By Dan Bernstein-
CBSChicago.com Senior Columnist
(CBS) This Blackhawks season is missing something.
Even amid the historic sizzle of the start, the intensity of the delayed gratification, and the chance for starved fans to just revel in all this hockey, night after night, one familiar part of following the ‘Hawks has changed.
No more “Kaner” stories.
For the purposes of the discussion, I’ll differentiate between that character we’ve come to know and the actual person and hockey player. Patrick Kane is the 24-year-old winger with the jaw-dropping puck skills, preternatural vision and unique scoring ability. Kaner is the sloppy-drunk alter ego in the plastic sunglasses standing on the bar, glugging from a bottle of Jagermeister. You’ve seen pictures.
It’s already into year six of Kane’s Chicago career, and this is the longest stretch of time without some kind of idiot eruption. The fact that it coincides with both apparent improvement to his overall game and a far more mature demeanor allows us to believe that there may be some causality at work here, too.
No shirtless photos posted by Deadspin, no headlines in the Buffalo News, no reconstruction of stumbling bar-crawl timelines from college-town beer festivals.
More importantly, the usual buzz in the city about ceaseless nocturnal gallivanting has quieted. Kaner stories have become something of a legend in this city, and not the ones that make it into publication. One of the side benefits of broadcasting our show’s Bud Light remotes each Friday is the chance to talk to owners, managers and bouncers at each stop, and the running off-air joke for years – at the downtown establishments, specifically — has been to ask for their most memorable experiences of Kaner in the house.
It’s usually something like this: “He was in the back for a while, then fell asleep at that table over there. He left after he woke up, but then he came back an hour later and (redacted) right in the middle of the dance floor. We carried him outside and he left again.”
Or: “You see that back bar? He was leaning up against it, talking to this girl, when we realized he was (redacted), right there. At the bar! He acted like it was no big deal, but we told him to leave.
Or: “He carried the Stanley Cup up those stairs and almost fell twice. He was deciding which girls he wanted to take pictures with him and the cup, then asked them to (redacted). He left after two hours.”
I have heard every variation of these accounts since Kane arrived here, less and less surprised with each one. It was just what he did, and what he was going to do.
The team itself has been working hard behind the scenes to curtail Kaner, worried that lifestyle was both stunting his professional development and embarrassing both player and organization. Blackhawks officials reached out to his friends and family for assistance in convincing their most telegenic star that it was time to knock it off. It was an ongoing process — started after the arrest in Buffalo, continuing through an Olympic stay in Vancouver that had USA Hockey expressing concerns privately, and then the Madison incident that resulted in a redoubling of efforts.
Perhaps something finally reached him. At 24, he may have it out of his system. He may be newly aware that being at his on-ice best with no self-made distractions is the proper financial decision, as some were whispering about his lackluster production. Maybe some people who see him as a family cash-cow acted in their own interests to fix him.
So far, so good. Regardless. For now.
I know the perils of writing such observations, and I am clearly aware that the paper on the doorstep tomorrow morning could have full-color photos of Kaner in a “No Fat Chicks” t-shirt, giving piggy-back rides to college coeds, or there’s video of him passed out on a mechanical bull. It could also be something far worse involving alcohol, women and severely impaired judgment.
But kids grow up. Even the ones we once thought were lost causes.
As hard as it is to believe that it’s already been more than half a decade of Patrick Kane in Chicago, we may have real reason to think that his darker half has finally left town.