Wild

Jonathan Toews Could Be Eric Staal 2.0 For Minnesota

Photo Credit: David Berding-USA TODAY Sports

The Chicago Blackhawks are demolishing their roster. They traded 40-goal scorer Alex DeBrincat, followed by 21-year-old center Kirby Dach, the third pick in the 2019 Draft. Then they let productive players like Dylan Strome and Dominik Kubalik walk in free agency. They have no intention of competing next season, and Jonathan Toews is making it clear he didn’t sign up for this.

Toews missed the 2020-21 NHL season because of a chronic immune disease. As Toews made a full recovery, he saw a decline in his game, only producing 37 points, 12 goals, and 25 assists in 71 games played the next season he returned in 2021-22.

But before being sidelined, he posted 60 points in 71 games played in 2019-20, along with five goals and nine points in nine playoff games. So is this the end of Toews’ career? Or is this a minor setback after dealing with an illness that took him out of action? If it’s the former, Toews sounds like the perfect candidate to become Eric Staal 2.0. The Wild signed Staal as a free agent after a down season, and most didn’t think much of the signing. Fans didn’t expect Staal to tie Marian Gaborik‘s single-season goal-scoring record, but he did. Now imagine getting Toews, who has more of a winning resume and pedigree than Staal, who can be brought in a trade?

If the Blackhawks are going to move Toews, why shouldn’t Minnesota be in on it? Bill Guerin has already done business with Chicago, trading for another Hall of Famer in Marc-Andre Fleury at the trade deadline last year. Does this mean the Blackhawks won’t care about moving Toews to a Central Division foe? They are in full rebuild mode, and they’ll be happy for Toews – and happy to move on.

Why should Wild fans be happy to consider wanting Toews, let alone giving him the C, too? Do I really need to explain? He won three Stanley Cups in six seasons! He’s a Conn Smythe Trophy winner! An MVP leader! Playoff Toews is an entirely different animal, as he’s scored more points per game in the playoffs (0.86) than in the regular season (0.84).

And, of course, Wild fans remember that player as one whose team dominated them like the New York Yankees have done to the Minnesota Twins in years past. Think of Toews as Derek Jeter: The perfect leader and one of his league’s best captains ever.

How much confidence do you have in adding Toews to a leadership core with Jared Spurgeon, Marcus Foligno, and Matt Dumba? Respect to those players, but their leadership hasn’t done anything close to what Toews has. Toews is a true playoff-changer in a way even Mikko Koivu wasn’t. He received the Mark Messier leadership award in 2015 and was named one of the NHL’s Best 100 Players of All Time. Need I say more?

By adding Toews, Minnesota would enable Marco Rossi to settle into his role easier next to Kirill Kaprizov and Mats Zuccarello. Such a move would take the burden off the GREEF line by giving them another center that can win critical faceoffs. With Kaprizov in the fold, Guerin should want to maximize the Wild roster as much as possible.

As for Toews’ line, it’s an excellent opportunity to have Ryan Hartman continue his turnaround by reuniting with his former captain. That’s good company to have, especially with Matt Boldy on the other wing. With Hartman always there to slide back to center in case of injury, the Wild have a chance to have much better depth than last year. While the team will miss Kevin Fiala‘s scoring, adding Toews helps replace that scoring throughout the Top-9.

Toews has a $10.5 million cap hit and a no-move cause, major roadblocks for the cap-strapped Wild. Luckily, Guerin can catch a break and not have to worry about blowing up the prospect pool for Toews. The Blackhawks have no future with Toews, and his production is at a half-point per game. As The Athletic’s Mark Lazarus points out, “Toews’ trade value is very low. He’s coming off injury issues, he’s coming off a down year. He has to prove that he has to have value again.”

Of course, by no means will it be a cakewalk for Guerin. He has to be comfortable with moving at least a Top-10 prospect — though definitely not the NHL-ready Rossi or Goalie of the Future Jesper Wallstedt — and a roster player who can provide Top-9 value. A deal that the Blackhawks can get behind to continue rebuilding their team. A true change of scenery for both parties.

Chicago would have to take $5.25 million of Toews’ contract to make it manageable, but fetching a top prospect for one year of Toews is a good idea for where they’re at in their rebuild. It’s hard to see Toews not waiving; he should get behind this idea. Toews would become a mentor to Rossi, teaching him what it takes to be a true No. 1 Center on a Cup Contender. And he’d join a team that had 113 points last year and was only missing someone like Toews.

The Wild need not only to continue their playoff appearances but be able to improve their results. That’s the gateway to keeping Kaprizov in Minnesota throughout his career. The Wild will be left with around $2 million in cap space, having the flexibility to call up rookie contracts during the season.

If Toews thrives here, he could also pull a Staal and extend below-market value during the cap crunch years. He’s made his money. If he wants to win, he can in Minnesota. A three-year extension to lead the Wild to a Cup sounds quite nice if he’s capable of reviving his career.

Toews can thrive in a penalty-killing role. We know how great of a duo Toews and Marian Hossa were for Chicago’s penalty kill. He can absolutely thrive with someone like Eriksson Ek. He’ll also get power play time, but he’ll really make a difference on the penalty kill. Can you see a Toews-fueled version of the Wild beating the St. Louis Blues last year? Toews certainly has shown more of a killer instinct to win.

Wait! Why wouldn’t the Wild just wait for Toews to become a UFA where they don’t have to give up anything?! Great question! The reality is this: Would you want the Colorado Avalanche to acquire him?

Joe Sakic has been on a tear and is looking to repeat. He wants the best captain on his team. Toews will either be moved now or at the trade deadline. Either way, Toews isn’t going to take another tank season. Sakic wants to win. The Avs have more leverage than the Wild and are Minnesota’s biggest competitor. Toews could gravitate towards going to an established winner instead of coming here to an organization merely hoping to turn the corner.

Guerin will need to convince Toews he can win here. He’s going to spark the team. Who knows what this can lead to? The time is now for Guerin to capitalize on this opportunity!

Toews would become Staal 2.0 for the Wild. Once the playoffs start, expect a rocket to launch because he’ll be motivated to show the NHL he can still win championships after battling his condition. The playoff performer Toews should help lift Minnesota’s curse of early-round eliminations. He’s pretty familiar with eliminating the Wild anyway. Toews could become their lucky charm.

The Wild will still need to deal with the Avalanche, Blues, and Nashville Predators as their main competitors in the Central. However, Toews’ leadership will bring comfort to the team and fans. He would have a better supporting cast in Minnesota, led by Kaprizov – the Russian Patrick Kane. If Rossi has a Calder-caliber season, expect hell to break loose in Minnesota! Rossi has Toews as a teacher. Wallstedt has Fleury. The prospects would have their mentors.

Deal or no deal?

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