The moment it happened hardly seemed significant at the time.
Red Wings forward Joe Veleno knocked into Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews with 8:45 left in the third period Wednesday. That forced Toews to collide into the boards, which caused his head to briefly spring back with whiplash.
But Toews got right back up, no penalty was called — rightly so, as it appeared legal — and the instance wasn’t even recorded in the NHL’s official play-by-play log as a hit for Veleno.
Come Thursday, however, it had become clear Toews suffered another concussion on the play. And come Friday, Toews was officially placed in concussion protocol by the Hawks with no specific timetable to return.
“He’s a huge part of our team,” interim coach Derek King said. “He’s our leader. We’re going to miss him. But we’re making sure we do the right thing by this. There’s no timeframe. It’s [about] when he’s feeling right. You can’t mess around with this stuff. We’ll just go day-by-day every day, see how he’s feeling, and then when he’s ready, he’ll come back and join us.”
The news is concerning given Toews’ history of head injuries earlier in his career, including one in spring 2012 that kept him out nearly two months, as well as the often exponentially increasing impacts of repeated concussions.
The Hawks have seen firsthand, particularly with Corey Crawford and Andrew Shaw, how that trend can derail a career. Shaw said earlier this month he’s still not feeling 100% healthy and recovered from his final career-ending concussion last February.
And although Toews hadn’t suffered any documented concussions during his most recent seasons, his other health issues — including the chronic inflammatory response syndrome that cost him all of last season — have left him in a vulnerable spot.
“Hopefully it’s his last one, because you don’t want to see another one,” King said. “[Out of] any injury you get as a player, this is the one you’ve got to really look after. … How better is it? I’m not sure. But we’re just going to take the steps and be precautionary.”
Toews took three more shifts, totaling 2:28 of additional ice time, after Veleno’s hit Wednesday because NHL concussion spotters evidently didn’t radio the bench and Toews didn’t immediately feel anything. Not until Thursday, after the Hawks returned to Chicago from Detroit, did the issue arise.
“He probably wasn’t thinking that [it was a concussion] at the time, and then it hit him later on the next day that he was off a little bit,” King said. “He did the right thing by calling it in.”
Beyond worrying about Toews’ health, the Hawks will be challenged to compensate for Toews’ absence in their roster and locker room.
He averaged 17:52 of ice time through his first 43 games this season, down slightly from his 19:47 career average but still fourth-most among Hawks forwards. The same could be said for his production of him, which — at four goals and 15 assists — had been an ongoing source of frustration but also still ranked fourth-most among Hawks forwards.
Without him, Dylan Strome, Kirby Dach, Sam Lafferty and Ryan Carpenter operated as the team’s four centers Friday against the Avalanche, with the former two also helping fill the hole on the power play and the latter two doing so on the penalty kill. Toews’ 17:52 average ice time had included 3:25 of PP time and 1:30 of PK time.
“[We’ll miss] his leadership,” Seth Jones said. “He’s always giving us something to be better at, after periods and throughout a game and even on the bench during timeouts. … We’re going to lose a big part of that. So we’ll [need] to have guys definitely fill in and have a next-man-up mentality until he gets back.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism