Blackhawks Confidential

Toews is Blackhawks MVP, but center shortage may drag down Kane and team

Who's the Blackhawks Most Valuable Player this season?

To me, it's not their leading scorer. It's not their likely Norris Trophy winner as the NHL's best defenseman, your second leading scorer.

It has to be center Jonathan Toews. Take him away from top producer Patrick Kane, as coach Joel Quenneville has done recently, and Kane has a harder time scoring and simply creating opportunities.

Put Toews with Marian Hossa and the fleet-footed Slovakian has a better sounding board to play off than he has had all season with other partners. Both Hossa and Kane should have held out for contract clauses that allowed them to play only on Toews' line.

If Hossa throws that recent pass back to the slot for some former linemates, the puck either glances off a stick or doesn't find a stick. Toews, however, swooped perfectly down the middle and buried the chance in Minnesota and Hossa was happy to show how spectacular he can be with the right guys surrounding him.

That's how you keep a star happy. By letting him be a star, rather than somebody stuck playing just pretty good on occasion with lesser talents.

There have been times when Hossa was a free agent on the ice this season because no one as skillful as him was joining his one-man band in progress and turning a high note into melodious harmony.

Your MVP is the guy that makes everyone around him better. An argument certainly could be made seperately for Norris favorite Duncan Keith and Kane as team MVPs. Both have had singular seasons that will be remembered years from now.

But Toews is a 21-year-old team captain for a damn good reason. He makes each of his teammates better whenever he's playing with them on the ice. If you want, I don't mind if you change Toew's MVP to stand for Most Valuable Partner.

That's what he is, a fella you'd want beside you in the trenches when the firing begins.

Many early Team Canada roster predictions had Toews as a periphery addition, if that. When it was over, a new golden boy had been discovered and no Team Canada roster will ever go forward again without him as an integral part.

Everybody knew he was good. But this season Toews became world-class, and there might be no better picture to symbolize the heart of this Hawks season than the one of Toews forcing himself benchward while only half conscious after taking a concussion slam, unwilling to just lay down and suffer in front of the enemy.

That's true grit, an athlete who doesn't want your sympathy, just your applause when he pounds his beat nightly behind the net and along the boards and takes a successful beating.

Kane may be the fireworks, but Toews is the igniter, the spark that makes it all work and go kaboom. Hossa's gain is Kane's loss, and how far can the Hawks go in the playoffs keeping Kane and Toews seperated?

Toews, Hossa, Patrick Sharp, Kane, Dave Bolland and Troy Brouwer are this club's top six forwards. Some believe a newly-formed line of Brouwer, Bolland, and Kane shows promise, although experimentation this late in such a successful campaign raises alarm bell to my way of thinking.

Why now and not sooner, just because the team is in a funk? Change from what's worked to what might work? And do you go back to old lines and old pairings at playoff time, for instance reuniting Keith and Brent Seabrook, and maybe Toews again with Kane, when it matters?

To me, what this particular juggling of Brouwer, Bolland, and Kane essentially demonstrates is the Hawks don't have two centers good enough to maximize their wingers' potential. Since working back this season from back surgery, Bolland simply hasn't been consistently as effective as last season.

It's possible Bolland will never be at his best this season. But after signing a five-year contract last June for an average $3.375 million, let's hope this is a blip attributable to his back injury and health-related recovery and not any big reason to worry that the Hawks don't have two strong centers to get the most out of their top wingers in the years to come.

After Toews, the second top-scoring center on the Hawks is checking center John Madden with 23 points in 73 games. That's why the Hawks preach net presence and dirty goals, because they don't have enough pretty play from two top centers.

From Toews' 62 points to Madden's 23 is a wide roster margin without any other center plugging the hole.

Friday night in New Jersey would be a nice time for Brouwer, Bolland and Kane to start turning promise into points. Kane doesn't have a point from his last three games. Brouwer doesn't have a point in his last four games.

Bolland wouldn't have a point in his last three games, either, if Columbus hadn't conveniently put the puck in the net for him to get a cheap goal Wednesday night, his only goal in his last 12 games and just his fourth point in his past dozen games.

Bolland isn't Toews. And he is a plus-3 in 33 games this year compared to being a plus-19 in 81 games last season.

More importantly, the Hawks could use Bolland's 12 points from 17 playoff games last season. That was four goals, 8 assists and a minus-1 effort.

Right now, there seems little reason to expect that kind of playoff production from Bolland. So who fills that gap? A strong finish from Bolland could change that impression and provide a much-needed confidence boost for all.

Bolland has to make his linemates as good as they can be. Or else we have taken this team's leading scorer and made him beside the point if Kane and Bolland are fated to remain partners.

Remember how the sometimes mercurial Kane popped off to that official the other night and got that unsportsmanlike conduct call.

If Bolland and Q decide to pull Kane down to mediocrity with a hooking and a tripping and a slash like this, I suspect Kane is going to be popping off to someone sooner or later about being handcuffed and restrained against his will.

Kane might not mind handcuffs after hours. But he will chafe and glower quite easily if he isn't able to live and laugh to the fullest without Toews as his partner.

Yet another subplot to be written as we wrap up the final chapter. Can Kane and Toews ever live happily ever after without one another? Or are these twins just joined at the hip and meant to feed off one another?

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12 Comments

blkhawk11 said:

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Great writings here again, Mike. Kane does seem a bit lost without the presence of Toews and if things remain as they are, he will have to work harder instead of waiting for the spoon to feed him.

I agree with you, Toews is the hardest working Hawk as well as the most dedicated to the cause and does show true grit in all fashion...reminds me somewhat of Denis Savard's style (committment and purpose). Too bad that he wasn't in the line-up now along with Toews...wouldn't we set this team ablaze to every Hawk fan's admiration?

fattybeef said:

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Worse thing that happens is Sharp moves to center if things get real desperate.

Coming back from major surgery is very difficult. Its not like you can flip a switch and all of a sudden everything works. Pretty sure hes not playing terrible. He's skating well and not shying away from anything physical. Its a matter of playing and playing more.

Unless hes not viable for the playoffs then may as well shut him down for the rest of the season now.

.42 and .56 points per game isnt the massive drop off that everyone keeps bitching about. For a guy who played on the "shut down" line last year. Really? Lets all expect the guy who drove the other teams top line's centers friggen nuts last year all of a sudden be a point/game production machine.

That line worked last year because they played against the top offensive line of the other team and with Bolland covering defensively, Havlat (who could do whatever he wanted) and occasionally Ladd could explode up the ice break an ancle or two then score a goal.

Ladd is 15 points shy of last year, anyone want to bitch about that? Versteeg had 53 vs 38 this year, and he got paid? Are you kidding me?

Points are about even but in terms of finishing Toews is 13 goals short? Sharp scored two more goals in 60 games last year as he has in close to a full and injury free season this year. How many point blank shots have those guys missed... Snipers right...

But its all the guy coming back from injury. Bolland man, what a prick, obviously, fursure, eh...

Im bet coming back from major surgery and then having your role changed and playing with a completely different line is super easy. Lets also expect ovechkin not to blindside anyone in the next month either...

VegasHawksFan said:

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Toews as MVP is a sound choice. He brings his animal work ethic every night and sets the example for every player on the team. Why coach Q allowed several players to not heed that call all year is a question worth asking; maybe it's hard to hold people accountable when you are dominating like they were for much of the season. Wringing our hands now that Kane and Toews are not together seems a little premature. Are we really going to judge Kane on the rest of the season when he has played with Toews all year?

For as much of a whiner as Kane can be, he is ungodly talented, not just with skills but with vision as well. I find it interesting that it was said of Kane by his Olympic coach that Kane was really a center playing on the wing. There is no doubt he benefits from having a guy like Toews as his center, but I'm not sure that really says much. Both Kane and Hossa are elite players no matter who they play with, but to really be successful, they need to have players around them who can play with them. Toews is not the only one with the ability to set players up with brilliant passes, though he may perhaps be the only one who can do so after winning a grueling board battle.

This team has been a work in progress all year and unfortunately that isn't going to change now. After this season though, I think the GM and coaching staff have a real gut check to make. They named Toews captain to set the tone, and then they went out and got guys like Hossa and Madden to reinforce the message. Kane may bitch and whine, but he isn't fighting against and refusing to play two way hockey. Not sure the same can be said of the entire team. Now that Kane has been dropped down to a line of guys who are not his equal in skill, he going to have to adjust, just like Hossa did when he came here to a team that is very challenged to consistently play 60 minutes of hockey.

mikeyo said:

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Great piece about an intense Hawk. Maybe everybody's production falls off a little when they're called/forced to play more D and back check harder to cover for injured D-men. I don't like the shifting either, but I'll bet the flexibility it gives helps a lot during the playoffs in terms of matching up for 7 games. How many other teams this year can throw this many line variations out in a 7 game series? Is Q yelling at these guys and "demoting" them? I don't think so...

Dave Morris said:

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Mister Kiley, you can probably look into your crystal ball and imagine that StanBow will be shopping this summer (after he offloads Cris Huet to his new fondue restaurant chain and trims the fat from his salary cap) for a center who compliments either the Slovak Superman or Killer Kane.

Dave The Rave Bolland is a fine young man and a quality hockey player, but is he an elite pivot?

You tell me.

Mike Kiley said:

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He's not an elite pivot at the present time, but he got elite pivot money for a while. You tell me, where do we go from here?

Dave Morris said:

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Mike, under the former regime, Tallonomics dictated that Mr Bolland be paid a handsome wage.

Bowmanomics promises 'change'. Whatever that means.

How much change could a Kovalchuk chuck?

How much dough for a Patrick Marleau?

Things haven't been this exciting in Chicago since Big Jim thought he bought the Big M.

Where do we go from here? I've got an appointment with Madame Zara, she who sees and knows all, next week. Will keep you posted.

Coca said:

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While I don't disagree with you about Toews role with the team I think you're way off on Kane. How about all the times Kane has setup easy goals for Brouwer, Buff, Sharp and they've missed the net completely or shot the puck right into the goalie.

Kane could easily create have 100+ points right now if his teammates capitalized on half the chances he gives them. I do still think he could stand to shoot more though.

Mike Kiley said:

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Coca--That's my point, the guys Kane is sometimes left to play with can't run in his class. He would have 100 points with more talent around him. I'm really not bitching about Kane. I'm pretty dumb, but not that stupid. I'm just saying if Kane and Toews are kept apart, and Kane sees Hossa benefitting while he works with lesser lights, I'm sure it won't sit well. Hell, it wouldn't sit well with with me or anyone.

Jerry Kayne said:

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Good article today Mike. You must be hung-over rather than tipsy.

If I remember right, it was Kane, Towes, & Sharp as the best line. I'd like to see more of that.

When I watch a game, I watch what players do off the puck. Effort, skating, positioning, grit, and sacrificing the body to clear a zone, block a shot, and be a playmaker as well as a shooter. And also to give everything he has for the team. My MVP is Sharp, after Towes of course. Always a bridesmaid but never a complainer.

I predict Sharp will be the key ingredient in the playoffs. I've never seen a Blackhawk in recent times give 100% ... 100% of the time.

Dean Youngblood said:

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Toews is a go-getter. I recall him only having a couple bad effort games. Anyone paired with Toews will benefit, but mostly Kane. Sure, Toews and Hossa will work great, But Toews and Kane is better. Some people just click. Another example is when Kane and Keith are both on the ice. They just click. At this point, all the line juggling is only going to cause more problems.

Hostile Hawk said:

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If anyone played together long enough to get a feel for each other then any player could get used to Kane. Kane sure surprises the hell out of me with some of his passes, it also shocks his teammates and they fumble the puck. kane, more than anyone, needs consistency in his line. Sharp got used to him and figured out his moves and put pucks in the net as a result. I say it is time for Sharp and Kane to be together again. I am sure Bolland would fit in there nicely. I would also try and recreate some of the success from the Havlat, Bolland and Ladd line last year. Trowing Hossa into Havlat's old role hasn't been tried yet, why not?
True, whoever Toews plays with will benefit from it. When Babcock was asked who his best player was in the olympics, he said, "anyone who plays with Toews." He has great skill, is a puck mover, and a fighter. He rarely looses battles and he has that same kind of patience that Kane has with the puck.
I say go with Madden, Kane, Sharp. Toews, Brower, Versteeg (maybe even Burish). Bolland, Ladd, Hossa. Call me crazy, but those lines look tough to beat and fulfill a variety of roles. Obviously with Toews on their line, Brower and Versteeg start scoring some more goals.
But really, I say to stop switching the damn lines so much. Go with what worked in the past and stick with it for a while.
Toews for MVP!

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