Patrick Kane looks around the Blackhawks locker room with mixed emotions.
On one hand, many of his longtime teammates — his closest friends throughout the greatest heights of his career — are now gone.
Corey Crawford, Brent Seabrook, Andrew Shaw and Duncan Keith have all left the organization in the past year. Even Jonathan Toews is different than the old Toews, having endured a year in “outer space” to potentially return this season.
“It feels different, for sure, especially this year,” Kane said Thursday. “Even last year, ‘Duncs’ was here and ‘Seabs’ was around. Those two guys are such good players, but also their voice carries a lot of weight in the locker room. You’d wake up and be excited to see Seabrook at the rink, just to hear what he had to say — [like] his stupid little jokes all the time. I definitely miss that. But you stay in touch with those guys.”
On the other hand, the new guys brought in to flesh out the Hawks’ reconstructed core have introduced excitement, freshness and renewed belief that the team can re-reach those great heights. Kane described the 2021-22 Hawks as a “relevant team again.”
“It seems like, the way the team is built this year, it can do some special things,” he said. “I was personally really excited about the opportunity to play with Seth Jones. [General manager] Stan [Bowman] had mentioned to me that they were going to go after him, with one year left on his deal. It’s amazing. When they mention something like that and they go and get it done, it’s a great feeling. He’s going to help us so much.”
Kane himself remains the Hawks’ one largely untouched centerpiece. When the 32-year-old winger celebrated his 1,000-career-games milestone last March, well on his way to leading the Hawks in scoring for the sixth consecutive season, he still seemed unaffected by aging.
That immunity has started to change over the past six months, though. An undisclosed yet nagging injury sprang up during the 2021 stretch run, slowing his production from 40 points in the season’s first half to 26 points (including only four goals) in the second half.
And even after a restful offseason — he admitted the first two days of training camp Thursday and Friday were the first times in a while that he’d “skated hard” — that injury continues to hang around.
“It’s something that’s not completely healed,” Kane said Thursday, admitting he did have some worries about it over the summer. “But I’m optimistic with where I’m going, and happy after today’s skate with how I felt.”
Bowman downplayed concerns, pointing out most players feel discomfort in some part of their body at any given time and clarifying Kane’s injury hasn’t and won’t need surgery.
“You want to always feel 100% all the time, so you can be at your best, but if you were to talk to all of our players, it’s rare when they feel 100%,” the GM said. “There’s usually something that’s a little bit off… But Patrick never complained about it at all. He’s one of those guys that just wants to show up and play and not complain about anything.”
The issue also hasn’t prevented Kane from continuing to perfect the nuances of his game.
In his work with trainer Brian Keane this summer, he focused on “weight shifting to deceive the defenders” while skating, as well as “changing the angle and point of attack” of his shot to get pucks through traffic more easily.
The end result should be another season of dangerous, dynamic Kane, taking full advantage of the extra space and support the Hawks’ strengthened lineup — including Jones and apparent new first-line center Tyler Johnson — will offer.
But as he approaches his 15th NHL season, his and the Hawks’ evolution over time has become impossible to ignore.
Lankinen, Hardman on COVID list
Despite being 100% vaccinated, the Hawks will still be affected by the NHL’s COVID-19 protocols this season, and they didn’t have to wait long to realize that.
Goalie Kevin Lankinen and forward Mike Hardman were added Friday to the COVID-19 protocol list, meaning they either tested positive, received an unconfirmed positive or had a close contact test positive.
Goalie plan unclear
With Lankinen and Marc-Andre Fleury established as the Hawks’ NHL goalie rotation this season — “It’s pretty clear right now who the top two guys are,” Bowman said, in case there was any confusion — the Hawks have a dilemma with Malcolm Subban and Collin Delia.
Both will require waivers to be sent to the AHL, and both — particularly Subban — have enough previous NHL experience that another team could be intrigued enough to claim them.
The Hawks could either try to trade one or simply hope they slip through waivers. Bowman seemed to favor the latter plan Thursday.
“We’ll see how it shakes out; we’ll see how health goes,” he said. “You’re going to need to use at least three goalies this year — some years we’ve used four and five goalies — so having depth there is not a bad thing. But we haven’t spent too much time really listing them out in order.”
His reasoning was immediately backed up Friday by Lankinen’s news and by Delia — filling in for Lankinen with the first practice group — leaving the ice in discomfort after some laps.
Prospect goalie Arvid Soderblom is also in camp, but won’t require waivers.
Local TV schedule
NBC Sports Chicago will televise all 69 regular-season Hawks games not already chosen for national TV or exclusive online streaming rights, the team announced Friday.
Five of six preseason games will also air on NBC Sports Chicago, excluding the Oct. 2 game against the Blues in Kansas City (which is radio only).