Jonathan Toews did a few laps and waved to the crowd who screamed “Jonny! Jonny!” As the audience cheered, he touched his heart and lifted his stick in the air.
Toews played his last game with Chicago on Thursday, capping off a hugely successful 15-year career that includes three Stanley Cup victories. The captain was showered with applause throughout the season finale, which the Blackhawks lost 5-4 to the Philadelphia Flyers.
“It’s almost hard to accept that love and that praise,” Toews said. “So I tried my best to just soak it all in.”
Earlier in the day, general manager Kyle Davidson confirmed that the organisation will not re-sign Toews, who turns 35 on April 29. After signing to a $84 million, eight-year contract extension in July 2014, the centre is available for free agency.
“I think words fail to adequately summarise everything Jonathan’s done for the organisation, the amazing memories that he provided,” Davidson added. “He’ll be a Blackhawk forever.”
Toews, formerly dubbed “Captain Serious” (a moniker that faded as he revealed more of his personality over the years), may opt to retire after missing a piece of this season with symptoms of extended COVID-19 and chronic immune response syndrome. He also missed the 2020-21 season due to similar health difficulties.
“The thought of playing for another team is so far in the back of my mind right now, especially after that moment,” Toews said. “I always thought I’d retire with a Blackhawk, and part of me still does, so we’ll see.”
Toews’ last game with the Blackhawks came against the club he played in the 2010 Stanley Cup last, when he guided the franchise to their first title in 49 years.
When he was announced with the starting lineup and every time he was displayed on the overhead videoboard, he received tremendous, lengthy applause. The response was amplified when Toews scored on a power play in the second period, prompting a thundering surge of applause.
Toews’ goal was his first since Jan. 28 and his 15th of the season. In 1,067 regular-season games with Chicago, he has 372 goals and 511 assists.
“There are no hard feelings,” he stated. “I have nothing but gratitude and love for the Blackhawks.”
In July 2008, he was just 20 years old and became the 34th captain in franchise history.
“He’s definitely our team leader, and he’s been the leader here for a long time,” said Luke Richardson, the squad’s first-year coach. “It was always entertaining to watch him play. I was always a fan, but having the opportunity to work with him this year was incredible.”
Toews was part of a core group that helped Chicago put together the finest period in organisation history, including Stanley Cup victories in 2013 and 2015. In 2014, the Blackhawks reached the Western Conference finals before falling to the Los Angeles Kings in a seven-game series.
However, the franchise has recently struggled. It is one of the weakest teams in the NHL this season, but it is in the running for the first overall choice in the draught and a chance to draught Connor Bedard.
Toews’ exit follows a February transaction that sent star player Patrick Kane to the New York Rangers.
“I’m not sure whether we’re putting the past behind us. “It’s more about clearing the decks to allow for organic growth of young players into leadership roles,” Davidson said. “Give this new generation of Blackhawks players the same opportunity that Toews, Kane, [Duncan] Keith, [Brent] Seabrook were all given when they first arrived in the league.”
Following a series of meetings, Davidson said he informed Toews of the decision last week when the club was in Seattle. The GM also said that he had discussed the issue with CEO Danny Wirtz, the son of Blackhawks chairman Rocky Wirtz.
“Danny and Rocky spoke with Jonathan, not about this, just to kind of reminisce about what was lived and experienced and to show respect and share in the memories that were made together,” Davidson said. “They have to be involved when you’re moving on from someone like Jonathan Toews.” They had to be, given the player’s importance and size.”