Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith say Blackhawks still have playoff potential — because there’s nothing else they can say

Admitting otherwise would mean stating the truth. But admitting otherwise would also create a PR mess, which both Hawks cornerstones know they’re obligated to avoid.

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Patrick Kane said he hasn’t adjusted his expectations despite the Blackhawks’ winless start.

Patrick Kane said he hasn’t adjusted his expectations despite the Blackhawks’ winless start.

Jim Rassol/AP

The Blackhawks’ 0-3-1 start to the 2021 season can’t be blamed on Patrick Kane or Duncan Keith.

The two cornerstones from the dynasty era still playing have done their best to put this otherwise blatantly talent-lacking team on their backs.

Kane has recorded points in three consecutive games — all losses, just like the only game in which he didn’t score — and produced 18 shots on goal despite being centered by Pius Suter, whom he started playing with just weeks ago.

Keith has toiled through 21:29 of ice time per night, alternating between two polar-opposite partners in Connor Murphy and Adam Boqvist, and tallied four assists.

But when the two weathered veterans landed back in Chicago this week, having witnessed a winless road trip that included back-to-back losses against the dysfunctional Panthers — a team the Hawks hadn’t lost to twice in the same season since 1998 — they were called upon to address the media after practice Thursday.

Both sat proudly and declared, irrationally, that they still see playoff potential in this team.

Admitting otherwise would mean stating the truth, and that would create a PR mess, which both know to avoid.

“We can play better, but we’ve shown flashes of being able to control games, especially in that second period against Florida last game,” Kane said. “It’s early in the season. We wanted to get off to a good start and that didn’t really happen, but we can still turn it around here.

“A lot of us aren’t thinking about developing or what’s going to happen or what the outlook is. We’re more just thinking about winning a hockey game and try to keep getting better here. The goal in here is to make the playoffs and see what happens after that. I don’t think that’s changed.”

Keith’s answer a few minutes later followed the same blueprint.

“It’s not like we’re sitting here thinking we’ve got a lot of time, but . . . there has been spurts where we’ve played very well as a team and we’ve shown that we have the ability to do it and win games,” the defenseman said. “It’s just a matter of tightening up a few things and doing everything we can to try to get that lead and stick with it and believe in ourselves.

“I know a lot has been made about the players we’re missing and whatnot, but I still like our group, and I still think we have the chance to make the playoffs, for sure . . . We just have to find a way to win one.”

The Hawks’ slow decline since the 2015 championship is certainly not the fault of Kane, Keith or the rest of the core. Outside of Brent Seabrook, whose body secretly started to fail him years ago, they’ve all remained elite players. 

And the last few seasons, the suddenly mediocre Hawks were at least bringing in stopgap veterans and halfheartedly trying to qualify for the postseason. Kane and Keith’s quotes about playoff pushes during those years came across as overly optimistic but not illogical.

This year, the same rhetoric is no longer believable.

Jonathan Toews’ angry comments denouncing the Hawks’ non-communicated rebuild to The Athletic on Oct. 11 — the brief moment between Corey Crawford and Brandon Saad’s departures and an extremely influential and oft-mentioned Zoom meeting with general manager Stan Bowman, coach Jeremy Colliton and the Hawks’ core players — represented the lone instance where the rhetoric aptly and starkly changed. It also created a minor PR mess.

The aforementioned meeting did succeed in communicating the plan, smoothing the player-executive relationships and getting Kane and Keith on board with mentorship roles this season.

But it didn’t change a thing about the Hawks now being an objectively, obviously bad team. 

That was true even before Toews’ illness and Kirby Dach and Alex Nylander’s surgeries. Bowman and Colliton know it, too, having adjusted their own rhetoric to focus heavily on the “developing youth” and “building for the future” buzzwords that have become so common. 

Kane and Keith also seem enthused about young prospects’ upsides, which is understandable. Having seen firsthand several of the greatest teams in modern NHL history, however, they surely realize this current squad falls on the opposite end of the talent spectrum.

But as players expected to try to win every night, they have no choice but to keep dishing out hollow positivity with a straight face.

“To be honest, I like the way we’re trending,” Kane said, not honestly at all.

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