February is a dreadful month; always a pleasure to see it far in the rearview mirror.
And it was Feb. 24, a dreadful night, when Blackhawks winger Patrick Kane was knocked into the boards against the Florida Panthers and his clavicle snapped.
Though Kane has started practicing with the team, he’s still on a three-month recovery program. Twelve weeks, post-surgery, to be exact — which means he has 6½ weeks to go as of Sunday.
Let’s say he’s back at full flitter on May 16. If still alive, the Hawks would likely be somewhere near the end of Round 2 of the Stanley Cup playoffs, or just done with it.
Last year, on May 18, they played Game 1 of the Western Conference final in Los Angeles against the Kings. They should have won that series, then the Cup, easily, against the middling New York Rangers. But we’re not waxing coulda-shoulda here.
This is about reality.
The Hawks have qualified for their seventh consecutive postseason, which is a wonderful thing for Chicago fans. The Hawks are still close to being a budding dynasty, which in this salary-cap era is a tough thing to even think about. But if they were to win the crown this year, it would be their third in six seasons.
You have to go back to the 1997-2002 Detroit Red Wings and then to the 1984-90 Edmonton Oilers to find such continued success for one team.
So the question is: Can the Hawks get far enough in the playoffs to have a shot at another Cup, while waiting for their little magician to heal? And if they can get far enough, do you just dump Kane in with a team that will have to have found some kind of rhythm without him?
Well, of course, you do.
But team chemistry is a delicate thing: a little too much sulfur or potassium at the wrong time, and — ka-boom! — science-lab meltdown.
“The hardest thing about this injury is probably going to be staying patient and waiting till you’re cleared to play,’’ Kane said after his first team skate Wednesday.
He could ask Derrick Rose about that. The endlessly rehabbing Bulls guard seems at times to have fried his brain trying to rejoin his team.
There’s the other unknown, too. A big upside. What if Kane comes back early?
As has been noted by others, former Hawk and Kane teammate Brian Campbell came back from a broken clavicle in five weeks. Of course, the Wolverine comes back from amputated limbs in minutes. Other people’s injuries aren’t much of a gauge.
But if Kane mends well and fast, he could return in the second round of the playoffs, and that would be a huge boost to the Hawks.
Common logic says the Hawks can’t go all the way without Kane. Or without Jonathan Toews. Or probably without goalie Corey Crawford, though backup Scott Darling — who drank his way out of college hockey and labored in the deep minors as penance — has been a shining bright spot of late.
What any team would like is to have its core group at full strength. In hockey, that means you’d like your lines settled, with players knowing pretty much where, when and how much they will play.
And while that certainty on the ice is needed, it must come even as the front office looks at contracts and signs or dumps fringe players based on money concerns. And it must come even as general manager Stan Bowman plans for next season and beyond.
Kane is such a rare talent that he simply cannot be replaced. Somebody can play his position, but nobody does chopsticks like him. And his skill at late-game scoring shows his confidence. Even young Teuvo Teravainen, a hopeful Kane-like replica, needs lots of work.
For now, Hawks lovers can quietly rejoice over the guaranteed seventh year of playoff hockey in our town. They can dream about the old core of Duncan Keith, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, Johnny Oduya and Andrew Shaw together yet. They can toast coach Joel Quenneville and his ’stache. They can celebrate the addition of center Brad Richards and the return of Kris Versteeg. And they can salute — as always — the rock that is Toews.
But the little wounded ice dancer is the key. Come back, Kaner.