Could Patrick Kane actually return for the first round of the playoffs? Buried in his recap of the Blackhawks' loss on Sunday, Chris Kuc of the Chicago Tribune noted that the team hasn't ruled out that possibility. "Tough to say," coach Joel Quenneville told Kuc after the game. "Medical clearance is the hurdle ... That's where it's at."
Kane isn't eligible to return before the playoffs due to salary cap rules, but the only thing stopping him from playing in the first round of the postseason is a recovering collarbone injury. The winger was initially expected to miss 12 weeks and come back near the end of a possible playoff run.
Kane's been back on the ice practicing with the team in a non-contact role, however, leading to speculation that the winger could be back sooner than expected. Quenneville stoked those fires Sunday by declining to make a definitive statement, leaving open the possibility that we could see Kane in a couple weeks.
That's all great, but it's probably worth taking with a grain of salt. (a) We all know how Quenneville likes to deflect questions about injuries. Not hearing a strong statement from the Chicago coach isn't exactly out of character. (b) Returning in the first round wouldn't just be a few days early for Kane, it'd be a few weeks early. You don't often hear about players cracking off 30-40 percent of their recovery timetable.
And that gets to me to another point, which I'm admittedly not too concerned about: Kane shouldn't be rushed back in any way. I have no reason to believe the Hawks will do anything to put Kane's long-term health at risk, but it can't be stressed enough when you're hearing about a guy returning from a major injury weeks early. This is a franchise cornerstone we're talking about, someone who's about to start a historic eight-year contract, and we've seen how important he is to the team's success.
I know we all want to strike while the iron is hot and get another Cup this season when it seems so possible, but I don't want to see a Kane at 85 percent if it means risking next season and beyond. I'm not nearly smart enough to know whether Kane could make the injury worse by returning early -- I just don't even want to have to think about it.
So the Hawks are clearly leaving the door open for an early Kane return, but I'm not holding my breath.