CHICAGO (AP) — Jonathan Toews took a couple of small laps and waved to the fans as they chanted “Jonny! Jonny!” He patted his heart and held his stick in the air as the crowd roared.
Toews played one last game with Chicago on Thursday, closing out a wildly successful run that included three Stanley Cup championships in 15 seasons. The captain was showered with cheers all night long as the Blackhawks lost 5-4 to the Philadelphia Flyers in their season finale.
“It’s almost hard to accept that love and that praise,” Toews said. “So I tried my best to just soak it in.”
General manager Kyle Davidson announced earlier in the day that the team would not re-sign Toews, who turns 35 on April 29. The center is eligible for free agency after agreeing to an $84 million, eight-year contract extension in July 2014.
“I think words fail to adequately summarize everything that Jonathan’s done for the organization, the amazing memories that he provided,” Davidson said. “He’ll be a Blackhawk forever.”
Once nicknamed “Captain Serious” — a reputation that faded away as he showed more of his personality over the years — Toews could decide to retire after missing a chunk of this season with what he described as symptoms of long COVID-19 and chronic immune response syndrome. He also missed the 2020-21 season because of those same health issues.
“The thought of playing for another team right now is so far in the back of my mind right now, especially after that moment,” Toews said. “I always thought I’d retire a Blackhawk and part of me still believes in that, so we’ll see.”
Toews’ last game with Chicago was against the team he faced in the 2010 Stanley Cup Final, when he led the Blackhawks to their first championship in 49 years.
He heard loud, prolonged cheers when he was introduced with the starting lineup, and every time he was shown on the overhead videoboard. The reception reached another level when Toews scored a power-play goal in the second period, leading to a thunderous round of applause.
It was Toews’ first goal since Jan. 28 and No. 15 on the season. He has 372 goals and 511 assists in 1,067 regular-season games — all with Chicago.
“There’s absolutely no hard feelings,” he said. “I have nothing but love and gratitude for the Blackhawks.”
Toews was selected by Chicago with the No. 3 pick in the 2006 draft, one of the first markers in the team’s rise to the top of the NHL. He was just 20 years old when he became the 34th captain in team history in July 2008.
“He’s definitely our team leader, and he’s been the leader here for a long time,” first-year coach Luke Richardson said. “It was always fun to watch him play. I was always a fan, but to have a chance to work with him this year was absolutely amazing.”
Toews was part of a core group that helped Chicago put together the best stretch in franchise history, also winning the Stanley Cup in 2013 and 2015. The Blackhawks also made it to the Western Conference finals in 2014, losing to the Los Angeles Kings in an epic seven-game series.
But the franchise has fallen on hard times of late. It is among the worst teams in the NHL this year, in the mix for the No. 1 overall pick in the draft and a chance to take Connor Bedard.
Toews’ departure comes in the wake of a February trade that shipped star forward Patrick Kane to the New York Rangers.
“I don’t know if it’s necessarily putting the past behind us. It’s moreso clearing the deck to some extent to allow the organic growth for young players into leadership roles,” Davidson said. “Offer this new era of Blackhawks player the same opportunity that Toews, Kane, (Duncan) Keith, (Brent) Seabrook, they were all offered when they came in the league.”
Following a series of conversations, Davidson said he told Toews of the decision while the team was in Seattle last week. The GM also said he had talked to CEO Danny Wirtz, the son of Blackhawks chairman Rocky Wirtz, about the move.
“Danny and Rocky spoke with Jonathan, not about this, just to kind of reminisce about what was lived and experienced and just to show that respect and share in the memories that were made together,” Davidson said. “So, when you’re moving on from someone like Jonathan Toews, they have to be involved. They have to be, given the status and stature of the player.”
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