The NHL’s Biggest Secret: Jonathan Toews Isn’t That Good.

Amongst NHL watchers, certainly those paid to do it for a living, there are several inalienable truths of hockey that seemingly shouldn’t be contradicted.

Grit is good.

You’ll always take a player who’s “good in the room” over a better one that isn’t.

If you’re looking for a player to build a franchise around in the NHL, there is no better player than Jonathan Toews.

Here’s the thing with Jonathan Toews. Nobody is denying he’s a good player. Nobody is denying that he’s a very good two-way centre in the NHL.

But he is not, in any way shape or form, the player that most people watching the NHL would like you to think he is.

In fact, he’s not even among the top five in the NHL when it comes to centres. He’s probably barely among the top five forwards in his team.

To illustrate this, we decided to put him up against some competition. And, given that he’s a player that we’re told is among the NHL’s most elite centers, it would be only fair to compare him with similarly “elite” competition.

So, we took some.

Patrice Bergeron. King of the two-way forwards, and arguably Toew’s most direct competion.

Connor McDavid – the player who is generally accepted as Sidney Crosby mark II.

Sidney Crosby, because after all, if you’re going to compare elite centres you may as well include the blueprint of elite centres.

Joe Thornton, for the playmaking aspect (apparently something else Toews does so well as an “all-around centre”).

And Mikael Backlund. Yes, Mikael Backlund. Because we may as well throw in a player who is generally considered to be a “good” NHL centre to compare them to what an “elite” centre like Toews is supposed to be.

Let’s look at points first of all. Toews is currently bang in the middle of this pack, behind all but two of these players (Backlund and Thornton) with 53 points. So, he’s sitting in decent company.

But when you look at where these points actually come from, and make a direct comparison, the picture becomes interesting.

All stats from the wonderful

points per 60

In comparison to all his rivals, Jonathan Toews falls short on a whole ton of categories. Like Connor McDavid, he gets a lot of his points on secondary assists, but:

  • Look at the gap in points/60 minutes between him and McDavid.
  • Look at the gap between him and Crosby.
  • Look at how, in the prime of his career, Toews is barely beating a Joe Thornton who is coming to the end of his (and trails in assists).
  • Look at how he is almost directly comparable to Mikael Backlund.

Here’s the thing. Nobody is calling Mikael Backlund a player you want to build a team around (editor’s note: you’re wrong, Paul) – definitely not “the best in the NHL” – so does a player comparable to him in every way points wise and quite some way behind other elite stars like McDavid and Crosby really merit the same comparison?

Ah, but you say “what about what he does with possession?” Well luckily, we have a guide for that: Corsi and Fenwick For. So lets compare that.

If he is an elite player than surely he’s going to be driving his team forward and driving possession. It’s a no-brainer and will be obvious, right?

cf ff

Looking at your bog standard, unadjusted for score and venue even-strength possession stats, Toews trails every one of our comparables. He has the lowest Corsi for percentage (all shot attempts) at 51.75%, and he is below 50% on Fenwick for (unblocked shots on goal) at 49.71%. Not exactly elite.

Recently though, there has been a switch towards looking at the player’s relative effect on their team – how their performance relates to the rest of the team’s. This doesn’t reflect well on Toews.


Oh. Oh wow.

In case you’re wondering what that graph is showing, it’s showing that Toews has by FAR the least positive effect on his team when he’s on the ice, and not only that, his effect when measuring Fenwick  show that when he’s on ice, the Blackhawks are worse off when he’s out there.

So, essentially what we have here with Jonathan Toews is a player who produces on a comparable level to Mikael Backlund – who is by no means considered in the same bracket as him by most NHL writers, and certainly wouldn’t be in the top 50 of “players you want to build a franchise around – and actually has  a NEGATIVE effect on his team – a team which, by the way is supposed to be “his” team and carried on “his” shoulders, an argument that the likes of Artemi Panarin would probably dispute.

Oh, and he’s also barely in the same league as players who are also almost unanimously acknowledged as “elite” by the same people who put Toews in that bracket.

Your idol has feet of clay, NHL press. The stats show it as clear as day.


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