Hart or Bust: Is Patrick Kane the New Face of the NHL?

There is little doubt that Patrick Kane is an outstanding talent by NHL standards.  One of the best to play the game behind past greats like Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, and Mark Messier, but he is also a different breed.  He is one part showman, one part magician, and one very big part bad boy, but is he the new face of the NHL?

He is not the squeaky clean image that the NHL would like to parade out to the masses, but the question remains does he need to be?  After all, he and the Blackhawks have done a whole lot more for the game of hockey since the last lock-out than the previous face of the NHL, Sidney Crosby, who is currently playing his way down to earth.  Granted, he should eventually bounce back, but he has not been the one-man highlight reel this season, and his team has faltered as he has struggled to find the right chemistry with a stable of linemates including Phil Kessel.

In fact, on Sunday night Kane scored a point to pass Crosby for the longest point streak among active players, and the longest streak in the last 22 years.  Something no other active player has come close to since Crosby set the record at 25 in 2010-11.



Consider the lock-out season in 2013, the numbers that the NHL brought in after such a long delay easily could have been well below the league’s previous seasons.  A dip in sales was to be expected.  Fans were unhappy, they had been deprived of hockey for far too long, and it could have just as easily taken years for the league to rebound.

Enter the Blackhawks.  They came blasting out of the gates with a fire in their eyes and one goal on their mind; Win hockey games and take back the Cup.  Not only did they win hockey games, but they also won the President’s Trophy, and they did so in dramatic fashion.  They didn’t lose a single game in regulation through the first 24 games of the shortened season (48 total).

Then, they followed that up with their second Stanley Cup, scoring two goals in 17 seconds to win a game that had them behind with only minutes remaining to halt the Bruins bid for a game seven.  The Blackhawks even got credited with saving the NHL which to be fair might have been a little bit of a stretch). Instead, the following season was business as usual for the league who just as easily could have been fighting to get back in the good graces of their fans. No, they weren’t the only reason, but they were the compelling story line that drew people in, and perhaps even converted a few new fans.  Hockey needed a story, and the Hawks were all too happy to provide one.

The New Face of the NHL?

Kane may not be the face the NHL wants, but he is perhaps exactly what the NHL needs.  They need goal scoring; He brings it every night.  He is a prolific scorer, who can simply dazzle the fans, new and old with his stickhandling prowess.  They need unselfish play, currently he sits atop the assists leader board (with Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson), and he is even more compelling as a set-up man. They need wins, Kane is a three-time Stanley Cup Champion, who appears poised to add to his totals.

In fact, the line that he plays on includes rookie Artemi Panarin, who also sits atop most of the pertinent scoring categories for rookies having benefited from Kane’s ability to create plays.  His other linemate, Artem Anisimov has also been having what could shake out to be a career year by the numbers as he has already eclipsed his totals from last year and is on pace to reach career highs in scoring and points totals.

Of course, there is a lot of season ahead, but as it stands this is a dynamic trio.  Kane is spectacular, but part of his streak is clearly the chemistry he shares with Panarin and Anisimov, as well as his d-men.  It is a credit to the team that it has continued, as much as it is a credit to Kane himself.

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At the end of the day, Patrick Kane can’t vanquish the skeletons in his closet as they are already out in the open, but having been cleared of any wrong-doing, he should be allowed to move beyond a difficult situation.  Sure, there are people who will be outraged; But, if you’ve been paying any attention at all, for every one person who may be incensed at how the league or the team handled the whole situation, there are hundreds more who stand in support.  Simply put, it is over in the eyes of the law, and it is time to move forward.

If the NHL could pick and choose the face of the league, they almost certainly would steer clear of Patrick Kane, but the fact is whether they like it or not, Patrick Kane is one of the faces of the NHL.  There is no sense in trying to avoid the subject, because as long as he plays as he has this season, this is not going to change.  He will be on nearly every highlight reel; He will make top billing on the news nightly, and he will be a top contender when it comes time to hand out the awards.  As well he should be given his play.

The Hot Streak Continues

In the last few years, Patrick Kane has been gaining momentum.  Last season, he was on pace for a career-best in point scoring, and he likely would have been one of the top candidates for the Art Ross and the Hart Trophy; However, just days before the trade deadline he took an awkward slide into the boards and broke his clavicle.  He returned to his team several weeks earlier than expected to start the first game of the playoffs versus the Nashville Predators, when it was initially estimated that he would not be available until closer to the third round, provided the team could have made it that far without him.

This season, Kane came out on a tear picking up right where he left off before that injury.  His first ten games were fine, but he has not had a game without a point since October 17th, 2015. This hot streak has already spanned over a quarter of the season, and it’s still going. For Kane, he has broken the record for a point streak by an American-born player (19), as a Blackhawk (22), and Sunday night he set a new record for active players at 26, just days after he had tied Crosby’s record (25), dating back to the 2010-11 season.  Now, he will likely put the streak behind him, but in the back of his mind the number 51 has to be registering.  That is the number of games that ‘The Great One,’ Wayne Gretzky strung together for his point streak that still tops the NHL.

Kane is likely not planning to chase that record as it would seem lofty even for a player of his skill level; The game is simply different today. Goaltenders are bigger and more athletic, defenders skate better and have amped up their skill level, and finally the forwards are better and fast two-way players making it even more difficult to maintain a short streak, let alone 26+ games.  Even Gretzky admits it would have been tough for him to maintain this streak in today’s NHL, but you better believe if Kane gets into the ballpark of Gretzky’s record ‘The Great One’ will be in attendance.

“He can get there, absolutely,” the Hockey Hall of Famer said. “What does it take to get there? It’s a combination of things. First of all, you have to be good and you have to get a little bit lucky. I was a little bit lucky during the streak, whether it was a (secondary) assist late in the game or an empty-net point. You have to stay healthy and you have to be surrounded by really good teammates. He has all the intangibles he needs.”

At the end of the day, Patrick Kane would be nowhere without the Blackhawks team, coaches, and organization as a whole.  They have ultimately been a catalyst for his streak as no one player could maintain this on their own.  If they could, it would happen far more frequently and be a whole lot less spectacular.

Hart Trophy or Bust

At the end of the season, if Patrick Kane manages to keep up a pace that has him breaking his career bests, and he extends this streak beyond 30, no matter what the league wants he will be in the conversation for the Hart Trophy.  The fact is, he should be the front-runner already.  Of course, there will be several contenders coming out of Dallas, and perhaps a few others; But, the fact remains that Kane is carrying the load for the Blackhawks in ways that no other player is.

He is their top scorer, their top play maker, and a locker room leader which is, in essence, the definition of what the Hart Trophy is and as long as he has been deemed clear to play, why should there be a debate.