The Chicago Blackhawks season is just beginning, with the Bulls set to start very soon as well. As both of our fall/winter teams begin their quests anew for a championship, two personalities stand out as leaders for their respective teams. For the Blackhawks, that would be their young superstar center, Jonathan Toews. The Bulls counter with their equally youthful and similarly talented point guard Derrick Rose. Both will be the talk of the town for quite a while, so I thought I would compare their qualities side by side, and eventually settle on who to crown the most valuable player in town. This is not an easy task, nor a scientific one. But I promise you that I will have an answer to the question by the end of this article.
I realize that for those glancing at the first paragraph, Toews would be the instinctual choice. After all, that big shiny thing that he has been shown hoisting above his head is not a drinking glass from a local bars’ “Mug Club” promotion. That’s Lord Stanley’s cup. We haven’t had possession of it for an unthinkable 49 years before this season, and it would be completely foolish to suggest that he did not have a giant role in bringing it back to the Windy City.
After all, this is the man that at age 22 has already achieved a mythical status in the mind of every Chicago sports fan. Championships in this town are very hard to come by, despite our major market. Not only that, but our “Captain Serious” was also the points leader in the Stanley Cup Playoffs (29), and also the recipient of the legendary trophy of individual achievement, the Conn Smythe. Not too shabby for a player who was in Rockford not too long ago.
But this was not the only cause for celebration for the young captain. Earlier in the year, he was a member of the gold medal winning Canadian National Hockey squad that brought back the gold to the nation that invented the sport. This was a pressure packed series of games due to recent past failures by the Canadians, and the threat of losing on their home turf in Vancouver. But just as he did in the playoffs, he elevated his game to a superstar level, and was a major component in bringing back honor to the hockey motherland. He was even named best forward in the olympics, despite originally being relegated to the fourth line in early team play. So whether it be Chicago or the entire country of Canada, Toews was the player, above all others, to ensure that there would be dancing in the street when all was said and done.
But Derrick Rose is also a proven winner. In just his first year of NCAA Basketball, the young man from the South Side of Chicago took his University of Memphis team all the way to the National Championship game. Not only that, but he was literally a shot away from taking home the crown. The next year, the draft lottery became the real lottery for the incredibly fortunate Chicago Bulls. Owning a miniscule 1.7% chance of recieving the first pick, they were awarded the steal of the decade.
Derrick Rose was almost immediately cast into the leadership position. Kirk Hinrich was an able point guard at the time and a fan favorite. That said, Rose quickly surpassed him with a combination of his raw skill and athleticism. His numbers improved steadily all the way up to the end of the season. For his accomplishments, he was awarded something that Toews can’t even lay claim to (though he almost did), the Rookie of the Year.
In the playoffs against the Celtics, Rose elevated his game once more, specifically in game one, where he tied Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for most points (36) in an NBA rookie playoff debut, while also leading his team to victory. The underdog Bulls went on to play one of the most exciting 7 game series in the history of the playoffs, before finally bowing out.
The 2010 offseason was a chance to watch Rose contribute to his biggest achievement to date. He was crucial in helping Team USA to a World Championship to erase the disappointment of their lackluster performance in the previous tournament. He had plenty of competition for the starting spot initially. Oklahoma City guard Russell Westbrook and bitter playoff rival, Rajan Rondo were both in the mix. But he quickly made short work of any notion that he would be an international bench warmer. He was the starter in every game during the tournament. All in a day’s work, apparently. Couple this with his first all-star game berth earlier in the preceding season, and suddenly this becomes a close battle for city MVP.
Lets look into the intangibles of leadership. There is a noticeable difference in style when watching the two on their respective turfs. Toews is the vocal leader on the Blackhawks whether its his shift or not. I think anyone who has seen what the locals call “Toews Face” is instantly convinced of his almost psychotic will to win. On the other hand, Derrick Rose is still learning to become that complete floor general. He was not born to be a leader. Up until now, he had let his skills do the talking. His mother must have taught him to share when he was a kid, because the only thing he isn’t shy about is dishing the rock. In general, that is a coveted quality. But when you take into account his dynamic skill set, sharing isn’t always suggested. Coaches are trying to instill in him a new level of assertiveness, which he seems to be responding to gradually. Any casual observer of D-Rose will notice a marked increase in confidence since his rookie year. That’s a goodpositive sign that he is growing more comfortable in his floor general role. Also worth mentioning on the topic of leadership is the SAT scandal that was linked to Rose. Although it was in the past, and during his teens, it does still reflect poorly on a true leader. Hopefully these youthful indiscretions are just that.
We all know that defense wins championships. That is certainly the case in both the NBA and NHL. And in both leagues it takes patience and effort and practice to become an elite defender. This is a category that is owned by Mr. Toews. His effort may be unmatched by any player in both leagues. His defense is just as solid as his offense. He is a physical player that uses his body like an anvil in speeding around the rink. He will stop at nothing in order to take that puck and send it right back at the opposing team’s net. Rose on the other hand is barely above the level of defensive liability. Too many times he has seemed lost on defensive shifts. He is oftentimes prone to taking risks that will leave a man wide open. Learnng defense in the NBA is a complicated process, and he wouldn’t be the only young player to need a little more time to comprehend it. The problem is not a lack of effort, it’s that he is generally trying to do too much at one time. On the bright side, he is gifted with incredible physical skills, and most experts believe its just a matter of time before he is able to use them effectively on defense as well. But thats in the future. So a clear win for Toews on this count.
Now lets take the overall achievements of the two put together. Obviously, the Stanley Cup is the trump card here. Both Toews and Rose brought home gold for their country in the same year. Both are superstars in their respective leagues. As mentioned above, Rose does own a Rookie of the Year trophy that Toews was not quite able to obtain-though he was close enough to make this a tie in my mind as well. So in this category, Toews comes out the winner by virtue of winning a championship. It looks good for number 19 right now as we are heading into the home stretch.
If this article was a semester of school, than this paragraph would equal the importance of the final exam. Quite simply, who is the most talented of the two in comparison to the rest of their respective leagues. As good as Jonathan Toews is, he may not even be the best player on his team. Marian Hossa, who was injured for more than a third of the season is a similar player to the captain. He sports a similar skill set with the same underrated intangible values. Both had an average of .89 points per game in 2010. During the season, he amassed a relatively low point total (for a star player) with 68 points in 76 games. Some might even argue that team points leader, Patrick Kane might be superior. Kane is a much more one dimensional offensive player at least for now. Of course, anyone who has watched the Blackhawks know that Toews’ qualities go well beyond actually putting the puck in the net. He is incredibly multi-faceted, and has superior value in almost every category not accounted for on the stat sheet (defense, faceoffs, penalty kills, power plays, hits, hustle etc.) If this was baseball, we would call him a five-tool player.
Derrick Rose, on the other hand, is indisputably the biggest talent on his team by a large margin. There is no one anywhere on the Bulls bench that can match his game. Joakim Noah is a really good player with a bright future, but not anywhere near the potential that D-Rose possesses. Also in Rose’s favor is that the NBA is a game that disproportionately relies on five starting players. Sure the bench in the NBA is important, but there aren’t many teams that would want their 9th man on the floor for any significant minutes. And the disparity between the starters crucial minutes and the bench only increases during the playoffs. Hockey on the other hand, depends on the quality of at least 3 lines of 9 forwards total and 2 lines of defensemen equaling 4 total. That is 13 players that need to be in top form. Don’t forget that there is still another three players at forward and another 2 at defense that still recieve a minimal amount of playing time each game, too.
This would suggest that basketball superstars are more singularly important to their respective teams than their hockey counterparts. It would also not be a stretch to say that without Rose, the Bulls would be a lot worse off than the Blackhawks without Toews. In fact, during a six-game stint last year, the Hawks went 6-0 while their captain dealt with a concussion. Alternately, its hard to put a number on how many games the Bulls lost last year when Rose wasn’t playing, because of multiple injuries. There was one point, however, that the team went a whopping 0-10 without their leader. Once again, many other players were injured as well. But I think this evidence is pretty conclusive, nonetheless. So this appears to be the only category that Rose wins, and by a comfortable margin.
So is this enough to put the Bulls point guard over the top?
This turned out to be quite a difficult decision. I did not come to my decision until just about the point you are reading, while writing this article. Just as any opinion, there will be many disagreement and differing opinions. I’m sure they all hold some shred of validity as well.
But when it comes to the Most Valuable Player in the city of Chicago, I nominate Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks. The leadership he has shown has completely opened my eyes to what that quality can accomplish. Never have I seen someone will his team to victory with such force. Even when the Hawks lost in the 2009 playoffs, they upset a favored Vancouver Canucks team (not to mention an even-odds Calgary Flames squad) before succumbing to the powerful Detroit Red Wings. We all know what happened the year after that. His individual achievements were unmatched as well, winning the Conn Smythe trophy and was named “Best Forward” at the Olympics. Both tournaments were full of the biggest superstars in the game, and both times he was the one who shone brighter than everyone (except Ryan Miller in Vancouver.) Think about this for just a moment. Its historic for more than intangible reasons.
Derrick Rose may very well win an NBA championship in the near future. He is also one of the league’s brightest stars. But in this case, he is playing second fiddle to the new MVP of Chicago sports. Hopefully as the years progress, this article will be rewritten annually with new criteria, new trophies, new titles and new memories. Now if Jay Cutler could just find his way into this conversation.