Haugh: Patrick Kane trade ends an era, begins hockey irrelevance in Chicago


(670 The Score) On Tuesday afternoon, ESPN confirmed the inevitable: The greatest player in Blackhawks history had been traded.

The Hawks had agreed to trade star Patrick Kane to the New York Rangers for a bunch of future draft picks or something like that. Like we really care about the return, as if anything could be enough.

The fine print matters much less than the headline we all dreaded reading anyway.

The tweet from reporter Emily Kaplan came at 1:53 p.m., now known as the official time of death for hockey relevance in Chicago.

“The Rangers are acquiring Patrick Kane for a 2023 conditional second pick and 2023 fourth-round pick. Per sources, the conditions of second-round pick: turns into a first IF the Rangers make the Conference Finals. However that first round pick would be in either 2024 or 2025.”

OK, whatever. But will the Hawks be watchable by 2025? Really?

Kane made every game worth seeing, every shift a surprise, every moment No. 88 graced the ice a privilege to watch. For 16 years, Kane justified every overpriced ticket bought at the United Center and affected every single decision made by the front office. Kane made it cool to be a Hawks fan again, the player easiest to like and hardest to emulate because he did things on the ice only he could do. Whether it was a spin-o-rama or a saucer pass through traffic, whether stick-handling through a maze of defenders or scoring from an impossible angle, the kid from Buffalo made us all feel young again watching him in awe.

You didn’t have to understand the power play to appreciate Kane’s prowess.

In the 25 years since Michael Jordan left town, no pro athlete in Chicago has accomplished more than Kane. Not anybody on the Bears, Cubs, White Sox or Bulls. With due respect, not Brian Urlacher or Devin Hester, Derrick Rose or Sammy Sosa, Paul Konerko or any of the 2016 Cubs. Kane hoisted three Stanley Cups, won the Hart Trophy given the NHL’s most valuable player, earned the Calder Trophy awarded to the best rookie and assembled a Hall of Fame career.

No Blackhawk player ever did more for the franchise. No American-born hockey player ever did it better.

And Kane isn't done yet, with "Showtime" headed to Broadway to begin his next act with the Rangers. Encore, encore, Kaner.

Meanwhile, the curtain closes on an era at 1901 W. Madison.

General manager Kyle Davidson did what he had to do, with Kane limiting Davidson’s options and owning all the leverage by virtue of a no-movement clause in his contract he definitely earned. If the Rangers were the only team Kane agreed to join, Davidson took what he could get in the name of appeasing an all-time great. There will be a day when all the details will be easier to process and understand, when it will be clear that trading Kane was the best move in the big picture for the Hawks.

But today isn’t that day.

Today, it stings a little. Honestly, it stings a lot to some of us.

Today, trading Kane looks like the Hawks suddenly teetering on irrelevance in a once-rabid hockey town that all but ignores their existence these days.

Consider that the stain of the alleged 2010 sexual assault of Kyle Beach by former video coach Brad Aldrich indelibly remains, even as the Hawks purged the organization of everyone around during that season – everyone except captain Jonathan Toews and Kane, who both claimed not to know about the mistreatment of Beach at the time. That scandal understandably still keeps many conflicted casual hockey fans and sports media from following the Hawks too closely, tempering local enthusiasm and plummeting interest to pre-Rocky Wirtz days.

Now, the main reason for paying attention just became an ex-Blackhawk.

Putting Kane’s career in perspective requires a recitation of events that underscore how Kane’s mastery on the ice didn’t prevent immaturity off of it. The most ugly and infamous came in 2015, when Kane faced a rape allegation back home in Buffalo shortly after winning his third Stanley Cup, with charges later dropped by local law enforcement officials. There was the well-documented incident with the cab driver in Buffalo when Kane was only 20, the Cinco de Mayo bar crawl in Madison, Wis. in 2012 and all the stories of Kane’s partying all over nightclubs downtown. Before Kane became a father and settled down, he could make the Hawks furious with his tomfoolery, enough so one offseason to make former executives Stan Bowman and John McDonough explore trading him.

I’m glad they didn’t. I’m glad they chose a lecture and some tough love. The Hawks gave Kane the chance to change his ways and essentially grow up in front of us. He debuted as an 18-year-old on Oct. 4, 2007 against the Minnesota Wild who toyed with his mouthpiece between shifts and departs as a 34-year-old dad who waves to his son, Patrick Kane III, behind the glass before games.

His hairline might have receded over the years, but his game hasn’t regressed. Kane remains a threat, still dangerous enough for a contending team like the Rangers to finagle their salary cap and find a way to add a difference-maker.

Kane’s evolution from 2007 to now has been exhilarating, his impact indelible. You could make an argument that the Hawks never would have won three Cups without them signing Marian Hossa or following Toews or drafting defensemen Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook or trading for Patrick Sharp or relying on goalie Corey Crawford. But every list of reasons for the Hawks’ mini-dynasty from 2010 to 2015 begins with Kane, the incomparable one, the most special player in every dressing room and everyone in them knew it.

On a personal level, in 20 years of having the privilege of covering sports in this city, Kane goes down as my favorite athlete to cover. I’ll cherish the memories of watching him celebrate before anyone else that magical night in Philadelphia in 2010 when all the winning started, of enjoying so many other patented Kaner celebrations after game-winning goals, of interviewing him after highs of Stanley Cup titles and lows like losing his grandfather, of seeing the way he dealt with young fans when the cameras were off, connecting with boys and girls who tried modeling their game after his. I’ll always marvel at the joy he played with, the verve he never lost.

He leaves a massive void. The organization Kane exits, the one he helped rebuild, looks to be in shambles. Davidson accumulating draft picks buys him time as a young GM and accrues capital that could be used to acquire living, breathing NHL players, but he has hardly earned the benefit of the doubt. Draft picks are basically lottery tickets. The list of talented players Davidson has unloaded during his process is staggering, from Kirby Dach to Alex DeBrincat to now Kane, with others in between. Sure, the first-time GM is only doing the job he was hired to do by Danny Wirtz and Jaime Faulkner – first-time hockey executives leading the organization – but can anybody be sure they know what’s best? They’re learning on the job too. Sure, we know this is all part of the plan, but can anybody be sure about the plan?

Maybe Kane re-signs with the Hawks as a free agent next summer if the AHL-caliber team now on the ice somehow tanks badly enough to draft phenom Connor Bedard with the No. 1 overall pick. But it seldom works that way and Kane leaving now means he’s likely gone forever, taking with him a small part of every hockey fan in Chicago.

Today, it feels like that group is smaller than ever.

David Haugh is the co-host of the Mully & Haugh Show from 5-10 a.m. weekdays on 670 The Score. Click here to listen. Follow him on Twitter @DavidHaugh.

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