The Patrick Kane rape allegation has undergone enough weird direction changes that Christine Brennan of USA Today suggested it was time to put him on paid leave Wednesday, Sept. 23. Soon after it was leaked that DNA tests exonerated the three-time Stanley Cup winner, there are obvious questions about the legitimacy of the investigation.
A rape kit anonymously dropped off at someone’s house does not have a proper chain of custody. The potential a silver medal-winning American could get preferential treatment in his hometown cannot be dismissed.
His former actions cannot be considered in a court of law because getting drunk and punching a cab driver does not mean he got drunk and raped a woman. Nevertheless, it raises questions—especially since he declared his intention at a Stanley Cup celebration to spend the next week returning to his pattern of drunkenness—that are fair game in the court of public opinion.
Hence, the media will stir the hornet’s nest constantly as long as he is in the public eye. That is bad for the Chicago Blackhawks, but their hope to defend their Stanley Cup title in the 2015-16 NHL season is already hard enough without losing one of their best players. It is a tough decision, but it should not be.
As Brennan pointed out, there is plenty of precedent for removing the game from connections to such a serious and awful charge that is bad for business. Slava Voynov of the Los Angeles Kings was removed from the 2014-15 NHL season while his domestic violence charges were investigated.
However, Kane must be paid every dime because his guilt is very much in question. The potential of athletes being targets may mean that the NHL and its player’s association (NHLPA) should have a larger discussion about how players on leave for such matters but still not convicted should be treated in the next collective bargaining agreement (CBA).
In the meantime, sitting Kane in September is a no-brainer move. Chicago would not even have to declare a position yet on what it does when the 2015-16 NHL season officially begins.
If Kane’s legal picture is no clearer, at least Chicago’s roster picture should be. Is there a temporary solution out there with the cap relief his leave would create? Is there still one more young player than the team is already leaning on with off-season departures ready to step up?
If these questions lead Chicago to conclude there are no real alternatives it can stomach—even with the distractions and financial damage from a newly-defined image—there is one more thing that must be considered this 2015-16 NHL season: Kane’s presence is no guarantee this team can make the postseason much less defend its Stanley Cup.
The elite core of captain Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook can handle the pressure and the distraction. Can the young players asked to step up after the team lost Patrick Sharp, Brad Richards, Antoine Vermette, Brandon Saad, Kris Versteeg, Johnny Oduya and more from the 2015 Stanley Cup-championship roster handle it? Can Kane himself?
Since realignment was redone after the last CBA, the Central Division has been easily the best division in hockey. Off-season losses have left Chicago clearly behind the Minnesota Wild and Nashville Predators. The Dallas Stars, Winnipeg Jets and St. Louis Blues are all strong Stanley Cup-playoff contenders in the 2015-16 NHL season.
Earning third place will be tough in that field, and it will be harder for the Central Division to grab both wild card spots than it was in the 2014-15 NHL season. The Pacific Division is brutal once again.
The Vancouver Canucks are the only Pacific Division team that made the 2015 Stanley Cup playoffs but is unlikely to this April. The Anaheim Ducks are primed to win their fourth consecutive title and the other returning postseason team is young and added off-season talent.
That one vacancy literally has to go to a Pacific Division team, and the Los Angeles Kings seem a good bet to return to the Stanley Cup playoffs. They almost made it after the 2014-15 NHL season despite enormous injuries. There were not that many off-season changes that a team largely under 30 and with a championship roster largely intact cannot adjust.
However, the San Jose Sharks are right behind them. With a key player brought in to solidify all three units and a core largely intact from back-to-back Western Conference finals appearances, they should be able to grab at least a wild card in the 2015-16 NHL season.
Where does that leave Chicago? Like most things, this situation is in need of a cost-benefits analysis.
Say Chicago is 50 percent likely to make the postseason with Kane and three percent to win the Stanley Cup (being an average chance at best no matter where the gamblers are setting the lines) but 20 percent and one percent without him, is that worth the fallout? Is it worth the lower draft pick?