Blackhawks notebook: Jonathan Toews takes controversial stance on coronavirus, NHL Return to Play plan

Jonathan Toews’ comments after the Blackhawks’ practice Monday stirred some controversy on social media. | AP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski

“Part of me just says being away from people and isolating ourselves isn’t really the answer,” Toews said.

The Blackhawks have gone to great lengths, including a multi-month moratorium on interviews throughout the spring, to stay out of the spotlight during the coronavirus pandemic.

But with daily practices — and daily interviews — resuming Monday, Hawks captain Jonathan Toews didn’t take long to make several controversial comments about the pandemic.

Asked about the NHL’s Return to Play plan, which will create a so-called bubble around players in the hub cities, Toews said he’s excited that hockey will be a “frontrunner” in the return of sports.

“You’re going to find all sorts of different attitudes as far as the bubble,” he added. “Part of me just says being away from people and isolating ourselves isn’t really the answer.”

Toews expanded on his thoughts a few minutes later.

“Does anybody really know how and when people catch this thing?” he asked rhetorically. “The best you can do is get good rest, eat healthy, take care of your body, do the little things that lower your chances. What else can you do?”

“Sitting around and worrying about it is just going to drive you crazy. The NHL’s gone to great lengths to create a safe environment. It’s far from perfect, but everyone has their own beliefs in seeing where they stand with all this.”

Toews’ comments caused a stir on Twitter, with many fans pointing out many studies indicate scientists actually have determined how COVID-19 is transmitted, and that social distancing has proven effective in slowing that transmission.

It’s not the captain’s first outspoken moment since the season stopped. Toews posted an emotional statement on Instagram on June 1, shortly after George Floyd’s death, calling for “white people to open our eyes and our hearts.”

Seabrook’s return praised

Brent Seabrook’s bearded face was somehow both a familiar and also surprising sight at Fifth Third Arena on Monday.

After 15 seasons with the Hawks, Seabrook has endured thousands and thousands of Hawks practices; he greatly predates the Hawks’ practice facility itself.

But not since Dec. 18 had Seabrook, coming off three surgeries, skated with the rest of the team.

“It’s not going to be easy, but the fact that he’s here and he can provide his experience and his presence to the group, it’s a huge benefit for us,” Colliton said.

“I know Brent is fully aware of his body and what he wants to do,” Keith said. “To be joining the group in the middle of summer, without a proper lead-up to the training camp, just shows the kind of character and commitment he has. We all take note of that and it inspires all of us.”

 AP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski
Brent Seabrook (right) keeps pace with Drake Caggiula (left) during a drill Monday.

Mitchell agreement imminent

Top prospect Ian Mitchell unofficially signed his entry-level contract with the Hawks in April, but that contract hasn’t been officially filed yet, because its start date remains to be determined.

The Hawks could burn one of Mitchell’s three entry-level years on 2019-20, letting him practice with the team, but he’d remain ineligible for the playoffs because he signed after the season stopped in March. Or they could have his contract start with the 2020-21 season.

General manager Stan Bowman said Monday that he’s close to an agreement with Mitchell’s agent about which path to take.

Oilers down two defensemen

Oilers defenseman Mike Green was one of a handful of players around the league to opt out of the NHL’s restart. The 34-year-old veteran, who played just two games for the Oilers after a deadline trade from Detroit and before the season pause, cited “deeply personal family health reasons.”

The Oilers also missed young defenseman Caleb Jones, a 2019-20 breakout, at their first practice Monday. Jones, like Corey Crawford, received the “unfit for play” designation.

Their absences deal a significant blow to the Oilers’ defensive depth.

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