Training camps are up and running, and preseason pucks have dropped. We are less than a month out from an overhaul of the NHL in which young phenoms Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel break onto the scene. For the average hockey superfan, such as myself, the most wonderful time of the year is just about upon us. But at the Madhouse on Madison, where this past June the Chicago Blackhawks — a team some have touted as a modern dynasty — were crowned Stanley Cup Champions for the third time in six seasons, there is unrest. Unfortunately, as the team gears up to defend its title and honor, there is an ever-growing elephant in the room.
The Blackhawks’ success has been largely defined by their core: captain Jonathan Toews; leading defense pair Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook; and key supporting players Patrick Sharp, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Marian Hossa. Then, of course, there’s the enigmatic — and problematic — Patrick Kane.
There is no doubt that Kane is an enormous hockey talent. He and Toews pack a one-two punch of grit and determination that has led the team above and beyond the rest. They’ve each won the Conn Smythe trophy — awarded to the Stanley Cup Playoff MVP — once over the course of the Blackhawks’ recent dynasty years. However, their off-ice images starkly contrast. While Toews has been constantly referred to as “Captain Serious” since he took over the ‘Hawks captaincy in 2008, Kane has served as the NHL’s resident frat guy, frequently spotted at bars behaving as a less-than-model citizen.
Over the years, Kane has brushed with the law a few times, mostly on more trivial, mischievous charges. But this past summer, following the ‘Hawks ascent to the top of the hockey world, a sexual assault investigation in Hamburg – a town south of Kane’s hometown of Buffalo – was launched with Kane at the helm.
Information surrounding the investigation has been murky at best, with Kane steadily denying the allegations, but an accusation of rape must be dealt with seriously. So why then, when guilt hasn’t been proved one way or another, is Kane training with the team? In a sport like hockey, where a gentlemanly class sets it apart from its more controversial counterparts like the NFL, it seems unbecoming of the NHL to allow one of its celebrities to don a Blackhawks jersey while still under scrupulous investigation for a heinous crime.
Kane’s guilt has not been proven yet. What I am saying is it seems in poor taste for the NHL and the Blackhawks organization to allow someone involved in an ongoing criminal investigation of this magnitude to continue to train and play with the team. Look at soon-to-be former LA Kings defenseman Slava Voynov: he was arrested on domestic violence charges in 2014 and the league suspended him indefinitely, severely reprimanding the Kings when they allowed him to attend a team practice. He spent 90 days in jail and received three years’ probation. Recent headlines declare he is heading back to Russia, thereby removing him from the Kings’ roster, though they had similar plans had he not taken it upon himself to leave. Why was the league so on top of the Voynov case, while in an arguably similar situation Kane is skating freely with the team? Is it because he’s a bigger star, or perhaps because four Cups in seven years would further solidify the ‘Hawks position in history, and Kane being in the lineup would be the best way to accomplish that?
Another prime example of the mismanagement the Blackhawks have met the situation with comes from EA Sports: at the NHL awards in June, it was revealed that Toews and Kane would be on the cover of the most recent edition of their popular hockey video game – NHL ‘16 – hoisting the Cup together. However, as the rape allegations surfaced, EA removed Kane and made Toews the sole athlete to be featured on the cover. Again, this was not done due to his surefire guilt, but due to the absence of knowledge one way or another. If Kane can’t exhibit the decision-making to keep himself out of situations like this, then he can’t represent companies that have a set of morals to uphold.
This week, DNA evidence and peculiar case proceedings have added entirely new levels to this case. And in many statements, Kane affirms his innocence. So perhaps it’s not quite the same as it was with Voynov, who was alleged to have assaulted his wife, going so far as to throw a TV at her. Now, I want to believe that Kane is as innocent as he and the team are suggesting. I still can’t help but feel that should he be found even the slightest bit guilty, opening night will be less about a celebratory banner being raised and more about the team and the league allowing Kane to represent them while the investigation was ongoing. As a hockey fan, and a woman, it’s perplexing and upsetting that while the rape investigation is still ongoing, Kane is being allowed to actively represent hockey’s best in games and trainings that essentially mean nothing.
Email Rachel Ruecker at [email protected]