The Chicago Blackhawks are currently carrying out one of the most thorough rebuilds in modern NHL history, selling off any asset with even a smidge of value for draft picks in an effort to lose as many games as humanly possible.
And when it comes to value, both in the trade market and on the ice, Patrick Kane has plenty.
The 33-year-old is coming off yet another massive offensive season despite his team's inadequacy and clearly still has plenty left to offer a club with championship aspirations.
But who could that be?
Let's take a look at four realistic landing spots for Patrick Kane, and what it would take for each team to make it happen.
2022-23 Cap Space: $19,604,166
Who wouldn't want to play for their childhood team?
Born in Buffalo, Kane grew up idolizing the Sabres during the Dominik Hasek era and has been linked back home for the better part of a year. The good news is that now the club finally seems to have dug themselves out of the decades-long hole they've been stuck in and are on the path to future contention, armed with the prospect capital and draft picks capable of prying Kane out of Chicago.
The Sabres wouldn't even need to move any money around, really. With nearly $20 million in cap space heading into next season, they could clone Kane and bring both of them in with barely any salary needing to head the other way.
Of course, that technology does not exist yet, so we need to think realistically. Just one Kane will do for now.
Out of all the teams vying for Kane's services, the Sabres could put together a package tantalizing enough to fit the Blackhawks' needs. The club has a stockpile of young prospects that would instantly help Chicago's rebuilding efforts, as well as holding all of their first-round picks in the next three drafts to go with three second-round picks in 2023.
Not to mention, the Sabres have actually built themselves a decent little team to work with. Tage Thompson broke out as a star last season, Alex Tuch is another hometown product who fit in seamlessly, Jeff Skinner is back to being competent, Rasmus Dahlin is ready to take another step, and the trio of Craig Anderson, Eric Comrie, and Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen is a competent goaltending group that should give their club a chance to win every night.
Toronto Maple Leafs
2022-23 Cap Space: -$1,493,116
Say what you will about Toronto's goaltending, but the club at least made efforts this offseason to fortify each position group by bringing in some potentially useful bodies at affordable rates. One month out from training camp, they're looking pretty good. In fact, you could argue that the lone remaining hole on the Maple Leafs' roster is at second line left wing, with the likes of Pierre Engvall, Alex Kerfoot, or unproven 21-year-old Nick Robertson each coming with their own risks.
Of course, Kane plays on the right wing, so it's not a perfect fit on paper. But when a talent like his is involved, you shuffle your deck to make it work -- either by selling Kane on the benefits of playing his off wing alongside Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner on the first line while bumping Michael Bunting down to the second, or by moving William Nylander to the left on the second line in order for Kane to take his place.
Either way, it can be done, and would instantly vault the Maple Leafs' offense into the stratosphere of the NHL, giving them a top-six formation that rivals anyone league-wide while also solving their biggest (non-goaltending) roster need.
It would take some financial wizardry to pull off, though.
Kane makes $10.5 million per year. To fit him under the cap, the Maple Leafs would first need to find a way to shed Jake Muzzin's $5.625 million without taking any money back -- like how the Lightning jettisoned Ryan McDonagh earlier this summer.
Muzzin, despite his aging and injury-prone status, is still nonetheless a key piece of Toronto's leadership core and, when healthy, a valuable defenseman that can play in a variety of different situations. That might make the front office think twice before cavalierly dumping him for nothing.
After Muzzin is out the door, the Maple Leafs would then need to make Kerfoot's $3.5 million look attractive to the Blackhawks' brain trust while also surrendering at least one future first-round pick and, likely, two top prospects. The Leafs are about as "win-now" as it gets, so the thought of gutting their organizational pipeline for an elite offensive talent makes sense. But the club has shown a hesitancy to sell the farm for rentals under Kyle Dubas -- which is exactly what Kane would be.
Kane makes sense in Toronto, but getting him there is easier said than done.
Detroit Red Wings
2022-23 Cap Space: $8,171,111
These Red Wings are no longer rebuilding. They're going for it -- ready to win with a vastly improved roster of promising young talents and established, productive veterans.
Oh, and they also have the most valuable asset any team can have these days: Cap space.
Of all the clubs focused primarily on winning games next season, the Red Wings arguably have the most financial wiggle room, sitting with over $8 million in cap space to spend on any further upgrades of their choice. Kane would certainly fit that bill, requiring roughly $3 million to be moved out to make the money work.
It's right about now that Steve Yzerman might realize giving Ben Chiarot nearly $5 million per year probably wasn't the best idea. But I digress!
The Red Wings wouldn't need to tire themselves out too much to fit Kane's contract onto their books, perhaps by adding a sweetener to Adam Erne's $2.1 million cap hit along with another guy making near league minimum -- maybe, Jake Walman? -- in exchange for a late-round pick.
The thought of Kane alongside Dylan Larkin and Lucas Raymond is a tantalizing vision for anyone -- Red Wings management included. With a little elbow grease, they could turn it into reality.
2022-23 Cap Space: $3,910,000
Doesn't this seem like precisely the kind of move the Avalanche would make?
Fresh off one of the most dominating Stanley Cup runs in modern NHL history, the Avs managed to bring most of the gang back together for another kick at the can, albeit while losing Nazem Kadri in the process.
Even without Kadri, the club's top-six is pretty solid. But the Avalanche are not the type of organization to settle for anything less than excellence. Kane would push them right back to the top of the heap once again, allowing a player like Artturi Lehknonen to absolutely feast on bottom-six matchups and effectively lengthen the depth of their already deep roster.
As always tends to be the case, making it happen won't be easy. But it's also not as hard as one might think, either.
Any potential trade that brings Kane to Denver hinges entirely upon the Avalanche's ability to shed Erik Johnson's $6 million cap hit without taking any money back. That's a Herculean task, of course, with Johnson being a below-replacement-level player whose constant bouts with injury have robbed him of his footspeed. Convincing another team to take on the entirety of his salary for 2022-23 would require the sweetener to end all sweeteners -- a price that the Avalanche, who hold just four total picks in each of the next two drafts, might not be able to give.
If anyone can thread that needle, though, is Joe Sakic & Co. Don't rule it out.