Earlier this afternoon, Chicago Sun-Times Chicago Blackhawks beat writer Mark Lazerus temporarily blew up the Twitterverse by reporting that up to five teams have inquired about acquiring Patrick Kane following the initial report last month that Kane is involved in an investigation into an alleged rape. Lazerus also suggested the Blackhawks trading Kane might be the only foreseeable outcome in this situation, based on a number of factors.
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Let me first say this: Lazerus is a smart, well-spoken guy, and he makes some great points in his story/editorial. Do not get mad at him for stating a thought on a situation that, really, has gotten no more clear in the month since it first broke open.
So, let’s tackle the idea of Kane leaving Chicago. It’s a thought that hasn’t been widely circulated up until now, probably because no Blackhawks fan truly wants to see a guy who helped revitalize the franchise leave in his prime. The idea of a suspension for Kane has been more frequently discussed, and I’d say that’s definitely still on the table.
Moving a contract as large as Kane’s (eight years, $10.5 million per year) is not a simple task. As our own Matt Barbato pointed out earlier, there are only a handful of teams that could easily take on Kane’s contract next season, though Kane’s hometown squad, the Buffalo Sabres, is among that group.
However, as Sam Fels of The Committed Indian points out, is any team going to want to make such a massive change to its roster — and its future — with training camp right around the corner? Sure, picking up Kane would be a boost to any team. But what happens if he’s suspended by the NHL (more on that later)? Or charged with a crime in connection with this investigation? The variables are way too dangerous for interested teams to play around with, unless that team gets some seriously strong intel from the Blackhawks’ front office or another source.
That’s why I don’t think you have to worry about Kane leaving Chicago — for now. Yes, Lazerus makes a strong point in saying image matters to the Blackhawks. And Kane is making it very difficult for the Blackhawks to maintain their “model NHL franchise” look when things like this happen (mind you, this is not the most important part of the entire ordeal). But the giant contract almost single-handedly kills the idea of a trade at this point in the NHL year.
But there is one additional point regarding the idea of Kane departing Chicago that I want to address, and it was something Fels brought up in his TCI post. A lot of the Blackhawks’ current image does center around winning, and winning a lot and at the highest level. Removing Kane from the equation makes winning consistently far more difficult. But should that really be a reason for Stan Bowman and Co. to hold off on moving Kane if the right opportunity presents itself? I say no.
As Lazerus says, moving Kane will really piss off a portion of the fan base. Guess what? The fan base has been pissed off before. How many guys have left prior to this day that have been beloved by the Blackhawks, just in the past six years? And the team keeps finding ways to win in spite of this. “But,” you might say, “Kane is a big reason for that.” True, but think about the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons. Kane and the core were left to pick up the pieces after the 2010 Stanley Cup purge. The team barely made the playoffs in 2011 and was bounced in the first round. The Blackhawks suffered the same result in 2012. Kane isn’t the only reason the Blackhawks have seen this recent success. They won’t suddenly become the Arizona Coyotes if he’s moved. The fans stuck around for 2013 despite the 2010 purge and the so-so results in 2011 and 2012.
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I’m not saying “Let’s throw Kane off the ship because we still have good/great guys behind him.” I’m saying, if the Blackhawks are really worried about losing half a fan base by moving Kane, they’re going about this the wrong way. Teams persevere. This isn’t the Gretzky era. The Blackhawks have the ability to win with or without Kane, and they have the ability to attract fans, old and new, without Kane. And once you get to the playoffs and earn the chance at a Stanley Cup, it’s a crapshoot, to some extent. Ask the 2010 Philadelphia Flyers. In the world of hypotheticals, if the Blackhawks didn’t have Kane and repeated as Cup champions in 2016, I’m guessing a lot of those fans upset over a lack of Kane would get over it pretty quickly.
Rant aside, I still don’t think Kane is going anywhere ahead of the 2015-16 season, or during it. I don’t think we need to close the book on the Patrick Kane/Jonathan Toews era just yet, if only because moving an eight-year, $80-plus million contract is really difficult in this day and age. And despite what I just said above, I don’t want to see Kane moved. Not by any stretch of the imagination. I’ll be upset if he is, though I’ll understand it as well.
Let’s talk briefly about the idea of a suspension, too. I still think this is the most likely outcome for the situation until the District Attorney’s office in the New York area is able to move forward with this investigation. Frankly, I don’t see Kane opening the 2015-16 season on the ice. I’ve prepared for that possibility since shortly after news of the rape investigation first broke. Look back to the Slava Voynov case, which is something all Blackhawks fans need to become familiar with, until the status quo in the Kane investigation changes. Voynov was suspended by the league in October and charged with a crime in November. The league isn’t necessarily going to wait for police officials, and the image-conscious Blackhawks might not either.
If the Blackhawks decide to suspend Kane, I don’t think that automatically means the team thinks he’s guilty of a crime. It’s a precautionary tactic, and it makes plenty of sense for a team battling to defend a championship. The league isn’t going to stop operating because of what Kane is involved with. The Blackhawks shouldn’t either. As I said above, they are not a team centered around one person, nor should it be.
Despite all of what I just said, I would still suggest Blackhawks fans not panic. If you’ve been paying attention to this situation and have been thinking it through the entire way, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to you at this point that Kane might not be on the ice come Opening Night at the United Center. At the same time, I don’t think him being missing from that scene will be because he’s playing for another team. Until the rape investigation moves forward, a suspension seems the most likely temporary outcome for Kane’s NHL status.