Toews returns from leave, felt 'comfortable' in Blackhawks' loss

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Sunday, April 2, 2023

CHICAGO -- Longtime Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews returned from a two-month medical leave of absence and played Saturday night in a 6-3 loss to the New Jersey Devils.

Toews, 34, took the opening faceoff for Chicago as he appeared in a game for the first time since Jan. 28 at Edmonton. He played 14 minutes and took 18 shifts, and started by centering a line with wingers Reese Johnson and Austin Wagner.

Toews set up Andreas Athanasiou's third-period tip-in and managed a shot himself. But the Blackhawks leader admitted his first game back -- against the speedy Devils -- was challenging.

"Definitely finding my way a little bit," Toews. "I think the first period was rough. That's a fast team, fast game. But I think the second, third period, I started to feel a bit more comfortable."

Toews made a statement through the team on Feb. 19 saying he would be stepping away because of the effects of chronic immune response syndrome and "long COVID."

After training on his own, Toews returned to the ice with teammates in a practice session on Tuesday. In a meeting with reporters after the skate, he hinted his stellar NHL career could be winding down after 15 years and stopped short of saying he planned to play in any of last-place Chicago's remaining games.

Toews' eight-year, $84 million contract is set to expire at the end of the season. Patrick Kane, his longtime teammate who won three Stanley Cup titles in Chicago, was also on an expiring deal when he was dealt to the New York Rangers this season.

"It was good to have him back," coach Luke Richardson said of Toews. "I thought he was a big presence on the bench, very vocal, and made a nice play."

Toews, the Blackhawks' first-round draft pick (third overall) in 2006, joined the team in 2007 and was a pillar of those title-winning clubs in 2010, 2013 and 2015.

At the peak of his career, he was one of the NHL's top two-way centers, winning the Selke Trophy as the league's top defensive forward in 2013.

In 1,060 regular-season games, Toews has 371 goals and 509 assists. In 139 playoff games, he's posted 45 goals and 74 assists, and he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in 2010.

Toews missed the entire 2020-21 season with chronic immune response syndrome, which causes debilitating inflammation and fatigue. He appeared in 71 games in 2021-22.

Toews started this season with renewed energy before slowing and eventually shutting himself down. He has 14 goals and 15 assists in 47 games.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.