CHICAGO – A wise person once said, “No decision is still a decision.”
We have a tendency, us silly humans, to keep pushing off the most uncomfortable, the most daunting, the most unpleasant tasks in our lives until the last minute.
Filing our taxes. Packing up to move to a new apartment. Initiating a difficult conversation with someone close to us.
We require deadlines to spur action.
And now, with the thick red circle around March 3 closing in like a mean seven-foot defenceman, the ticking is sounding louder than “Chelsea Dagger” at United Center in the mid-2010s.
Despite early interest from both the Rangers and Maple Leafs, New York opted for power forward Vladimir Tarasenko and Toronto added two-way centre Ryan O’Reilly instead, taking care of business a couple weeks ahead of the pack.
Someone had to decide.
If you have time, don’t abuse it.
Kane — credit for his candour — publicly expressed remorse that the door to New York and a reunion with his favourite linemate, Artemi Panarin, had closed.
Surely, the superstar must have wondered, if he had made a choice to waive his no-movement clause quicker, he could’ve been an option.
Maybe it’s the nagging effect of his hip injury, the seriousness of which Kane insists is “overblown,” but Kane’s four-game point drought, his longest dry spell in five years, overlapped the Tarasenko deal.
Kane went minus-5 and looked like a shadow of his prime self through most of last week. The man who exploded for 92 points in 2021-22 is on pace for just 59 in 2022-23 — his softest total in any 82-game season. And Kane’s minus-27 rating is the third-worst mark in the league.
Prior to the Blackhawks’ win in Ottawa Friday, Kane was asked if the uncertainty around his future is affecting his play.
“Maybe like subconsciously,” he replied, before busting his slump with a pair of goals.
“But I don’t think it’s anything that I think about when I’m on the ice. You’re trying to go out there, you’re trying to play well, and you don’t really think about that other stuff when you’re playing.”
Blackhawks coach Luke Richardson describe Kane and Jonathan Toews as “pretty quiet and stoic” and consummate professionals.
“I wouldn’t know if anything’s weighing on their minds. It’s none of my business. I’m here for them, and they know that,” Richardson said.
“When it comes to the later part of your career, you’re always trying to talk yourself into playing your best, being your best, because you never know when it’s going to be over, whether it’s total career or in that particular organization. You become a little more conscious and aware and don’t take it for granted.”
If we frame the trade deadline as a game of musical chairs, the seats for impact forwards are getting snatched up while the once-mighty Blackhawks hem and haw.
Where to sit? Do we even bother uprooting our families to participate? Is the desire for a fourth ring strong enough to go chasing in Dallas or Winnipeg? Edmonton or Carolina? Vegas, baby, maybe?
What we know for certain is that Kane and Toews — who hasn’t played since Jan. 28 and is dealing with an illness — will meet with superagent Pat Brisson, architect of their twin $84-million mega contracts, this week and devise a plan.
The 34-year-old players hold all leverage here, and 34-year-old general manager Kyle Davidson will do his best to accommodate their wishes. The $10.5-million cap hit is huge, but the base salary ($2.9 million) is relatively tiny, prorated, and can get chopped with retention. If there’s a will, there’s a way.
This is Claude Giroux jumping from Philadelphia to Florida in ’22.
This is Taylor Hall steering his way to Boston in ’21.
Save for one major difference: Kane and Toews don’t need to hunt down the Stanley Cup. Three banners hang at home because of them. Their sweater numbers will one day flap alongside. A statue out front seems about right, too.
“As a young guy, you think you’re going to be in this league forever, and it’ll go on forever, and it really doesn’t. It goes by fast,” Richardson said.
“They’re probably at that stage where it’s gone by fast, they’ve accomplished a lot, and they should be proud of it. I’m sure, if I was playing as a player in this organization, every time I stepped on this ice and that national anthem, I’d be pretty excited. I think that brings you back to life and realize where you are at that moment, and I think they’ll enjoy that.”
If they want to ride out the winter on Davidson’s tank, quietly eat their L’s and be good mentors to the young players in the organization, they can.
“He’s a leader in the locker room. Especially when Taser isn’t around, everyone looks to him. And I know it’s tough,” said Max Domi, who idolized Kane in his youth and now counts him as a close buddy. “Everyone gets frustrated when we’re losing. No one wants to lose. Definitely not him. He’s one of the most competitive guys every night.
“So, we’ve just got to do a better job of helping him out. He’s handling it great. And selfishly, I hope he stays. But whatever happens, I hope it’s best for him.”
Maple Leafs captain John Tavares, who knows a thing or two about leaving your original team, is friendly with both Kane and Toews. Tavares believes they’ll try to do what’s best for the organization, which could retain salary and recoup useful draft picks in event of a trade.
“Throughout their time in Chicago, they’ve had a lot of success and obviously been such a staple for the franchise. So, I don’t think they really ever thought it was going to possibly come to this. But just the way they’ve been talking about it, handling this situation now, (a trade) is becoming more and more likely,” Tavares said.
Auston Matthews, another Kaneianc-turned-peer, considers the image of the playmaker wearing a different sweater.
“It’d be a little weird. But I think it’s been weird not seeing him in the playoffs, too,” Matthews said. “Obviously a little bit of a rebuild for them the last few years, but you never know what can happen. He’s an amazing player, great guy, and he just wants to play hockey and compete.”
Kane will suit up Sunday night against the Maple Leafs in Chicago’s third-last home game before the deadline passes.
When no decision will have become his decision.
“It’s exciting to play in front of this crowd. I think you’ll probably cherish these (three) games a little bit more before the deadline, just not knowing what’s going to happen,” Kane said.
“I’ve always loved playing at the United Center in front of the crowd here. You kind of wish you had a little bit more time here this month, but it is what it is. So, cherish all these games.”