After another dominating effort on Wednesday night against Calgary, it became even clearer that Toews should not only be a finalist for the Hart Memorial trophy, rewarded annually to the league's Most Valuable Player, but he should be taking the hardware home.
Had Crosby not gone down with a concussion, this conversation may not be happening, as he was going to run away with the award, and rightly so. However, his injury opened the door for several other candidates to grab hold of it and Toews has easily become the front-runner.
Its not just the 21-point performance in the month of February (and being named the NHL's 1st star of the month) that makes him an obvious choice, but the example he's setting in the dressing room that makes his value to the Chicago Blackhawks far superior to any other player on their respective teams.
Not only did he give what seems to be the most important speech of the season during the 1st intermission on Feb 21st against the Blues, he went out and got the game-winning goal that same game. Any captain, or any player for that matter, can make a speech to try and fire up the team, but Toews went out and threw the team on his back to show that he wasn't just full of hot air.
Other players in the league have had some very exceptional seasons, certainly worthy of Hart consideration. Steven Stamkos has had a fantastic season, lighting the lamp 41 times, getting the revived Tampa Bay Lightning into 2nd place in the East. He's also revived the career of Vinny Lecavalier, making Tampa a force to be reckoned with. However, they play against a significantly weaker Eastern Conference, and a lot of his goals have been on the PP.
Daniel and Henrik Sedin have had fantastic seasons as well for a very strong Canucks team (which pains me to admit), but the fact that their production is almost entirely correlated to the other is proof in itself that neither can be the Most Valuable Player. They are both just as valuable as the other, so to reward one just doesn't add up.
And, lastly, of course, is Tim Thomas, who has had a great season backstopping the B's (and fighting Carey Price). He leads the league or is near the top of the league in all statistical categories and has been a critical part of their success. However, he's playing on a team that has talent from top to bottom and has been playing a very dominant style of hockey since the beginning of the season, so in terms of mental adversity, which separates the good goalies from the great, he hasn't had to deal with much.
Which brings me back to Toews. He's been the leader of a team that has been under the microscope and in the cross hairs of everybody in the league. He's watched his team get ripped apart by the salary cap, he's dealt with off-ice distractions (rumors or not) regarding teammates and their lack of focus, and listened the League constantly remind him that he's playing for defending Stanley Cup champions, who were out of a playoff position for much of the season. However, when the pressure seemed to become insurmountable and the necessary points needed for 8th place seemed to vanish, he brought his game to another level.
If you take Jonathan Toews off this team, they aren't even considering playoffs. They would already be dusting off their golf clubs and planning their summer vacations. Sure, he's playing on arguably the most talented line (and certainly the hottest) in the league, but he's making that line as dangerous as it is. He back checks at a Selke-trophy level (which is another discussion we should maybe be having), wins key draws, wins board battles, and goes to the net with a purpose, freeing up space for Sharp and Kane. And he does all of this at the most important moments in the game.
He makes the team better, on the ice and off the ice. After Frolik scored his first goal (and got the monkey off his back) last night, Toews tapped him on the shoulder when the goal was shown on the video board. And when Toews undressed Anton Babchuk on a feed from Frolik for the 4th goal of the game in last night's game, Toews deflected the attention and, once again, congratulated Frolik as if he had threaded the needle and gave Toews a tap-in. I'll be shocked if we don't see a whole new Frolik after last night's game. There's nothing quite like the captain who has literally won/done everything there is to do in hockey making you feel like you've made a great play and you're an important part of the team. I don't care that these are adults, that type of 'pick-me-up' is exactly what Frolik needed to get back to his 21-goal form. Even hockey players need a little encouragement.
Toews has brought his game to an elite-level. And he's done it when the Hawks needed him the most. There is a lot of season left, and every game will be critical to the Hawks making the playoffs, but if Toews keeps up this pace, and continues to make an impact in each of those games, the United Center won't be the only place chanting, "MVP".