It all built up to June 16, 2015.
That was the true zenith of the Patrick Kane era with the Chicago Blackhawks, wasn’t it? Everything that happened in the eight years prior was a steady ascent toward that summit, a trek towards a state of sports euphoria so exhilarating that mere words are powerless in accurately depicting the feeling — it had to be felt, because it could not be explained.
Kane became part of the Blackhawks on June 22, 2007 as the No. 1 overall pick in the NHL Draft, arriving to a franchise that had been ignored for almost a decade due to a woeful on-ice product and a series of moves from those in the front office that did just about everything they could to — successfully! — drive fans away. But Kane’s arrival on the team that fall — along with Jonathan Toews — immediately stoked the dying embers of hockey passion that were still smoldering somewhere in Chicago. Over the next eight years, Kane and Toews and a long cast of others resurrected the hockey club and embarked on a run of success unparalleled in the NHL’s salary cap era. They turned their first postseason appearance into a run to the Western Conference Final — with Kane sending them there by scoring a hat trick against the Vancouver Canucks in Game 6 of that series. A season later, they erased a 49-year drought by winning the franchise’s first Stanley Cup since 1961 — with Kane providing the winning goal, of course.
But that was just the start.
After two early postseason exits in 2011 and 2012, the Blackhawks’ Death Star re-emerged in 2013 with Kane among those at the helm, and the team put together what’s probably the best the best stretch of three seasons in franchise history. There was a second Stanley Cup in 2013, with Kane taking the home the Conn Smythe after dominating that postseason. It was back to the Western Conference Final in 2014 — with Kane scoring two OT winners along the way and damn near carrying the team back to the Cup Final himself while on an all-time heater with linemates Andrew Shaw and Brandon Saad at the end of that ill-fated series against the Los Angeles Kings. In 2015, it was back to the Cup, with Kane delivering once again as the postseason leader in points.
While all of those Blackhawks teams were insanely stacked with talent, the light always seemed to shine brightest on Kane in those years, because of the very nature of how he played the game. His ability to turn mundane-looking moments into highlight-reel goals meant that any time No. 88 was on the ice was a time not to be missed — and his signature goal celebrations didn’t hurt matters, either.
But everything the Blackhawks built in those years, everything that Kane and Co. did during these golden years culminated at the 14:46 mark of the third period of Game 6 of the 2015 Stanley Cup Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
A 3-on-2 that became a 2-on-1 with — who else? — Kane there to finish it off:
This was the point of demarcation: everything that had been building since Kane arrived in Chicago pointed to that crescendo of a Cup-clinching goal. Even the Cups in 2010 and 2013 were precursors to this moment because those two titles had been won on the road. No, this, right here, was the moment we’d been waiting all of our lives for: the Stanley Cup being hoisted by the Blackhawks at the United Center.
What was better than that moment for those in the building or watching on TV? What could possibly top that moment? What could possibly come next?
It all built up to that moment.
And then it all came crashing down.
It started when reports emerged of an alleged incident involving Kane in his hometown of Buffalo. This was not Kane’s first off-ice issue but this one carried a weight the others did not. That fall’s training camp started with a press conference that authored a new textbook on how not do handle situations of that matter. It also included fans erupting in applause when Kane took the ice for practice, a reaction that remains befuddling when placed into the context that he was still the subject of an ongoing investigation into a sexual assault at his home.
Kane was ultimately not charged in that case and went on to have one of the best seasons of his career with a league-high 106 points in 82 games. But the downward trend of the big picture that Kane had been the center of for the last eight years continued to unravel. The Blackhawks lost a seven-game playoff series in 2016 and were swept the next year. Marian Hossa had to stop playing hockey. Brent Seabrook’s injuries took their toll. Niklas Hjalmarsson was traded. Artemi Panarin was traded. The Blackhawks missed the playoffs. Joel Quenneville was fired. The Blackhawks missed the playoffs again. Corey Crawford was not re-signed. Jonathan Toews missed an entire season with an illness. Duncan Keith was traded.
The details of what happened to Kyle Beach and how the Blackhawks attempted to sweep it under the rug were revealed, further staining the legacy that had already been blemished by everything that’d happened with Kane in the summer and fall of 2015.
Alex DeBrincat was traded. Dylan Strome was allowed to walk in free agency. The Blackhawks lost 21 of 23 games. Kane was traded to the Rangers.
It all built up to that moment.
And now it’s long gone.
It’s so long gone that we are now referring to the entire Patrick Kane era with the Blackhawks in the past tense, a fact that will remain deeply unsettling for several weeks. Kane was about five months away from reaching his SIXTEENTH anniversary as a member of the Blackhawks. As a frame of reference, a quick poll of the SCH staff uncovered that, when Kane was drafted, they were at stages of life ranging from just graduated college to just about to elementary school — the latter of which pointing out that they’re now a few months away from graduating themselves, which means that Kane’s career lasted, roughly, as long as an American’s typical educational period.
In that stretch of nearly 16 years, Kane produced enough highlight-reel moments to fuel any nostalgic YouTube vortexes for days, if not weeks. There were so many other players who were vital to the glut of success that but there was a magnetic effect to Kane’s on-ice wizardry, a dynamic style of play that was capable of incredible displays in the blink of an eye that made it impossible to turn away out of fear of missing the next one. It was a career unmatched in Blackhawks history, one that we’ll be re-telling for the next few generations as long as we’re around to share them.
And as this next chapter begins, it’s all authored with the hope that there’s another moment waiting for us all down the road, a moment like the one we all experienced on June 16, 2015, a moment that will forever remain as the pinnacle among a plethora of contenders during the cosmic heights reached during the Patrick Kane era of Blackhawks hockey.