9:35 AM CST, March 7, 2013
So, I’m up early Thursday morning, reading another dramatic and sparkling edition of My Chicago Tribune and logged on to My Chicago Tribune’s digital presentation, the only local news source you’ll ever need.
OK, that’s it for sucking up to the current wonks and future owners. Moving right along ...
I scroll down the user-friendly website and see the headline: “Who ya got as Blackhawks’ first-half MVP?’’
Do they really need to ask? Do WE really need to ask?
Maybe that’s a new special Chicago Tribune Digital trick, a private message in headline form on my laptop. My Chicago Tribune cyberwonks just want my help. I guess they want me to tell them that Jonathan Toews is the Hawks’ first-half MVP.
So, I click on the headline, and whoa, it’s a web poll. What the ... ?
Who posts a web poll when the answer seems so obvious?
OK. Fine. I click and vote for Toews like probably every other Hawks observer, and whoa again, Patrick Kane owned almost half the votes and Toews didn’t have even 20 percent.
A disclaimer at the bottom noted “Results not scientific,’’ and they will remain so until people start agreeing with me.
The other choices were Marian Hossa, Corey Crawford and Ray Emery, and there’s an argument to be made. Kane, too, certainly. They’d all make a good case for ranking second to Toews.
Kane has always been the pretty, shiny thing, and he certainly has been from the start of this truncated season, scoring the kind of big and dramatic goals that mark his history. Kane seemed to have the jump on the entire league after playing in Switzerland during the lockout.
In fact, Kane had such a jump that he’s getting the Pavel Datsyuk level of respect from opposing players, several of them Datsyuk’s teammates. Many quality defensemen who would normally try to squish Kane suddenly are backing off. They look afraid to make a run at the quick, shifty and creative Kane for fear he will make them look stupid. Kane’s improved elusiveness intimidates. Defenseman misses, Kane dances into open ice, “Chelsea Dagger’’ to follow.
But there’s something else with Kane. Something important. Something mature. Kane also has displayed a new resolve to become a more complete player. Specifically, Kane realizes he has defensive responsibilities, too.
During the interviews after the Hawks’ dramatic 3-2 victory over Colorado on Daniel Carcillo’s last-minute goal, Kane told NBC’s Pierre McGuire his game has changed because he’s playing and thinking defensively as much as he is offensively. He cited Hossa’s spectacular two-way game, saying that if Hossa could come back so hard to his own zone and still remain one of the scariest offensive weapons in the league, well, then, so could Kane.
Kane could’ve said the same thing about Toews, who always has played both ends of the ice and done it at a more important position. The rink is 200 feet. Same goes for Toews’ game. If you want the puck, then go get it yourself in your own zone. It’s a handy way to protect your goalie, not to mention the best plan to vet yourself from Joel Quenneville using the ice-time hammer to nail your backside to the bench.
It’s funny: Kane is getting a lot of Hart Trophy chatter for playing a new game that is modeled after the way Toews always has played and certainly plays better. Kane leads the team with 12 goals, but people talk as if he’s first and nobody is even second. Toews has 10 goals after that jaw-dropping short-hander that tied Colorado at 2 in the third period Wednesday. Big goal, ahem.
Giving Kane credit for continuing to score big goals and adding to his game, I would argue long and loud that Toews is the Hawks’ MVP, and here’s why:
He’s a center, which makes him more valuable than any other forward, and he’s among the best faceoff men in the league. The faceoff is the first battle. You can’t score without the puck. That’s why his line starts. Connect the dots, people.
He’s part of the first penalty-killing unit that has ranked among the league’s best all season, and here’s the thing about penalty-killing: If you’re looking for postseason harbingers, killing penalties is second to great goaltending on any sane list of priorities. It’s hard work and a lot of want-to, which means a team has a greater chance of continuing to do it at a high level. What’s more, it can deflate a more talented team. See last year’s Hawks for details.
Toews also is part of the first power-play unit, which has shown signs of improvement with a couple goals in the last three games, ranking 12thin the NHL after wallowing around 19th or 20th recently.
Oh, and Toews is the captain because he’s the best leader, and that starts with the kind of game he plays. Toews works the toughest spots -- along the boards, in the corner, behind the net, and certainly in the slot. He’s the personification of Quenneville’s demand for “net presence.’’ A guy with that many points and that much talent remains willing to get dirty because that’s the right way.
From my penalty box here, Toews is the guy playing a more important position and doing more valuable things in more critical areas of any given game. That’s why he’s my Hawks MVP, at least until he stupidly tries to fight Joe Thornton again.
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