Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews has missed the last 27 games after dealing with Long COVID and Chronic Immune Response Syndrome, which forced him to miss the entire 2020-21 season. On Saturday, he is expected to make his return to the lineup — sooner than expected.
Part of the reason he's pushing to return this season is that Toews realizes his time with the Blackhawks could be running out.
"Regardless of what happens in the future this summer, it's definitely on my mind that this could be my last few weeks here in Chicago as a Blackhawk," Toews said. "And so that's definitely very important for me to just go out there and enjoy the game and just kind of soak it in and just really appreciate everything I've been able to be a part of here in Chicago and show my appreciation to the fans as well."
Playing out the rest of the season is one thing. The other is deciding whether or not it's worth continuing his career, given his health situation.
On Tuesday, Toews was open about wondering whether this could be the end of the road for him, period, and indicated it's something he's thinking about.
"I feel like I have much more to give with my experience in the game and knowing how to play the game, but when day after day is just you're just pushing through pain, it's just like, to what end? " Toews said. "I think when you're young and you're playing for a Stanley Cup, and everyone's playing through something, that means something and it's worthwhile. But I'm at that point where it feels like more damage is being done than is a good thing."
On Friday, Toews walked it back just a bit but only because he doesn't want to get too far ahead of himself.
"To be fully honest, I’m not near making that decision yet," Toews said. "And I don’t feel like with what I’ve been through this year and this past season that I have enough clarity on what that decision will be. I’m just kind of doing my best every day to get healthy and get back into a good place mentally and physically.
"I think either that decision will be clear for me this summer or it’ll be a situation where I’m really feeling good and really excited and just really ready to train and prepare to get myself to a place where I can play high-level hockey again and just enjoy the game. I want to be able to be in that place where I’m really having fun and playing at a high level and contributing to my team the way I know I can. All those things are part of what makes the game really enjoyable for me.
"It’s kind of my own conditions for myself and then we’ll see. I’m not putting any pressure on myself one way or another. I’m thankful of how supportive the team has been and my teammates as well. It’s one of those things that not a lot of people can understand unless you’ve been through it yourself, so I appreciate everyone’s patience with that. I’m just trying to do my best one day at a time going forward."
It does give Toews something to think about going into the summer though, and you can bet it'll be at the forefront of his mind.
"A lot of people are asking me about that now, and I’m not letting myself get there," Toews said when asked what life after hockey could look like for him. "I still think I’m committed to getting better. Again, I’m not taking this game for granted even though it’s tough sometimes, it wears you down. Just want to enjoy it while I can.
"Again, I haven’t gotten too far down that rabbit hole, but I would imagine the thought is when you remember how long and hard a season can be, you know if you either got it or you don’t.
"I think for guys that I’ve talked to and most hockey guys, I would say all of them really have a lot of pride of who they are and how they compete and what they bring to their team. If that’s not there anymore, then it’s kind of a black-and-white situation. Again, I haven’t given it that much thought. We’ll see, I guess."
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