Appearance would cause distractio­n

- Nancy Armour USA TODAY Sports FOLLOW COLUMNIST NANCY ARMOUR @nrarmour for commentary on the latest sports issues.

After all the good Patrick Kane has done for the Chicago Blackhawks on the ice, the best thing he can do for them now is to stay off it.

When the defending Stanley Cup champions open training camp Friday, Kane should be conspicuou­sly absent. That goes double for the welcome-back bash at the United Center four days later that’s disguised as a practice.

Kane might be one of Chicago’s biggest stars, a cornerston­e in the franchise’s revival along with captain Jonathan Toews. The Blackhawks probably don’t have one of their recent Stanley Cup titles without Kane, let alone three in six seasons.

But he’s also under investigat­ion for sexual assault, and that’s a distractio­n the Blackhawks don’t need.

Look, I have no idea whether Kane is innocent or guilty of the allegation­s against him. Nor does anyone other than Kane and the woman who has accused him of assaulting her at his offseason house Aug. 2, regardless of what the very vocal and sometimes shameless defenders of the Blackhawks star claim. That’s beside the point. As long as an Erie County (N.Y.) grand jury is involved, the best thing for everybody is for Kane to keep a low profile as he has done for the last six weeks.

Now, there are some who will say there’s no reason for Kane to go undergroun­d, that he’s innocent until proved guilty. While that technicall­y is correct, that refers to the court of law.

In real life, absolutes are shaded in gray.

Even if Kane is cleared of the sexual assault allegation­s, he’s guilty of poor judgment. While it was his behavior that created this mess, the NHL and the Blackhawks have to answer for it, too.

Like his counterpar­ts in the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball, NHL Commission­er Gary Bettman likes to talk about the “privilege” of playing in the league. How players have an obligation not to do anything — on or off the ice — that could damage the league’s reputation.

Bettman has said the league needs to “watch the process play out,” but it’s a good bet EA Sports didn’t make the decision to yank Kane off the cover of NHL 16 on its own.

The Blackhawks are even more protective of their image. Since Rocky Wirtz inherited the team from his late father, he and president and CEO John McDonough have taken great pains to market the Blackhawks as a squeakycle­an organizati­on, with players any parent would be happy to have as role models.

In one promotiona­l video last season, Andrew Shaw accompanie­d a Girl Scout to Toews’ house so the 5-year-old could sell cookies to the captain. Not only did Toews buy some, the “awwww”inducing video shows him ironing a new badge onto her vest.

Rape allegation­s don’t exactly square with that warm-and-fuzzy persona. Especially when they involve a player who already has used up his quota of bad behavior.

In 2009, Kane pleaded guilty to a non-criminal charge of disorderly conduct for roughing up a cab driver in his hometown of Buffalo. Three years later, photos of a clearly intoxicate­d Kane were accompanie­d by stories of raunchy behavior during a weekend in Madison, Wis.

Though many excused the episodes as Kane being a party boy, the Blackhawks made it clear they weren’t happy with his antics. The team is believed to have made it clear that future indiscre- tions wouldn’t be tolerated. As talented as Kane is, the Original Six franchise isn’t about to compromise its integrity for anyone.

Which brings us back to the opening of training camp Friday.

Regardless of Kane’s whereabout­s, the spotlight on the Blackhawks is going to be an uncomforta­ble one. But the questions — and embarrassm­ent — will be limited to a day, max, if Kane isn’t around. Show up, and it’s a three-ring circus until the case is resolved.

Far best for everyone if Kane stays out of the picture and lets the justice system work its course, with the hope that the grand jury reaches a ruling before the regular season opens Oct. 7.

Say what you will about Kane, but he always has been a team player. The Blackhawks need him to be one now more than ever.

 ?? DENNIS WIERZBICKI, USA TODAY SPORTS ?? Blackhawks star Patrick Kane has been accused by a woman of sexual assault.
DENNIS WIERZBICKI, USA TODAY SPORTS Blackhawks star Patrick Kane has been accused by a woman of sexual assault.
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