What if I told you Patrick Kane breaking his clavicle was the best thing to ever happen to the 2014-15 Chicago Blackhawks? What if I told you, in four months, we could look back on a crumpled over Kane heading to the dressing room as the moment everything turned around? What if a Cup championship commercial rewinds back to Alex Petrovic’s crosscheck as the first magical moment? Stop scoffing. It’s less delirious than it sounds.
No, this is not my best impersonation of Kevin Bacon’s "All is Well" scene from Animal House. All is not well. And this isn’t predicting everything in the previous paragraph to happen, either. But Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman has an opportunity to maximize his roster past the level at which he could before Petrovic became a household name in the Windy City.
The Blackhawks have a friend here. That friend goes by the name of long-term injured reserve cap exception, and the two just met Wednesday when the team placed Kane on LTIR. One could be just what the other needed.
There are three rather large caveats to this. The first is the Blackhawks need to find a way to make it to the Western Conference Final without him, which is a tall task. The second is Kane needs to avoid any setbacks in his recovery, far from certain even in this age of modern medicine. The third is post-injury Kane won't necessarily resemble the Kane who led the league in points when he got hurt, rust and all.
However, in the search for a silver lining, it's possible one exists.
The severity of his injury makes it easier for Bowman to improve the roster, which needed improving even before Chicago lost its top point scorer. Putting Kane on LTIR cleared $6.3 million cap space. There is no salary cap in the playoffs. The general thinking has been Bowman would navigate the team’s salary cap restraints and acquire a defenseman (looking at you, Jeff Petry) at the deadline, and that would be that. Kane to LTIR changes all of that.
Whereas earlier this week, Bowman had roughly $1 million to presumably shore up the team’s sagging blue line, he now has more than $5 million he can be use to bolster both the blue line and a forward corps that hasn’t been receiving production from its bottom six.
Cam Atkinson, Curtis Glencross, Chris Stewart and Antoine Vermette have all been mentioned as potential forward adds and would be welcomed additions. Hello, secondary scoring. Same applies to Petry, Zbynek Michalek, Kimmo Timonen and Keith Yandle along the blue line. Hello, clean defensive zone exits.
Plenty of high-end skill guys are still being trotted out on a nightly basis. Marian Hossa is back to producing like his old self. Kris Versteeg has played well since his return. Patrick Sharp played his best game in months on Tuesday; maybe that wasn’t just an aberration. Kane’s absence theoretically creates the hole in the top-six coach Joel Quenneville said Teuvo Teravainen needed. Let’s see what the kid’s got -- he certainly showed more flashes of his potential Thursday night against Florida. He's raw and has plenty of room for improvement, but the dynamic, highlight reel playmaking ability is undeniably there.
Meanwhile, Sharp, Andrew Shaw and Ben Smith’s shooting percentages are due for substantial market corrections, just as Hossa’s did weeks ago. The hope is that everyone *finally* ratchets up the intensity in Kane’s absence, as they did in Thursday night's win, and this on-ice adversity consumes the attention from rumored off-ice distractions.
Make a pair of moves, survive without Kane, and suddenly it’s late May. He’s back and this team is the best it’s been all season.
Winning two rounds without Kane would be as impressive as anything this franchise has done in this renaissance era. The Blues are deeper and more skillful than in years past. The Predators lead the NHL in points and have that Pekka Rinne guy in net. Advancing one round this year is a pretty tall task, even with Kane. Without him, the Blackhawks are no longer the favorites in the Central. They're still a threat, though. They have a goalie who has stolen series before, and acquiring a defenseman would give them as good of a top-two pairings as anyone. Offense shouldn't suddenly be hard to come by. It's not like this team depends on power play goals anyways.
Maybe this does serve as a rallying point for the rest of the team to get back on track, and they again escape the Central victoriously. Or maybe this team really was too flawed to begin with, and wasn’t going anywhere even with Kane.
What we do know is that Kane cannot be replaced. The guy was firmly in the Hart Trophy discussion before getting hurt, and that caliber of player can’t be acquired. But this isn’t about replacing anybody. This is about improving multiple weaknesses.
The unique opportunity to accomplish just that wasn’t available before Kane’s injury.