Jets need to get serious about landing hometown hero Toews Blackhawks captain has everything Winnipeg needs to get to the next level
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Jonathan Toews already has an honorary lake and community club here in his home province. Now it’s up to general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff to find a way to get the three-time Stanley Cup champion’s name stitched on the back of a Winnipeg Jets jersey.
The 34-year-old pending unrestricted free agent is just the type of rental the local hockey club needs, checking off multiple boxes in the process. Winning pedigree. Strong two-way play. Faceoff specialist. Special-teams guru. Natural leader. It just makes so much sense. And unlike plenty of other contenders, Winnipeg wouldn’t have to undergo major roster surgery, utilize a third-party trade broker and/or pay a premium for massive salary retention to find enough financial wiggle room to squeeze him in.
It also appears the Jets wouldn’t have to mortgage the future to get him here either. Not even close, actually. Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported earlier this week that Chicago is likely seeking just a second or even a third-round draft pick for Toews. Really. That’s it.
If true, Cheveldayoff should have Blackhawks general manager Kyle Davidson on speed dial. Like, today. And every day, if necessary, until the March 3 trade deadline.
Toews may have plenty of mileage under his belt including nearly 1,200 combined regular-season and playoff games, but there’s still an extremely productive player there. He’s already got 13 goals and 14 assists through 42 games this year on an abysmal team that is in the early stages of a long-term rebuild. Those 27 points would have Toews sixth on the high-flying Jets in scoring, trailing only Kyle Connor, Josh Morrissey, Pierre-Luc Dubois, Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler. (Only Scheifele, Connor and Dubois have more goals).
Toews also leads the NHL in faceoff winning percentage, with a stellar 63.87 per cent success rate in the dot. Winnipeg, as a team, is just 48.2 per cent, which ranks 24th out of 32 clubs. It continues to bite them at crucial times. The second period of Thursday’s game in Toronto, for example, where the Maple Leafs win the draw and immediately go down and score eight seconds later, undoing all the terrific momentum the Jets had built in the opening frame.
Puck possession is such an integral part of the modern game, and Winnipeg is still chasing it far too often. In terms of full-time centres, Adam Lowry (50.3 per cent) is the best of the current bunch, with Dubois (49.67 per cent), Scheifele (46.92 per cent) and David Gustafsson (46.15 per cent) all losing more than they win. Kevin Stenlund has now appeared in 18 games since being called up by the Moose, and the primary reason he’s remained in the lineup is his 53.8 per cent rate.
With Toews in the final year of a massive contract that pays him US$10.5 million annually, keeping him in Chicago beyond the current campaign is unlikely. Moving him for some kind of asset rather than seeing him walk away for nothing is the kind of move the Blackhawks should be making, especially if it sends Toews to an organization where he has a chance to go on an extended playoff run.
The Jets are not only currently battling for top spot in the Central Division, but also No. 1 in the wide-open Western Conference. It’s there for the taking. Some roster reinforcements are clearly needed, especially when you know rivals are going to try and load up as much as possible.
Fortunately, Winnipeg never had to dip into long-term injured reserve when the injury list got as long as seven regulars in December. That allowed the Jets to continue accruing cap space on a daily basis. Now that they are nearly back to full health — only Gustafsson, Mason Appleton and Logan Stanley remain out, and the trio are getting closer to returns — money shouldn’t be an object for Cheveldayoff. That’s not the case for numerous other clubs, who won’t be able to weaponize the cap the way Winnipeg can.
Complicating matters here is the fact Toews has the final say, thanks to a full no-move clause. Based on what’s been coming out of the Windy City in recent days, however, it sure sounds like Toews is open to a move. He went on a Chicago-based podcast earlier this week and told the host, Charlie Roumeliotis, that playing his entire career with the organization that drafted him third-overall in 2006 would be a nice story. “But at the same time, there’s a part of me that sees the writing on the wall’,” he said. “Maybe moving on is the best thing for everyone.”
You would have to think his birthplace, the city where his family still resides, would be high on his list. Not just for the sentimental angle, but for the legitimate shot at success here.
I’ve heard some people on social media suggesting finding a spot in the lineup for Toews would be difficult, with Scheifele, Dubois and Lowry as your top three centres. That’s silly. Of course there is room, and you could file this one under terrific “problems” to have.
Just as the Jets did when they made a huge splash at the 2018 trade deadline by landing centre Paul Stastny, I’m confident the coaching staff could easily make this work. We’ve already seen Scheifele, Dubois and Lowry shift to the wings at times, for example. As we’ve seen already this year, you can never have too much depth. This is a Jets team that has already rotated the likes of Michael Eyssimont, Axel Jonsson-Fjallby and Kristian Reichel, among others, on the top two lines.
You can bet coach Rick Bowness would love to be able to tap No. 19 on the shoulder for a crucial late-game defensive zone draw with his club clinging to a one-goal lead, or for the pivotal offensive-zone faceoff in the final minute with the Jets pushing for the equalizer. In addition to all the other intangibles Toews would bring on, and off, the ice.
Don’t discount what adding Toews to the team would do at the box office, too. We’ve seen plenty of evidence this year that fans are appreciating what the Jets have done this season, with crowds growing in size in recent weeks, and a much livelier atmosphere returning to Canada Life Centre. Bringing in Toews would send a message that they’re not messing around this season. I expect supporters would respond in kind.
It would also send the right message to the players. As I’ve written before, there are many reasons to go all-in this year, specifically with Dubois, Scheifele, Wheeler and Connor Hellebuyck all eligible to become UFAs by the summer of 2024. Difficult decisions about the direction of the organization may have to be made as early as this summer. It’s why living in the moment is more crucial than ever, something Cheveldayoff seemed to recognize when he sat down with yours truly and two other Jets scribes last week in Buffalo for his mid-season chat.
Add it all up and it’s time for the Jets to get serious.
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.
Updated on Friday, January 20, 2023 9:44 PM CST: Fixes typo
Updated on Friday, January 20, 2023 10:34 PM CST: Fixes typo