Early in the New Year, Patrick Kane will have his No. 88 raised to the rafters by the London Knights, joining Hall of Famers Darryl Sittler, Brendan Shanahan and Dino Ciccarelli in being immortalized by the OHL team. What makes the accomplishment more impressive is he played only one season in London. That number will also be raised to the upper reaches of the United Center someday, and it’s a slam dunk he’ll follow Sittler, Shanahan and Ciccarelli into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
In a season in which Kane has turned 31 and one in which, barring injury, he’ll become the ninth U.S.-born player to reach the 1,000-point milestone, perhaps it’s time for another debate, one that would be a touchy one in Chicago because it involves two of the Blackhawks’ all-time icons. So here goes. At what point do we start to consider the possibility Patrick Kane might be the greatest Chicago Blackhawk of all-time? And while we’re at it, the best American-born player in the history of the game?
That question came up more than once during the NHL’s pre-season media tour in Chicago in September, so it got Kane thinking. He harkened back to 2015-16 when he scored a point in 26 straight games, which broke the records for both U.S.-born players and the Blackhawks.
The American record was co-held by Blackhawks broadcaster Ed Olczyk and Phil Kessel, and while Kane was chasing the mark, Olczyk would apply pressure by reminding him during flights on the team charter, then he interviewed Kane during the first intermission after he broke the record with a point in his 19th consecutive game.
The Blackhawks record was 21 and belonged to Bobby Hull. “I think I beat (Hull) on a hand-pass assist in my own end, and into an empty net,” said Kane of the landmark point. “(Former Blackhawks teammate Artemi) Panarin scored, and I remember, he’s got this Russian accent and it’s like, ‘F— you, Bobby Hull,’ in my ear. Talking to Bobby about it, he said he didn’t really know it was a stat back then.”
When you’re talking about usurping the likes of Stan Mikita and Hull, you risk treading on hallowed ground, particularly at the corner of Damen and Madison in Chicago, where there are statues dedicated to Mikita and Hull. But consider Kane has been the best player on a team that has won three Stanley Cups as part of a mini-dynasty during an era in the NHL when it has never been more difficult to win. And Kane was not merely along for the ride. He scored the Cup-clinching goal in 2010, won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in 2013 and led the Hawks in post-season points in 2015. Hull and Mikita, by comparison, won one Cup in an era when it could be argued it was never easier. Hull played 10 years and Mikita eight in the six-team era (then another five and 12 in the expansion era), but the only Cup they ever won was in 1961.
It’s funny to think there will maybe be a statue of yourself. I just like to play hockey
– Patrick Kane
Bob Verdi is a man who knows his Blackhawks. The 2016 winner of the Elmer Ferguson Award for excellence in hockey journalism has been the team’s historian since 2010 and covered the Hawks for the Chicago Tribune for 30 years starting in 1967. “We don’t know how this movie ends because he’s only 30,” said Verdi of Kane. “But he would seem to be a statue waiting to happen. One thing among many he has going for him, he has a real joy for the game. Barring an injury, he could probably play until he’s 40. He probably wants to.”
When it comes to comparing Kane to Hull and Mikita on individual awards, they all make compelling cases. Hull won three scoring titles, was MVP twice and won a Lady Byng Trophy. Had the Rocket Richard Trophy been in existence, Hull would have won seven of them. Mikita won four scoring titles and two Hart Trophies, but his greatest accomplishment might have been his two Lady Byngs after leading centers in penalty minutes in seven consecutive seasons between 1959-60 and 1965-66. Kane has two trophies that eluded both Hull and Mikita – a Calder and a Conn Smythe – to go with his one scoring title and Hart Trophy.
In its definitive ranking of the top 100 NHL players in 1998, The Hockey News had Hull at No. 8 and Mikita at No. 17. That was set by a panel of 50 experts. Is Kane on a trajectory to pass them both?
With Kane rounding the bend of 30, there is no immediate decline in his game on the horizon. He is as deceptive, dynamic and cunning as he has ever been, and he’s on a line with Alex DeBrincat and Dylan Strome, two creative talents whose skills complement his. If Kane remains healthy, it’s all but guaranteed he’ll lead the Hawks in scoring for the eighth time in his career, and his days as a point-per-game player don’t appear to be nearing an end.
After this season, Kane has three years left on his deal, which would take him past his 34th birthday. The way he’s playing now, it’s doubtful this will be his last contract. Through the first quarter of the season, Kane was looking up at only Denis Savard, Hull and Mikita on Chicago’s all-time list. There’s no reason to believe he won’t pass Savard and Hull, but he was still 500 points behind Mikita’s total of 1,467.
Verdi pointed out another important factor that Kane has in his favor, however. When Mikita and Hull played for the Blackhawks, the organization was notorious for squeezing every dime out of the team and distributing them as though they were manhole covers. He recounted a story at the team’s fan expo this past summer when former Hawks defenseman Pat Stapleton noticed the stark difference between management-player relations from when he played. That stinginess was part of what drove Hull to the WHA in his prime.
“This front office and management is much more committed than Hull or Mikita ever enjoyed,” Verdi said. “With them, there were always issues with management and contracts, but you never hear that now because it doesn’t happen. Hull filled the building for 15 years and they let him go. You don’t hear about any friction with management. And that’s huge.”
As far as American-born players go, you could argue none has had the impact on his team that Kane has imprinted on the Blackhawks. Kane could very well end up the highest U.S.-born scorer of all-time, eventually passing Mike Modano’s mark of 1,374 points. (Modano had 900 points before turning 31, Kane had 964 when he turned 31.)
Kane’s place in the on-ice annals of both the Blackhawks and American hockey are interesting to contemplate and worthy of a spirited discussion. Kane shook his head and smiled when he was asked about he and running mate Jonathan Toews almost certainly getting their own statues outside the United Center someday. “It’s funny to think there will maybe be a statue of yourself,” Kane said. “But to be honest and genuine about it, I just like to play hockey. I’m just going to try to play hockey to the best of my abilities.”
And if Patrick Kane continues to do that the way he has throughout his career, the rest will take care of itself.