For a while now, I get my dander up when hockey debates about the best NHLer alive are limited to Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin. What would return my dander to its safe and natural down position?
Including Jonathan Toews in the conversation. That’s what.
I’m not jumping on the Toews bandwagon – a bandwagon, by the way, that had to have its seating capacity increased again last night after he went off on the Winnipeg Jets – simply because he had a fantastic night. Just because he can do this:
doesn’t in and of itself make him the type of talent who should be mentioned with the game’s very best players.
No, it’s that Toews can thread a 35-foot-pass on his backhand for a primary assist on a goal, work just as ferociously and effectively on the defensive end, and do so night-in and night-out. For instance, people will look at the goal and three assists he posted against the Jets and laud him because he’s now on a point-per-game pace (11 goals and 23 points in 23 games), but will they notice he won 18 of 26 faceoffs? Will they see that, in addition to the four-plus-minutes he spent on the power play, he also played another two-plus-minutes killing penalties? Probably not.
For a couple years now, Toews has for my money been better than Ovechkin and right there with Crosby as the world’s most complete player. This season has done nothing to dissuade me of that opinion and the longer Toews plays without sufficient recognition, the more I suspect he’s consistently shortchanged because he plays on such a fantastic, deep Blackhawks team.
Need I remind everyone about the ultimate measurement of an NHL superstar? Okay, fine: it’s Stanley Cups. Towes is 25 years old and has two. Crosby is 26 and has one. Ovechkin is 28 and has none.
In their team sport, none of these three players singlehandedly is responsible for their team’s success or lack thereof. But Wayne Gretzky and all those who came before or after him understand players are judged by their successes at hockey's highest levels. Nobody has been better than Toews in that regard. So it sure would be nice if we could relax the focus on this superficial Crosby-Ovechkin rivalry.
Unfortunately, a couple months from now when Canada and Russia are expected to clash at some point in Sochi, we’ll probably hear a lot more about it. But if you’re like me and you're exhausted by it, do what I do. Ask the people discussing the issue if they're aware who was named best forward at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
It wasn’t Ovechkin. It wasn’t Crosby. It was the Chicago Blackhawks’ captain, best player and Hockey-Hall-of-Famer-in-the-making.
It was Jonathan Toews.