Patrick Kane leaves Chicago with clear legacy: Blackhawks’ greatest player of all time

Kane wearing Rangers blue is hard to comprehend. But that doesn’t alter the legacy he leaves behind with the Hawks. His combination of statistics (1,225 points), success (three Stanley Cups) and showmanship is unmatched in the city’s hockey history.

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Patrick Kane skates in front of adoring fans.

Patrick Kane, traded Tuesday to the Rangers, leaves behind an unmatched legacy with the Blackhawks.

Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Patrick Kane flipped a puck into the air and carefully balanced it on his stick, just as he had 581 times before.

As the horn blew to end warmups before the Blackhawks’ game Feb. 21 against the Golden Knights at the United Center, Kane skated over to a throng of fans clustered at the bottom of Section 102.

He flipped the puck over the glass and into a sea of reaching hands, then hustled off the ice and down the tunnel to prepare for his 582nd regular-season home game.

In that sea, Ashley McGee and her fiancé, Ryan, caught what proved to be the final end-of-warmups puck toss of Kane’s legendary Hawks tenure.

‘‘I was standing there, tears welling up in my eyes, taking in the whole scene,’’ McGee said. ‘‘He skated over, and I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, he still has it [on his stick].’ We seemed to lock eyes for a second — or at least I thought so. He was clearly taking in the whole scene, as well. Thankfully, my fiancé reached up and grabbed it.

‘‘When we started walking back to our seats, I realized how special this might be.’’

Patrick Kane prepares to make a puck toss.

Patrick Kane’s end-of-warmups puck tosses were a United Center tradition.

Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The greatest Hawks player, greatest U.S. hockey player and one of the greatest NHL players of all time was traded Tuesday to the Rangers for two draft picks.

Hawks management, as usual, wanted to get whatever they could for a player on an expiring contract; it just so happened that player was Kane. Kane, meanwhile, wanted to go to the Rangers and the Rangers only. Thus, this outcome.

And whether by trade, free agency or retirement, this outcome always was coming. It was coming in 2007, when the Hawks selected Kane first overall at the draft in Columbus, Ohio. It was coming in 2010, when Kane scored the goal nobody saw in Philadelphia to win the first of his three Stanley Cups. It was coming in 2015, when the Hawks signed Kane to the eight-year, $84 million mega-contract that will expire this summer.

That fact doesn’t make what happened Tuesday any easier to comprehend. Kane — the man who won over a city, lifted up a franchise and changed the sport all while wearing red — wearing blue? It’s an absurd idea.

‘‘I don’t think it’s going to sink in until I see him in another sweater,’’ McGee said, expressing the collective thoughts of thousands of fans.

But this doesn’t change the legacy Kane leaves in Chicago. And what a legacy it is.

The aforementioned three Cups. Nine NHL All-Star selections. A Hart Trophy, an Art Ross Trophy, a Calder Trophy and a Conn Smythe Trophy. A stat line of 1,161 games (third-most in franchise history) in which he had 446 goals (third-most) and 779 assists (second-most), adding up to 1,225 points (second-most).

His passing ability made the Hawks’ dynasty click. Few others could dream of delivering a saucer pass five inches off the ice, through traffic, onto the stick of a fast-moving teammate inside the opposite faceoff circle. Kane could do it 100 times out of 100.

His offensive instincts and vision put him in the right spots to be able to take advantage of that skill. His soft hands and excellent-in-its-own-right shot forced opponents to respect him and enabled those passing lanes to open up. His quickness and deceptiveness in tight spaces gave him room even when those defenses covered him well.

His signature celebration — left knee bent forward, right knee hovering above the ice, right arm fist-pumping downward — became a defining image of ‘‘Showtime,’’ as Kane was nicknamed, and the Hawks as a whole.

Even at 34, Kane still has the majority of those talents at his disposal. His peripheral (in a good way) style long has enabled him to avoid much of the physical beating other star forwards incur, and even the hip injury that recently had nagged him stopped slowing him down when he decided in late February he wanted to prove it wouldn’t. In his final four games with the Hawks, Kane scored seven goals, tied for his most in any four-game span.

All the while, the casualness with which Kane seemed to do everything completed his image. Nothing ever daunted him — not the enormous expectations, not the serious skepticism he received entering the league as a 5-10, 160-pound teenager, not a passing lane filled with sticks and certainly not the thought of making the long-struggling Hawks a dynasty.

‘‘We want to bring a championship to this city,’’ a rookie Kane said in an interview with the Sun-Times in December 2007. ‘‘And if we stick to the game plan, we’re going to help this team win.’’

It turned out he really could make it seem that simple.

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