As the accolades keep coming, Patrick Kane not only belongs among the greatest Blackhawks ever, but the best and most fixating athletes in Chicago history
Patrick Kane is a must-see, to be believed and to be appreciated. He's been that since he joined the Blackhawks in 2007, when he began uprooting fans from whatever seats might have been occupied.
Now, Kane has amassed 1,000 points and counting, behind only three Hall of Famers in franchise annals - Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita and Denis Savard. Kane has earned three Stanley Cup rings, and counting. And the United Center is packed every night, with 500-plus consecutive sellouts, and counting.
So much has changed, but Kane remains a consummate producer and director of hockey entertainment. There is nothing he can't do, except make you look away. Hull, winding up with the puck on a rush, elicited a crescendo of anticipation at the old Stadium. So did Mikita, surveying the landscape with superior acumen. As did Savard, who could invent between strides.
Just 31, Kane not only belongs among the greatest Blackhawks ever, but the best and most fixating athletes in Chicago history.
There have been dozens, but one of recent vintage who comes to mind is Frank Thomas. When he grabbed a bat for the White Sox on the South Side, commerce at concession stands stalled. All eyes were peeled toward home plate. Beer vendors too. The Big Hurt went to the Hall of Fame, but not before he compelled you to stop and watch.
All sports are different, as are circumstances and individuals. Michael Jordan, arguably the finest basketball player ever, was inarguably a must-see. He was also ubiquitous. Within an active lineup roughly half the size of the NHL, Jordan averaged about 38 minutes per game, sitting for about 10. Kane, in the ultimate group sport of hockey, averages about 20 minutes, missing 40 or so. But if it's not his shift now, it will be soon. Can you hold on until the end of the period?
Baseball is unique. No clock, defense has the ball, an almost daily marathon of 162 games. But unfortunately for Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and Ron Santo, their Cubs never reached a World Series. Ditto for Ryne Sandberg. Gale Sayers dazzled in the NFL, a collision sport wherein the ball is alive for maybe 11 minutes of 60. He was absolutely must-see, but not for long. His career existed of 68 games. He and another giant, Dick Butkus, never won anything. In 1969, their Bears were 1-13. Timing can be everything, including cruel. At least legend Walter Payton celebrated a Super Bowl.
As surely as the Blackhawks were prudent to have drafted Kane first overall, he has been the perfect prodigy for this era. The National Hockey League now is about skill, speed and ingenuity, qualities he's blessed with in abundance. He's been surrounded by excellent support, on the roster and in the executive branch of an organization ravenous about winning. Plus, predominately for our edification, Kane is a superstar in a high-tech environment, where his histrionics can be replayed ad infinitum, whether on a spectacular United Center scoreboard on your smart phone. When Kane is on the ice, do not get caught staring at a hand-held device.
As longtime NHL coach Ken Hitchcock offered, if Kane possesses the puck for up to five seconds, you're cooked. That's because No. 88 owns all the ingredients for a bouillabaisse that can't be taught or learned. He commandeers the world's fastest game and slows it down, as if he were skating in the balcony instead of at ice level. He will envision a lane or a seam that is obvious only to himself, much to the surprise of opponents and, occasionally, teammates. While everybody else seems hurried, Kane is eerily patient, waiting until the very last instant to act on his scent.
When Kane isn't arranging goals for others - remember, he was once pegged as a feeder first - he scores in the damnedest of ways. While horizontal, while fronted by a check, while shooting with his body facing away the net, or while lurking implausibly close to the blue paint. His helium backhand that lifts the puck as though it's being pulled by a string from the ceiling? When Savard was asked if he ever tried that, he replied, "I never even thought of that move."
As chronicled recently in "The Athletic,", Kane has an astounding recollection of goalies he's victimized, from A to Z, including Robin Lehner (twice.) Many sports icons are of that ilk. Jack Nicklaus can take you from his first paycheck of $33.33 through 18 majors with amazing detail. Tiger Woods snapped his 4-iron against a tree at the 2007 Masters. He can tell you all about it as though it happened yesterday.
Sounds as though Kane was a sponge in his youth. As father Patrick recalled, they attended games of their hometown Buffalo Sabres, and the lad studied the stick rack. The blades, the knobs. Now, No. 88 tunes in games on nights off, still absorbing current events while respectful and curious about hockey of yore. He's bonded with Hull, who cites Kane as among the best ever at skating full bore while carrying the puck, and Savard, Patrick's first NHL coach and mentor.
Kane shares his zeal for hockey with audiences. Last season in a wild home opener, he and Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs paired up for a pantomime that was pure unrehearsed fun. But besides showtime, Kane is a beast during primetime, as in Stanley Cup playoffs.
The style then is angrier, edgier but the league that can't harness him in January again gropes for solutions in June. He's counted 50 postseason goals and 73 assists in 127 games. Of those goals, 11 were game-winners, a Blackhawks record he achieved at the ripe old age of 27. Five occurred in sudden death, including a rather notable one in Philadelphia 10 years ago. All of these numbers are separate from his 1,000 milestone.
Patrick Kane has embodied perpetual motion from Day One with the Blackhawks. But if and when he becomes a statue, that shall prompt another must-see. Finally, he will be standing still.