The ongoing sexual assault investigation by Hamburg, N.Y., police involving Chicago Blackhawks right winger Patrick Kane is raising questions in the Chicago media about his future with the team. Kane has yet to be charged, but uncertainty over his status has some pundits suggesting the Blackhawks might part ways with the troubled 26-year-old star.
If the investigation is still ongoing when the season opens in October, Barry Rozner of the Chicago Daily-Herald reports it casts uncertainty over his availability for the upcoming season. It will definitely be an unwelcome distraction for the defending Stanley Cup champions.
Rozner also wonders if the Blackhawks brass wants Kane back, pointing out they issued the winger a strict warning in 2012 regarding several alcohol-related off-ice incidents. He suggests trading Kane could be among their options, speculating they probably already received inquiries from some rival clubs about his trade status.
The Chicago Sun-Times' Mark Lazerus also claims the front office warned Kane in 2012 against putting himself in situations that cast the club in a bad light. He cites a league source claiming at least five teams already contacted the Blackhawks expressing interest. Lazerus believes trading Kane could be their only option.
The only word about this situation from the Blackhawks came nearly a month ago from owner Rocky Wirtz. He claimed they were “disappointed, but hopeful,” adding it was inappropriate to expound upon the matter while the investigation was taking place.
Considering the circumstances, it seems unlikely any NHL GM would have interest in Kane. However, much of the speculation is based upon the impact the investigation could have upon the Blackhawks' reputation as a model franchise.
A charge of sexual assault filed against Kane makes it easy for the Hawks to cut ties, perhaps via contract termination. If he isn't charged, management could still decide this is the last straw and wash their hands of the winger. Given Kane's on-ice abilities, it's unsurprising some GMs are exploring his status with the Blackhawks.
The Blackhawks salary-cap situation is another factor. The club currently has only around $231,000 in cap room for the upcoming season, with restricted free agents Marcus Kruger and Joakim Nordstrom to re-sign. It's assumed they'll shop left winger Bryan Bickell ($4 million) or Kris Versteeg ($2.2 million) to free up cap space, but their respective trade value is likely low right now and might not improve before October.
Kane, meanwhile, is entering the first season of an eight-year, $84-million contract paying him $13.8 million in actual salary for 2015-16. That won't be easy to move but, given his status among the NHL's top stars, he will still attract considerably more interest than Bickell or Versteeg. Removing Kane from their books not only provides cap space for the upcoming season, but gives the Hawks more than enough room to re-sign blueline stalwart Brent Seabrook and still leave enough for other moves next summer.
It's apparent the Blackhawks and the league are awaiting the outcome of the investigation before taking further action if required. If no charges are filed, however, this situation could still raise media speculation over Kane's future in Chicago as the Blackhawks prepare to defend their championship crown.
Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).
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