The following two threads can be and are true.
1. Patrick Kane is the best Hawk I’ve ever seen play.
In my personal ranking it’s not all that close, and I’m not sure the actual discussion in general about whether or not he’s the best Hawk ever should be that complicated either, once you start adjusting for eras played in. 1,000 points now is harder than it’s ever been.
It’s funny to say that now, because during his rookie year, while he was steaming toward the Calder Trophy it was widely accepted and thought amongst scouts, GMs, and most fans that while Kane would win the Rookie Of The Year, maybe a scoring title or two (though a lot also thought he was too small to hold up over 82 games to ever do that), it would be Jonathan Toews who would rack up the Hart Trophies and Conn Smythes and be the biggest reason the Hawks would go on to win Cups.
You could certainly argue that neither are the biggest reason the Hawks won Cups (hello, Duncan Keith), which then would make an argument for Keith as the greatest Hawk ever. I wouldn’t put up too much of a fight there, but the recent years where Keith has declined (he is five years older to be fair) and Kane seemingly hasn’t lost anything probably splits it for their careers and their careers only. But what was predicted 12 years ago certainly never came to pass.
As I said in my book (which you should totally buy!) I’ve known Kane was special since the first time I saw him in the ’07 WJC, when I’d actually tuned in to watch Toews for the first time. I knew he was special from his first game in Minnesota, when even at 18 and not nearly strong enough the game bent around him every time he had the puck (though the Hawks didn’t score that night). It’s been a privilege to watch such talent for this long, essentially. Keith may have had higher highs and more important roles, Toews may have been the foundation to it all, but neither were or are capable of the moments of pure inspiration. Both Keith and Toews changed games, series, and seasons through work or ability. Kane always seemed to just conjure something beyond imagination. There’s brilliance and then there’s genius.
And while all three of them have Conn Smythes now (only Keith really deserved his, and he probably should go take Toews’s as well), it’s a fair measure of just how equally they all meant. Keith may have been the platform, but who was the executioner? It was Kane who ended the wait, it was Kane who shifted to center in Toews’s absence in 2012 to keep that team afloat. It was Kane who put the Kings to bed in ’13 and then came up with two goals in a pivotal Game 5 against Boston. It was Kane who singlehandedly nearly dragged a flagging Hawks team past the Kings in ’14 when Toews couldn’t escape Kopitar. It was Kane who clinched the last one, and it’s Kane who went on to somehow get better.
Some of that was definition of roles. It was Toews’s job for the last three years of the run to basically play mine-sweeper, so that the Hawks’ greater depth could shine through. Notice in ’13 it was the fourth line scoring the famous goal and in ’15 it was the third line doing most of the heavy lifting, along with Keith. So Toews does set up Kane a touch in that sense. But that doesn’t explain it all, nor anywhere close.
As McClure likes to say, in this city the list of “killers” when it mattered most are Michael Jordan and Patrick Kane, and that’s really about it. I can’t think of a higher praise than that.
2. Patrick Kane made me hate being a Hawks fan.
It’s not all on him, of course. It was mostly on his most fervent fans, of which I used to be. But everything that surrounded the summer of ’15 caused me to turn on everything I’d loved, and quit this job (which McClure and Feather would talk me out of). Suddenly something I’d felt so a part of that I was inspired to start something for it and was lucky enough to see it actually work, made me sick. I felt alien. I felt ostracized and robbed of something that had meant so much.
I don’t know what happened that night in Buffalo any more than anyone else. Looking back with the benefit of time, there are things that seem pretty fishy about it. But what I also knew then and still know now is that what we did know about Patrick Kane the person, there was no reason to give him the benefit of the doubt. And from what we knew about him, if it wasn’t that night, it could easily have been another night here or somewhere else, and you don’t have to dig that deep anywhere to find Roethlisberger stories about him from that time.
There are still plenty of people I know, and some very close to me, who have yet to watch another Hawks game since all that. They’re not many, but they’re out there, and I completely understand. It was everything ugly in sports and sports fandom not just coming up for air, but being thrown in our face. I think about the original standing ovation in South Bend (what a perfect location) and my stomach still bubbles a bit. What were they cheering, exactly?
Did I handle everything with aplomb back then? Not even close. But I don’t regret anything I said or wrote about, because it was something I believed and still believe in. I wish I could have handled it with more grace and more eloquently laid out how sexual assault cases work the world over and maybe make a few more understand instead of just trying to match the vitriol. But it was still the right position to take.
I wouldn’t say time has healed the wounds so much as scabbed them over. It’s easier to watch Kane play now than it was in ’15-’16, when his MVP season not only seemed to be goals for the Hawks but scoring points for the Barfstool and the like crowd and something of a stab wound every time. I don’t feel that way now, but there are moments where it’s still uncomfortable. The whitewashing of it all in most people’s minds still irks me, even if it’s not as much as before. Seeing either kids or grown adults in #88 jerseys still gives me pause, as I can’t be sure it’s not just admiration for the player but also a middle finger to anyone who would think about him in a broader context. They’re still out there, too.
And maybe that’s not on him personally, just the crowd that came running to his defense. Maybe Kane’s different now than he was then. Maybe actually seeing the possibility of losing it all changed his ways. I don’t really care anymore. My guess is that the Hawks are better at hiding it and keeping him on lockdown, but nothing would surprise me. Getting into your 30s changes everyone.
I’ve found it a little strange there’s never been a whisper of Kane being a malcontent on a team that was no longer at his level. Maybe he really likes it here and wants to be part of a turnaround. Or maybe he fears another team wouldn’t cover for him the way the Hawks have. Or maybe he fears the skeletons might come out of the closet if he moves on. Maybe he knows no other team could take on his contract either way. Maybe the Hawks would never consider it. Maybe it’s all of it.
I have gotten back to enjoying his play on the ice, occasionally still being amazed, but it’s still weighted a bit. I’m not the fan I was, and probably won’t be again, though maybe that’s just a product of age and getting better at seeing the whole picture everywhere.
He’s the best I’ve seen, and the most transformational as well. In every sense of the word.