Patrick Kane thinks Blackhawks’ dynasty crew still can win
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SAN JOSE, Calif. — Patrick Kane conquered the NHL so quickly and overwhelmingly that he’s being asked what’s left to play for when his career is already Hall of Fame-worthy.
Kane, 30, might have another decade left with the Hawks — it’s hard to doubt him, based on how he’s playing this season — and he has exceeded what any hockey player reasonably could dream.
But he thinks there’s more to go. A lot more. Kane loves the memories of the three Stanley Cups and all the accolades that accompanied them, but he’s not wistful. He thinks he’s playing his best hockey and still rising.
‘‘I know I’ve played a long time, but I still feel pretty good,’’ he told the Sun-Times at All-Star festivities. ‘‘My body’s feeling better and better. I’m not really thinking about how long I want to play or to what age. Hopefully it’ll be a long time because I love playing.
‘‘I would argue that I almost feel better physically [compared to 20]. I’m a better skater now, better shot. I learned some things about the game. Definitely smarter about the game. . . . I’m a better player now.’’
This was Kane’s eighth All-Star appearance, the most of any participant in San Jose, and he’s keeping up with the Connor McDavids of the game just fine.
There usually would be some indication of decline by this point. Not only is Kane in his 12th season of logging heavy minutes, but he has played 1½ seasons worth of playoff games. Jonathan Toews, who handled a nearly identical workload, struggled through fatigue before bouncing back this season.
But Kane is in reach of career highs in every statistic, including ice time. He has given the Hawks 22 minutes, 8 seconds per game, second only to relentless defenseman Duncan Keith, and leads them with 29 goals and 42 assists. He’s fifth in the NHL with 71 points and is on track to top his best of 106 in 2015-16.
He takes pride in staying on top, but it has been hard to celebrate when the team has fallen into disrepair. What is he supposed to say about chipping in two goals and two assists during a blowout loss to the Devils?
The Hawks were the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference less than two years ago. They got swept out of the playoffs in the first round by the Predators and have gone 51-61-9 since.
They open the second half Friday against the Sabres in Buffalo with the lofty hope of pinning down a playoff berth — quite a recalibration of ambition — despite sitting seven points back of the last spot.
That’s the part that makes Kane miss the old days.
‘‘Winning is the biggest thing,’’ he said, answering the original question of what drives him now. ‘‘It’d be fun to be on a winning team and have a team that can go far in the playoffs. I think that makes everyone in a better mood.’’
He wants the Hawks back where they were, when the games were electric and every season was championship-or-bust.
But he doesn’t sense his window is closing. He also doesn’t feel like it’s all riding on him to bring another Stanley Cup to Chicago, nor should he.
It’s up to general manager Stan Bowman and coach Jeremy Colliton to lift this team out of its futility. Kane is doing his part and then some, and it’s a luxury that the Hawks still can build around him for the next several years instead of undergoing a total teardown.
The biggest question they face is what to do about the core that led them during the dynasty. The big names are still here — Kane, Toews, Keith, Brent Seabrook, Corey Crawford — and some see that as part of the problem. Defense and goaltending certainly have been issues for the Hawks this season.
But the brotherhood among those men endures. Kane snapped back at criticism of Seabrook last week, and he’ll keep doing it. He’ll never lose faith in anyone from that crew.
‘‘There’s loyalty, for sure,’’ Kane said. ‘‘The biggest thing is, we’ve done it before. That’s the answer to getting back to being a good team and winning: building around those guys. They’re great players, great people, winners, competitors.
‘‘If they’re not playing as well or we’re not winning, they want to be part of the solution. They want to do something about it.’’
Kane is the same way. His singular goal is to help fix this season. The bottom seed in the playoffs is worth the effort, and he sees value in the old guard imparting its knowledge to the younger talent.
It would be easy to drift, but Kane doesn’t. He’s not fixated on the three championship banners he helped hang at the United Center. He’s not thinking about the long term, either, and shook off questions about whether he might play till he’s 40 and whether he imagines having a statue, such as those of Stan Mikita and Bobby Hull.
‘‘No, never,’’ he said. ‘‘I never think about statues or anything like that. I just think about playing the game and trying to have fun and produce.’’