CHICAGO -- Jonathan Toews contends the impact of his leadership gets exaggerated in Chicago.
No, he didn't lay hands on coach Joel Quenneville to cure his ulcer. He doesn't give Hawks rookie defenseman Nick Leddy directions to Rockford and change for tolls each time the 19-year-old gets sent down. Every time the Hawks rebound from a bad period, it doesn't mean Toews just delivered a paint-peeling rant to his teammates in the dressing room.
"I took a lot of jokes from the boys about what I supposedly said in St. Louis (after the Blues took a 2-0 lead Feb. 20), but that situation was like a lot of others this season," Toews recalled Tuesday of that 5-3 comeback victory. "I was frustrated. That's it. It's pretty funny how things get blown out of proportion."
OK, but seriously, Captain, this is no overstatement: Suddenly chants of "M-V-P!" belong at hockey games inside the United Center too, as early as Wednesday against the Flames.
With 19 games to go, you don't have to own a red No. 19 sweater to consider Toews a legitimate contender for the Hart Trophy if he maintains this level of play and the Hawks make the playoffs. The Hart Trophy surely factors in a guy's heart, right?
Not since Stan Mikita in 1968 has a Hawk won the award given the league's most valuable player. But, of more interest, if Toews and Derrick Rose of the Bulls indeed both win MVPs this season -- not exactly a reach -- Chicago will become only the second city to produce the most valuable player in the NHL and NBA the same season. Los Angeles did it in 1988-89 with Magic Johnson of the Lakers and Wayne Gretzky of the Kings.
Magic and the Great One joined by Toews and the Great 1? That would be cool company to keep for two guys more alike than different.
When I asked Toews if he was prepared for the inevitable MVP talk this month, he responded with everything but aw, shucks. The way Rose has mastered.
"As a leader of your hockey club nobody's looking for that kind of attention," Toews said. "Every team has a player they think fits into that category so I don't really know about that. It would be pretty amazing even to be considered."
Rest assured Toews will be because it's an open race. Sidney Crosby likely has missed too much time with a concussion. High-scoring Alex Ovechkin has struggled with only one more goal than Toews (23) heading into Tuesday night. Phenom Steven Stamkos of the Lightning, 21, leads the league in goals and will get votes. Daniel Sedin of the Canucks, along with teammate Ryan Kesler, will warrant attention too.
But Toews, with a Conn Smythe trophy and Stanley Cup ring hard to ignore, might have more hockey cachet. He commands respect as a consistent two-way player who still ranks 10th in the league in scoring and wins 57 percent of his faceoffs.
"The higher the Hawks shoot up the mountain in the West, the more consideration he'll get," CSN analyst Eddie Olczyk said. "Has he raised his game? He's always playing that way but sometimes doesn't get all the bells and whistles like the goals."
Nobody in the NHL has played better lately than Toews, named Tuesday the league's first star of the month. In 13 games, Toews scored 21 points on 15 assists and six goals -- three of them game-winners. He was a plus-13.
Only the city's snowplow drivers had a more productive February in Chicago than Toews.
"It's usually the players who get on the scoresheets and score a lot of goals who get that kind of honor, so I guess it's kind of nice," Toews allowed. "I just came back after the All-Star break and worked pretty hard."
Toews would consider it hyperbole to suggest nobody on the Hawks works harder. But, more than anything, his combination of tenacity and talent makes Toews the elite player he is, as Olczyk pointed out.
"The compete level is what separates Johnny," Olczyk said.
No single category makes Toews most valuable to the Hawks. There are points nobody tallies but teammates and coaches. Therein lies the real value of a leader whose impact needs no embellishment.
"When things aren't going well, he's the one who sits at his locker and answers every question, and there's a lot to learn from a guy like that," Brian Campbell said. "He stands up for our hockey club. When things are going good, he's still at his locker and nobody talks to him. He doesn't get any of the accolades, which he's fine with. And they go to other people."
It's no exaggeration to suggest that might be changing.