It was a nostalgic night at the United Center on Thursday, highlighted by Duncan Keith's return to Chicago for the first time since being traded and a celebration of Niklas Hjalmarsson's career with the Blackhawks.
Earlier in the season, Andrew Shaw had his Legacy Night and other members of the Stanley Cup-winning teams are likely to have their day in the future as well. Marian Hossa and Brent Seabrook had their nights postponed due to COVID-19-related reasons.
That these honorary nights for former Blackhawks favorites are becoming more frequent only means one thing for a guy like Jonathan Toews, who's in Year 15.
"Reality’s kind of sinking in for sure," he said smiling. "You realize how fast time flies by. You get in another season and it’s like you’re just focusing on hockey, day in, day out, and sometimes you lose touch. Everyone has their own lives but it’s good to see those guys."
While reality might be sinking in, that doesn't necessarily mean Toews is starting to think about what the last chapter of his playing career might look like. In fact, not only is the 33-year-old three-time Stanley Cup champion trying to stiff-arm Father Time for a while longer but he still feels he has some good hockey left in him.
"Obviously, I should say these last few years have been frustrating and as that saying goes in hockey, you’re only as good as your last game, it’s tough to not think that way sometimes," Toews said. "In my heart, I feel like I haven’t played my best hockey in my career.
"I feel like at this age with the experience and knowing the game, I think your experience and just your approach really adds up how you play the game and how you approach it and how you prepare off the ice. Just fighting for my health and to find a way to get my body to cooperate and get back to that level I know I can play at and try and push that sort of thing off a little bit longer and try to keep enjoying the game."
Toews has been through a lot of challenges throughout his NHL career. He's dealt with multiple concussions and, most notably, missed the entire 2020-21 season due to Chronic Immune Response Syndrome.
Toews also plays a demanding brand of hockey that certainly takes a mental and physical toll over the course of an 82-game regular season, plus playoffs. He's spent his entire career drawing the toughest defensive matchups in many big postseason series' and will go down as one of the top defensive forwards ever as a former Selke Trophy winner and four-time finalist.
Toews, like Patrick Kane, has one more year left on his contract after this season. Even though he feels like his best hockey may be ahead of him, Toews isn't getting any younger and the Blackhawks are about to embark on a rebuild under new GM Kyle Davidson.
Is he on board with that vision as the captain of this Original Six franchise?
"I don't know if I really understand what that means yet," Toews said. "Obviously this has been an underwhelming year. You look at our team on paper, and I think that's a huge reason why everyone continues to fight, even though we've seemed to deal with different types of adversity and challenges and trying to find our team game through it all. We know, somewhere in there, we have much, much better than what we've shown, for the most part.
"With Kyle, I think he's the right person for the job. He kind of knows the momentum that we've built up, the good and the bad, what's led us here and I think he's a pretty level-headed guy that will surround himself with different types of people that have different experiences.
"Ultimately I believe he's that kind of guy that knows how to make decisions not based on attachment or ego, and he's going to do what's right for the organization. At the same time, there's still a lot of uncertainty, but it's exciting to at least know that this team will have some direction in the next little bit here."