnesses forced him out of the lineup and, for most of it, away from the team.

Yet there was a desire for the three-time Stanley Cup champion to try to return to the ice since he’s entering the final stretch of his contract with the Blackhawks. As Toews deals with his health complications, he wants to enjoy what could be the end of his 16-year run in Chicago which includes three Stanley Cup titles.

“It’s definitely special for me, regardless of what happens in the future, this summer. It’s definitely on my mind that this could be my last few weeks here in Chicago, as a Blackhawk,” said Toews to reporters on Tuesday. “So that’s definitely very important for me to just go out there and just enjoy the game and just kinda soak it in, just really appreciate everything that I’ve been able to do playing here in Chicago showing my appreciation to the fans as well”

Toews said that he started feeling much worse in mid-January, forcing him to step away from the team to focus on his health for a long stretch. During that time, the Blackhawks traded Patrick Kane, whom he’s been the face of the franchise with for 16 years, to the New York Rangers, while also making other deals in their continued rebuild.

When speaking to the media Tuesday, Toews was asked if he could see himself playing somewhere else or perhaps even deciding to retire at the end of the 2022-2023 season.

“Both, if I’m being fully honest,” said Toews in response. “Again, I feel like I’ve said already that I’ve gotten to the point where my health is more important. I know, as I’ve kinda shown these last few years, even though by my own personal standards I’m not happy with the way I’ve performed, I feel like I have much more to give with my experience in the game and knowing how to play the game. But when it’s day after day and you’re just pushing through pain it’s like ‘To what end?’

“I think when you’re young and you’re playing for a Stanley Cup and everyone’s playing through something, it means something and it’s worthwhile. But I’m at that point where it feels like more damage is being done than is a good thing. So, yeah, I’m committed to getting back to a place where, like I said, I’m enjoying the game, I’ve got energy to not only go out there and play the game at the level that I know that I can but also have the energy left over to enjoy the life and enjoy my time with my teammates, whether it’s going to dinners or little things like that.

“All that stuff has been nonexistent, really, it’s just go home, lay there, and try to recover, and get ready for the next day. That’s all it’s really been.”

While he contemplates his future, Toews still has nine games to get back into form to return before this potential final season with the Blackhawks, and maybe hockey itself, comes to an end.

Learning what he has over the past few months, he’s putting his health first.

“So we’ll see how things play out. Again, I can’t get ahead of myself, because every time I do, that’s when I kinda create the expectations and you get on a bit of a mental roller coaster,” said Toews. “I’ve said this quite a bit, I think over the last few years, is just trying stay in the moment, and take it day-by-day, and I’m continuing to go forward with that attitude.”