Blackhawks’ mood tense as Patrick Kane departs, others likely to follow

Sam Lafferty also was scratched Saturday to protect him for a likely imminent trade. That forced the Hawks to dress 11 forwards and seven defensemen against the Sharks and left a “weird” feeling in the locker room.

SHARE Blackhawks’ mood tense as Patrick Kane departs, others likely to follow
Patrick Kane and Connor Murphy in 2018.

Connor Murphy (right) felt the absence of Patrick Kane (left) around the Blackhawks on Saturday.

AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

SAN JOSE, Calif. — The visitors’ locker room at the SAP Center, which was inhabited by the Blackhawks on Saturday, didn’t feel quite right.

Patrick Kane obviously wasn’t present, having flown back to Chicago and having likely played his final game for the franchise. The team didn’t designate a locker with his name tag.

Fellow forward Sam Lafferty was also absent, having been scratched for the game against the Sharks for ‘“roster management” reasons — meaning to keep him healthy before another likely trade.

Even among the players sitting around, there was little of the usual chatter and laughter.

“When ‘Kaner’ didn’t come [to practice Friday], it felt a little weird right away,” defenseman Connor Murphy said. “And then today, [with] ‘Laf’ not coming out on the ice with us, it feels weird.

“Everyone knew, though, [heading] into this road trip, that guys are going to be walking on eggshells off the ice, not knowing what’s going to happen. And sometimes you don’t know whose names [are] going to be called and when and where. It’s just a hard thing.”

Forward Max Domi, who formed a strong chemistry with Kane this season, was understandably crabby.

“Usually when you have an NHL game, you’re focusing on the NHL game,’” Domi said. “Everything else is just noise, as far as I’m concerned.”

Even coach Luke Richardson, who knew better than anyone the inevitable roster turnover that lay ahead for the Hawks this season — given that general manager Kyle Davidson told him numerous times during his job interview last summer — was rattled.

Seeing Kane in clips reviewed in the team’s morning video session — but not among the group of players attending the session — felt odd to him.

“He’s obviously such a focal point of the team,” Richardson said. “Definitely it’s a different feeling, him not being here.”

But the finality of Kane’s likely departure, despite the trade to the Rangers not yet being finalized, seemed to have the greatest effect on Murphy, whose tenure with the Hawks means he overlapped with Kane longer than anybody on the roster. (Captain Jonathan Toews is away from the team for health reasons.)

“It’s hard to put in words the impact that he has made over the years, the career he has had with Chicago and [how] he has helped make the Blackhawks into what [they are] today,” Murphy said. “It’s hard to express the meaning of him not being in a Blackhawk sweater, really.”

Roster shuffle

Defenseman Jake McCabe was in the lineup against the Sharks, which was surprising for two reasons.

First, he missed practice Friday because of an illness, with Richardson saying he had “thrown up eight times.” Second, he has been involved in trade rumors as much as Lafferty recently.

Even with McCabe holding down his typical spot on the first defensive pairing, however, the roster wasn’t exactly stable. Richardson had the unenviable task of “trying to jumble the lines together.”

The Hawks dressed seven defensemen and 11 forwards out of necessity. They had only 11 forwards available, and three of them — recent American Hockey League call-ups David Gust, Brett Seney and Cole Guttman — entered the day having appeared in a combined nine NHL games this season.

Richardson said Friday that Gust wouldn’t make his NHL debut Saturday, but plans changed. Jujhar Khaira participated in the morning skate but wasn’t quite ready to return from his back injury.

It seems the Hawks will have to continue piecing together rosters for the next three games before sorting things out after the trade deadline Friday.

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