Old man winger: Kane aging gracefully
Hawks’ quest for return to playoffs got Patrick Kane working early
Blackhawks fans approach Patrick Kane like an old friend all the time because, well, he’s a superstar and that’s what fans sometimes do.
Some of them cut right to the chase.
“They’ll ask straight up, ‘Are we going to be better this year?’ ” Kane said Friday.
And what does he tell them? “I’ll just keep it simple and tell them we’ll be better for sure, which I truly believe,” Kane said.
Kane believes it because he looks around the locker room and spots teammates who, like himself, are dedicated to re-establishing the Hawks as a force in the Western Conference, something that was a given for a decade. Tell an NHL prognosticator now that the Hawks are a playoff team and the reaction is likely to be a giggle rather than a confirmation.
That’s what happens when a team not only misses the postseason for the first time in 10 seasons but finishes in last place in the division. It’s what happens when the core players who helped win three Stanley Cups are either done with hockey (Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa), in their 30s (Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Corey Crawford) or struggling to recover from a debilitating injury (Crawford).
Kane doesn’t fall into those categories — at least not yet. The boy wonder, who was the NHL’s rookie of the year at 19 and scored a Stanley Cup-winning overtime goal at 22, is on the cusp of turning
30. But don’t call him an elder statesman or suggest he’s still a kid. Neither description fits.
“I’m still 29; it’s not like I’m 45,” said Kane, whose birthday is Nov.
19. “I feel like a mix of both, to be honest. I’ve played for a while (so) I feel I can connect to the older guys on our team or the guys (who) have been around a while.
“But at the same time I really like hanging out with the young guys. I love being with them on the ice, going out to eat with them or just talking about what they’re going through. So I guess I’m kind of in the middle.”
The way the 2017-18 season ended left a terrible taste in Kane’s mouth, but in hindsight the way it started also troubled him. The year before, after winning the Central Division and having the West’s best record, the Hawks scored a total of three goals in an embarrassing four-game sweep at the hands of the Predators.
When preparing for last season, Kane said the Hawks might have put too much emphasis on being ready for the playoffs before they even got there.
“We didn’t focus on training camp or the regular season,” he said.
That won’t be the case this season. After playing in the World Championships in May and being named tournament MVP, Kane took a month off before resuming skating and working out in late June. He recalled some years in which he didn’t start skating until September.
“A lot of us trained very hard,” Kane said. “A lot of us skated together in the summer here in Chicago (and) worked on different things (to) just be a little more attentive to the details coming into camp . ... I think a lot of us are ready. We’re just really fine-tuning things and listening to what the coaches have to say, how we want to play different.
“A lot of us are almost treating these training camp practices like games. We want to come out and be the best we can that day.”
Kane’s offseason included spending time with renowned hockey trainer Darryl Belfry in Tampa, Fla., where teammates Alex DeBrincat and Nick Schmaltz joined them. The three forwards — the Hawks’ top three scorers last season — spent a lot of time working on breakout drills, which Kane believes helped create chemistry that will carry over into this season.
“He’s at the top tier of the league, but he’s always pushing to be better,” Schmaltz said of Kane. “You look at a guy like that and want to follow suit and try to do everything you can, maybe do some of the stuff he does off the ice or on the ice.
“We’re always working on the ice after practices. It’s really cool to see a guy like that putting in so much work.”
The early workouts and focus on conditioning seem to have helped Kane elevate his game, which Hawks coach Joel Quenneville noticed on the first day of training camp.
“Every year I always find he gets a little bit better,” Quenneville said. “(Friday) on the ice, man, he jumped out at me as far as how efficient he was in his quickness. He just finds a way to enhance a pretty special game.”
Kane isn’t the type to be introspective about his career, which might be past the halfway point. He is a certain future Hall of Famer with 828 career points in 11 seasonsand has a decent chance to break Stan Mikita’s team record of 1,467. Kane had 76 points — 27 goals and 49 assists — last season.
“Time has went by really fast,” Kane said. “I was talking to Hossa (Friday) and he couldn’t believe I was turning 30 because when he came in I was one of the younger guys on our team.
“I feel really good My body feels good. I’ve gained a lot of experience and can use that to be the best version of me.”
What is the best version of Patrick Kane?
“It’s when I have the puck a lot,” he said. “The biggest thing for me is to go out and control the game. If I have the puck and start creating space for myself and my teammates, then good things are going to happen. That’s my goal — get the puck and try to make plays.”
And lead the Hawks back to the playoffs.
“I feel I can connect to the older guys on our team or the guys (who) have been around a while. But at the same time I really like hanging out with the young guys.”
— Patrick Kane, who turns 30 in November