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Toews optimistic Blackhawks can bounce back after missing playoffs

Chicago captain says last-place finish in Central was learning experience

by Tracey Myers @TraMyers_NHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

CHICAGO -- Jonathan Toews celebrated the 10th anniversary of being named captain of the Chicago Blackhawks by displaying the leadership qualities that earned him the position in the first place.

The Blackhawks (33-39-10) finished last in the Central Division and missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season for the first time since 2007-08. It was a tough season for Toews too; his 20 goals and 52 points were the fewest for an 82-game season in his NHL career. 

 

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But Toews, who was named the youngest captain in Blackhawks history (20 years, 79 days) on July 18, 2008, is optimistic they can turn things around and take lessons from a disappointing season.

"I think it's a learning experience for everyone to go through what we went through last year," Toews said Wednesday. "Whether you're a veteran player or a young guy that went through that season last year, we're all looking at ways we can be better as individuals.

"I think if you put those same guys back on the ice, you're going to get a different product. Top-down, from our coaching staff to our players, we're all looking to communicate better and to find ways to get the ultimate result that we want on the ice."

As Toews prepared for his first game in the Chicago Pro Hockey League, he thought about the day he was announced Blackhawks captain, a title he received two years after he was the No. 3 pick at the 2006 NHL Draft.

Video: How Toews and Crawford can help Blackhawks next year

"It's interesting that it's been 10 years already," said Toews, who turned 30 on April 29. "It's funny. At the time I definitely felt it was something that I was ready for. It had been talked about when I got drafted. We were a young team but I think there (were) still quite a few veterans that, deep down, I was seeking their approval in a lot of ways. But little did I know how much I had to learn and I still have to learn when it comes to being captain.

"Winning is the easy part. When you lose and things don't go as expected, that's when there's a lot of room for growth. Last year was one of those examples. But it's been a fun 10 years for sure."

Wednesday was Toews' second time on the ice this offseason, but he said he's been working on little things to prepare.

"I think the biggest thing is just feeling good and getting back to feeling strong and fast," Toews said. "As I've mentioned a few times, it's just getting rid of old injuries and just feeling healthy again. I'm kind of taking advantage to work in that area."

The Blackhawks hope to do the same; they struggled when goaltender Corey Crawford missed the second half of the season because of an upper-body injury. Crawford (16-9-2, 2.27 goals-against average, .929 save percentage) didn't play after Dec. 23.

Video: How Chicago will move forward after their trade

Chicago was 17-13-5 at the time of Crawford's injury but went 16-26-5 the rest of the season. General manager Stan Bowman reiterated Tuesday that Crawford should be ready for training camp in September. The Blackhawks signed free agent Cam Ward on July 1 for goalie depth.

"There's a number of problems that were magnified with the way the season went last year," Toews said. "We're all looking at those things that came to the surface last year. We don't want to put ourselves in a situation where we rely on a goaltender as much as we did the previous couple of years. And when Corey is ready, and if he's ready to get back to where he was when he left us in December, we're going to be a better team for it. It's up to us to try and fill those voids while we can."

Toews has experienced a lot of success in his 10 years as captain, including three Stanley Cup championships (2010, 2013, 2015). He won the Conn Smythe Trophy as most valuable player of the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs, when he had 29 points (seven goals, 22 assists) in 22 games. He won the Selke Trophy as the top defensive forward in the NHL in 2013.

Like any captain when he reflects on the past, Toews expects more in the future.

"For me it's part of just recapturing that energy, that motivation, excitement and that mindset of a young player who takes nothing for granted that you had in your younger days, but also carrying the experience with you and understanding the impact of what you say, what you do, that how you carry yourself can impact your teammates, especially the young guys," Toews said. "For me it comes down to knowing what to say at the right time, but letting my play be the thing that helps me lead by example.

"No better time than now to use that experience and that excitement trying to rebound off the season we had last year."

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