Reporting Steve Silverman
By Steve Silverman-
(CBS) There are 11 players who have scored more points than Jonathan Toews this year.
None of those players are more valuable to their team than Toews is to his.
In fact, Toews should win the Hart Trophy that goes to the Most Valuable Player in the National Hockey League.
Only one player can make a decent argument as to why he’s as good or a better choice than Toews. That’s Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Crosby is a better offensive player than Toews. However, when it comes to defense, taking face-offs, leadership and holding teammates accountable for their actions, Toews has the edge.
There’s also one other problem for Crosby – and it’s obviously not his fault – he is out of the lineup. Again.
Crosby was hit by a deflected shot in the face. When the puck made contact with him, it broke his jaw and knocked out several of his teeth. As a result, Crosby has not played a game since March 30 against the New York Islanders, but he will probably return before the end of the regular season April 27.
Crosby is clearly a remarkable player, but he is not more valuable than Toews.
Toews has scored 19 goals and 21 assists in the Blackhawks’ 39 games. Scoring more than a point a game is a good thing, but it is hardly Toews’ best asset.
He is also dominant in the faceoff circle. Toews has won a remarkable 61.0 percent of the faceoffs he has taken.
Normally, any player who can win 55 percent or more of the draws he takes is considered a major asset for his team. The only player with a better percentage is Boston’s Patrice Bergeron (61.5 percent), another underappreciated player who is far more valuable to his team than his point total indicates. Bergeron is currently out after suffering the fourth concussion of his career.
Toews also has a plus-23 rating, which is as much a function of his defensive talents and determination as it is his talent for creating stellar offensive plays.
More than the numbers, Toews also is the No. 1 player head coach Joel Quenneville looks to in all crucial situations.
If the Blackhawks need a late goal to tie the game or take the lead, Toews is out on the ice. If the Blackhawks are protecting the lead at the end of the third period, Toews once again gets the call.
He is a very sharp penalty killer who will get in the alley to deflect shots and passes. On the power play, Toews will create a play when he has the puck as he crosses the blue line and either score or set up his teammate.
More typically, he will go into the dirty areas, absorb a hit from a defender and still find a way to get to a rebound or deflect a shot.
Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning has a harder shot and will score more goals than Toews. So will the resurgent Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals. Ryan Getzlaf of the Anaheim Ducks and John Tavares of the New York Islanders are brilliant stars who are enjoying excellent seasons. But none of those players have anywhere near the defensive skill of Toews.
The aforementioned Bergeron may be close when it comes to having a razor-sharp all-around game. Bergeron gives the Bruins a chance to win in those same late-game situations that Toews specializes in. However, Bergeron does not have the same kind of offensive skills. Bergeron has 31 points and a similar plus-23 rating.
Toews is the best player on the best team in hockey. If you are going to beat the Blackhawks, you are going to have to get the best of Toews in all three zones of the ice.
This year, opponents have not been able to do that.
Crosby, Stamkos, Ovechkin and Tavares may have scored more points and received more headlines, but Toews is the most valuable player in the league and the key reason the Blackhawks are the best team in the NHL.
He’s got the heart and he should walk away with the Hart this year.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy) and read more of his CBS Chicago columns here.