Geek of the Week: Is It Time to Drop Jonathan Toews?

Ben Burnett

2019-11-03


Last year marked quite the bounce-back for Jonathan Toews. The three-time Stanley Cup champ and captain of the Chicago Blackhawks had turned into a bit of a fantasy pumpkin in the back half of his 20s before resurrecting his career at age 30, scoring a career-high 35 goals and 81 points. However, 12 games into 2019-20, and Toews’ renaissance appears to be fairly short-lived. The Chicago centerman has notched two goals and one assist through his first three games, for a per-82 game pace of 21 points.

I don’t need to tell you that’s unsustainably low for a player who has never put up a pace below 50 points over a full season. But what exactly can we expect from Toews over the rest of 2019-20? Was last year a complete aberration, or is this a player who is going to continue to struggle to be fantasy relevant?

2018-19 under the hood

The sudden rejuvenation of Toews’ career seemed to be backed up by his return to playing with Patrick Kane at even strength and on the power play. That upgrade in deployment became feasible after the breakout of Alex DeBrincat gave the Hawks enough firepower to run more than one scoring line. In a cushy role, Toews averaged his highest time-on-ice-per-game rate (21:00), and the highest percentage of Chicago’s power-play minutes (67 percent) of his career. Last year was also the first time he topped 20 power-play points in a campaign since 2010-11, and the highest shot rate he managed (2.86 shots per game) in that timespan.

Toews likely rode some unsustainable numbers to those point totals though, especially on the power play, where he netted nine goals while shooting 18.4 percent on 49 shots. At even strength, Toews shot 13.5 percent, a mark he hadn’t hit since 2016, when he was 26. In the four years between these peak performances, Toews shot 11.5 percent at even strength and 14.5 percent on the power play. Perhaps given what we’ve learned about aging curves in the NHL, the greater sample size is more meaningful than the most recent one. This would imply that Toews’ 2018-19 results are the outlier, as opposed to his slow start this year.

Reasons for optimism

A few obvious numbers stick out that suggest positive regression for Kane. First of all, his shooting percentage is unsustainably low at 8 percent. That number will likely wind up closer to 11 or 12 percent. Heading into Saturday night&rsq