The Blackhawks currently find themselves in a situation they haven’t had to deal with since 2008.
For the first time in 15 years, when the team takes the ice in October, Jonathan Toews will not be wearing the “C” on his sweater, or any Blackhawks sweater at all. Toews, who served as captain for over 1,000 games in his tenure in Chicago, will not be brought back next year.
Thus, the Blackhawks find themselves in the impossible situation of attempting to replace a legend. But this young team will need leadership as they attempt to navigate a scorched-earth rebuild. Someone will have to wear the “C”, or at least be named as alternate captains. One quickly thinks of veteran skaters when looking for candidates, but those are few and far between when it comes to this squad. Could it be one of the few tenured players on the team? Could it be no one at all?
When mulling over potential captains, one’s mind logically goes to defenseman Seth Jones. Jones isn’t the longest-tenured Blackhawk, as that title belongs to Connor Murphy. But he did just finish his second season with the team, playing in 72 games after 78 the year before. He’s a staple on the blue line and is well-respected by his peers. Due to his combination of NHL experience, talent, and leadership, he was named as an alternate captain last season. When asked about the situation, he said:
“That’d be a huge honor. The captains for the Chicago Blackhawks in the past – you know it’s a category that’s obviously unbelievable to be in. If I’m lucky enough to be, that’d be awesome. But I’ve got to focus on my game, and if that comes it comes.”– Seth Jones
Jones will be under contract further into the future than any Blackhawk by far, as his deal doesn’t expire until 2030. If he’s named captain, therefore, the team will have its leader for years to come.
No One At All?
However, perhaps the best way to replace Toews as captain is to not do so at all. Instead, the team could put together a group of alternate captains to get through this season. Connor Murphy, who’s currently the longest-tenured Blackhawk having come in 2017, was asked about his willingness to take the role if he’s asked to:
“I don’t know if that would be right after Tazer. I don’t know if anyone could live up to that anyway. So I don’t know if that would be something that would even happen, honestly.”– Connor Murphy
In this way, the team could avoid forcing the role onto any one player while simultaneously paying tribute to their captain of 15 years. GM Kyle Davidson discussed the issue last month, telling reporters the team had a great group of leaders, but he wanted players to step into the role naturally rather than being asked to do so. Perhaps he’s right. The role will be filled eventually after all, and choosing the wrong leader for this young squad could have disastrous effects on the team going forward.
The most difficult aspect of saying goodbye to a franchise icon is dealing with the loss of leadership in the locker room and on the ice. The Blackhawks have to deal with that bitter reality after letting Toews walk, and it’s unclear who will fill the void. For now, at least, the answer might be no one at all.
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