Is Jonathan Toews falling off a cliff?

Updated: January 14, 2017 at 12:00 pm by Christian Pagnani

Jonathan Toews is currently on pace for 42 points, which would be his lowest total in any season (he had 48 points in 47 games in the lockout-shortened season). The centre who is always lauded for his two-way play and ability to win just about any hockey championship ever is in the second year of a massive eight-year contract that carries a the highest annual average value in the league at 10.5 million

Toews shares this honour with Patrick Kane, but Kane just recently won the Art Ross last season. Toews is still capable of facing opponent’s top lines day in and day out, it’s just he was also scoring around 70 points while doing it before. The Chicago Blackhawks would obviously like to get a little more from their top centre at the price they’re paying him, but should they be worried about their investment.

Toews’ last five seasons show a concerning decline in scoring at first glance, even though there’s an uptick in his shots per game this season. Although his shooting percentage suggests luck may play a part in his lack of goals. Toews is scoring goals on 7.4% of the shots he takes this season and historically he has finished almost twice the amount shots. If he starts scoring goals like he used to, his 82-game season would project to 64 points, which sounds a lot more reasonable for a player Johathan Toews’ caliber than his current 42-point pace. 

The two-way talk surrounding Toews is not hard to see as he plays in all situations with that deployment mostly remaining the same over the last five years. Although, Toews’ is playing the most he has at even strength since the 2011-12 season which makes his lack of scoring particularly noticeable. He hasn’t seen a sharp decrease in power play time, and his most common linemates at even strength are still Patrick Kane, who scored over 100 points last season and is on pace for over 80 this year, and Marian Hossa, so Toews’ is still in a prime position to succeed.

Although, while Toews finds himself on a line Patrick Kane or Marian Hossa, he also spends almost half his 5-on-5 time with either Vinnie Hinostroza or Richard Panik, neither of which would be considered a first liner player. This isn’t new to Toews, though. He spent a bunch of time with Andrew Shaw and Teuvo Teravainen last season, and frequently plays with rookies or players that wouldn’t be considered first line caliber, such as Kris Versteeg or Bryan Bickell in the past.

Players who are scoring at the same rate as Jonathan Toews at even strength this season: Chris Tierney, Auston Watson, Johan Larsson, and Brandon Sutter. These aren’t the type of players the Blackhawks want Toews to resemble scoring-wise, but it’s worth noting that his rate would see an increase if Toews’ shooting percentage rebounds to previous levels. Even so, Toews’ even strength scoring isn’t what it once was a few years ago even with a low percentage in mind. Toews was scoring similar to one of the league’s top liners but the last couple seasons are more reflective of a second-line forward, which could be problematic going forward. Toews still provides an incredibly useful role, but more should be expected at his price tag.

There’s always a concern with age when it comes to signing unrestricted free agents. This isn’t to say the Blackhawks shouldn’t have signed him, the choice to extend a player like Kane and Toews is obvious and if they didn’t, someone else would have handed out the same contract or more in free agency, but buying a player’s UFA years can be risky, even one that has helped you win three Stanley Cups. You’re generally locking up a players lesser productive seasons and in this case the Blackhawks paid a lot for Toews’ 27 to 35-age years, although it was a necessity for a cup contender. 

Toews has played a lot of hockey. He’s already approaching 700 NHL games and he’s played the fifth most playoff games at 124 since entering the league. It’s possible the wear and tear is catching up to him, but he’s still only 28 and there have been many productive players past that. Toews’ is still pushing his team’s shot attempt differential the right way and eating up a lot of minutes for the Blackhawks so this doesn’t look like a Mike Richards fall from grace, where a productive two-way player falls off a cliff in his late twenties. Toews’ has always outproduced Richards’ at even strength and his skating will allow him to be useful for much longer, however a 60-point Toews could be a problem when he eats up so much money in a restricted, salary cap world. 

Toews has shown he’s an above average shooter in the NHL and it’d be strange to see such a drastic decline from one year to another.  His 7.6% shooting percentage is closer to a defensemen’s rather than a forwards, so there’s bound to be some recover there. Toews’ tough season can be most likely attributed to injury and poor shooting luck, but his scoring is something to watch as he ages.