“I’ve said it before that if you’re ever nominated for an individual award, much of it has to do with your team and your teammates and how they helped you to get into that position. So, I owe it to those guys.” - Jonathan Toews on his nomination for the Mark Messier NHL Leadership Award.
Remove Alex Ovechkin from the Washington Capitals, and what do you get? Likely a team that doesn’t contend, even in the NHL’s weakest division. Remove John Tavares from the New York Islanders, and what do you get? Undoubtedly a team that misses the playoffs for the sixth consecutive season. Remove Sidney Crosby from the Pittsburgh Penguins, and what do you get? Well, it happened for the last quarter of the season — still a pretty darn good team, but one that couldn’t come close to matching the 15-game winning streak they put together with him.
Remove Jonathan Toews from the Blackhawks, and what do you get? A team with Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp. A team with a rising star in Brandon Saad, a double-threat third line, two penalty-killing dynamos in Michael Frolik and Marcus Kruger. A team with a goaltender in Corey Crawford who has begun to crack the league’s elite.
“We have so much depth,” Kane said. “It seems like throughout the season, every game we’ve won, a new player has stepped up.”
So for Eastern Conference writers and those who don’t watch the Hawks game in and game out, who don’t see everything Toews does that can’t be found on a scoresheet — in his zone, without the puck, on special teams, in the dressing room — it’s easy to go for the biggest names and the gaudiest stats when it comes to voting for the Hart Trophy, the NHL’s most valuable player award.
And that’s what happened, as Toews was snubbed by the Hart voters. Crosby, Ovechkin and Tavares were the three finalists announced Friday. Of course, Toews, in his typical fashion, shrugged off the MVP talk after the series-clinching win over the Minnesota Wild and said Kane should be the pick.
“There’s another guy across the room that deserves it just as much, probably more,” Toews said. “To have two guys in the talks like that, it always shows that you have a great supporting cast. It’s nice. It’s an honor. But you don’t get to that point if your team doesn’t have success the way we did this year. So huge credit to those guys.”
The Hawks’ tremendous depth might have hurt Toews’ Hart chances, but it also is a big reason why they won the Presidents’ Trophy, and knocked off the Wild in five games.
The top line of Saad, Toews and Hossa didn’t break out until Game 5. It didn’t much matter, as Sharp, Kane and Andrew Shaw’s third line picked up much of the slack.
Meanwhile, the Wild’s top line of Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise and Charlie Coyle combined for one goal and a minus-17 rating. Not surprisingly, the thin, top-heavy Wild managed seven goals in five games.
“That’s the kind of team we have,” Sharp said. “Any given night, someone’s scoring and helping us out a different way to win the game. We’ve never relied on one or two players to carry the load. It’s a full team effort.”
Added Kruger, who scored his first career playoff goal in Game 5: “We have a lot of great players on this team, not just at the top. Everyone here can contribute.”
Now that the Hawks’ top line has joined in on the fun — Hossa scored twice in Game 5, Toews had two primary assists, and Saad chipped in another — the Hawks only look better, deeper and scarier. Toews very well might have been the best and most-valuable all-around player in the league, but he certainly got — and continues to get — plenty of his help from his friends.
While that depth might have cost him the Hart Trophy, it just might help him get a nicer piece of hardware at the end of the season.