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Actions will speak louder than words for Patrick Kane, Blackhawks

NEWARK, N.J. — One by one, the carefully worded statements came in. First, from Patrick Kane’s agent. Then from NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly. Then, finally, from the Blackhawks organization and from Kane himself. They all ended the same way.

“We will have no further comment until we have completed [an internal] review,” Daly said.

“We will have no further comment,” the Hawks said.

“I will have nothing further to say going forward,” Kane said.

So much for the mantra of that now infamous press conference at Notre Dame at the start of training camp, the one in which Kane and the Hawks brass so very much wanted to elaborate, but couldn’t out of respect to the legal process. The legal process is now essentially over, with Erie County district attorney Frank Sedita deciding not to file rape charges against Kane stemming from an allegation from a 21-year-old woman in Hamburg, N.Y., in August. Sedita pointedly called it a “so-called ‘case’” that was “rife with reasonable doubt.”

Kane never was charged with a crime, and now we know he won’t be. But many questions remain — questions that nobody in the league or the organization likely will want to address publicly. Will the league use its broad powers to discipline Kane anyway, after its own internal review concludes? Will Kane be chastened by the incident and curtail his off-ice social life, and even his drinking? Will the Hawks play a proactive role in that process? Will the Hawks be able to win back the small-but-vocal portion of the fan base alienated by the allegation and the team’s ham-fisted handling of it?

Of course, the biggest question moving forward is, do the Hawks trust Patrick Kane anymore?

And it doesn’t really matter what anybody says about that one. Actions will speak louder than words.

One team source said Thursday that Hawks brass is still quite angry with Kane for putting himself and the team in this position, and will reassess the situation — and Kane’s standing with the team — after the season. Only Kane and his accuser know what exactly happened that night, but as another team source put it earlier in the week, when it was first reported that Sedita was not going to file charges, “Even the best-case [scenario] here is pretty bad.”

The Sun-Times first reported on Sept. 2 that at least five teams told the Hawks they’d be interested in trading for Kane should the team feel the need to cut ties with its superstar winger. The Hawks have not actively shopped him, but the option remains on the table — especially now that Kane has been cleared of charges — if they believe the risk of keeping Kane is higher than the reward.

It almost certainly won’t happen during the season, and a league source said it was unlikely to happen at all. But given the fact that the Hawks essentially gave Kane a zero-tolerance ultimatum following his very public drunken escapade in Madison in May of 2012, and given the Hawks’ continuing salary-cap woes, it’s something the Hawks will at least discuss internally following the season, per the first team source.

Kane is just 26. It’s easy to forget that considering how long he’s been around, and how much he’s accomplished. He’s by no means irredeemable, and for three years leading up to the Hamburg incident, had been drawing rave reviews from teammates and management alike for growing up, and for being smarter with his personal life. And Kane deserves credit for not ducking reporters throughout this ordeal; he has sat at his locker stall and answered questions time and again, with Tuesday’s contentious press scrum the exception, not the rule.

But he’s back to square one now, having to prove he’s a changed man all over again.

Kane is fortunate to have dodged a bullet, losing only endorsements and reputation, not his entire career. He’s still a superstar, still cheered loudly at the United Center, still supported by his team, still playing at a world-class level and still making $84 million over the next eight years. On the ice, nothing has changed.

The Hawks are fortunate, too. It’s far down the list of important things in something as serious and horrifying as a possible sexual assault, but the image hit the Hawks would have taken had Kane been charged would have been irreparable. Mum’s the word right now from all parties, and it’s hard to blame them given the sensitive nature of the topic.

But what they say doesn’t matter. What they do moving forward will speak volumes.

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com
Twitter: @marklazerus