The Verdict: Talent, growth contributing to Kane’s Hart-worthy season
|Bill Smith / Chicago Blackhawks|
Whenever Patrick Kane invents those highlight histrionics, there are so many parts that one expects to encounter a warning commonly attached to children’s holiday toys: “Some assembly required.”
Yet, it’s his simple, basic maneuvers—not the instant classics-- that nourish advocacy for the Blackhawks’ superstar forward as a serious Hart Trophy candidate.
“This is his sixth season in the National Hockey League and his best,” says Blackhawks Vice President/General Manager Stan Bowman. “Patrick has always been an offensive threat. But what’s most impressive now is his consistency, night after night.
“Patrick has to be in the conversation for most valuable player, but so does Jonathan Toews. I don’t know how you factor in the injury to Sidney Crosby. Our guys both have to be considered top four of five, though—so high they might split votes.”
Toews, captain of the NHL’s best team, has no vote.
"THE VERDICT" WITH BOB VERDI
Blackhawks Team Historian Bob Verdi has covered sports for five decades, including more than 40 years as a columnist and contributor for the Chicago Tribune. He authored "Chicago Blackhawks: Seventy-Five Years" in 2001, was the featured contributor in "One Goal Achieved: The Inside Story of the 2010 Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks," and has co-authored biographies on Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita.
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“But if I did, it would be Kaner,” says Toews. “He’s our MVP, and the league’s MVP. He’s explosive and is more responsible than ever with the puck.”
As if jinxed by all these bouquets, Kane tried to make something happen Monday night, and in a flash the Dallas Stars scored. Kane had a few moments to stew on the bench, then soon embarked on a rush that attracted white sweaters. Andrew Shaw took a pass, and the Blackhawks had a go-ahead goal. The giveaway by Kane was a rarity this winter, but not the assist.
“We’re spoiled in Chicago, watching how Patrick sees people and finds them,” Bowman goes on. “And he has really improved in puck management. In previous years, he might turn it over more often, thinking he can beat one more guy when he’s out of gas. Now, he’ll dump in it on a line change and our coaches feel more and more comfortable with him in a pressure situation because they know he won’t try to get cute. It’s all part of maturing. We forget he’s still a kid at 24, but it seems he’s been here forever.”
Fittingly, Kane scored the Blackhawks’ first goal in the fourth minute of their opener at Los Angeles. He came ready for the delayed season after playing in Switzerland during the lockout. Also, he was motivated.
“I know I can do more,” he told chicagoblackhawks.com in January. “I don’t want to disappoint anyone. My teammates, the organization, the fans, my family and friends. Or myself. I don’t want to let Chicago down. I want to see how good I can be. I still have things to prove.”
Kane’s growth spurt has been so dramatic that he vaulted from high school to the NHL without pausing. Upon arrival in Chicago, he lived with Bowman’s family, playing with Stan and Suzanne’s two sons and listening when Stan’s iconic father Scotty visited.
“Patrick, in this era, can’t go anywhere without being noticed,” says Stan. “But the fact is, he’s just a normal guy who happens to be an incredible hockey player. Caring, fun to be around, but serious about his job. He’s gotten better and better and he is driven.
“I don’t think he needs to read or hear anything. His desire to improve comes from within. Look at his body of work, with different lines and linemates. Our game in Colorado not long ago, with both Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa out, Patrick basically played every other shift, at that altitude. I saw him on the way to the bus afterward. He said, ‘I was tired, but I wasn’t going to tell Joel (Quenneville). Jonathan is a prototypical leader. But Patrick, an intense competitor, leads in his own way.”
The Blackhawks have six Hart Trophies in their history. Al Rollins, a goalie, won one in 1954—perhaps because he lived to talk about a team that won 12 of 70 games. Bobby Hull earned two, as did Stan Mikita. Kane has evolved, as did Mikita, who went from a hellion to a Hall of Famer after realizing he could not provide for wife Jill or his wingers from the penalty box.
“It’s not something I really think about,” says Kane of a possible Hart Trophy. His father, Pat, Sr., concurs. When asked whether his son has discussed adding to his 2008 Calder Memorial Trophy, Dad replied, “Never…and I’m around him a lot.”
As for Toews, a rock of stability, the proposition that he could deprive Kane of votes—or vice versa—is immaterial. Broach the thought of winning the Hart Trophy with Toews and his eyes seem to glaze over with raging indifference. Shades of 2010, when the Blackhawks won the Western Conference and the captain was presented with the Clarence Campbell Bowl.
Toews hasn’t touched it yet. Now, as then, he has another memento in mind. It’s shiny, silver and dearly missed.