What’s going on with Chicago Blackhawks superstar forward Patrick Kane is something that can be bandied about 10-ways from Monday to Sunday.
By Nick Adams
The Kangaroo Court of Public Opinion (KCPO) has already charged, tried and convicted Chicago Blackhawks’ prized forward Patrick Kane. According to many fans and critics, he’s a rapist, he should be suspended from the league, and he should be taken out back and shot summarily.
Fortunately for “Kaner,” law enforcement and the courts still see the alleged sexual assault case surrounding events that took place at his off-season home in Hamburg, NY on Aug. 1 as an open investigation. Unfortunately for Kane, the Blackhawks and the NHL are in full control of the proverbial “other shoe” that has simply failed to drop to this point.
Kane has not been formally charged with any criminal act(s). It is very possible that he won’t be, but it is very possible that he will be. His accuser’s identity remains tightly guarded, but his accuser isn’t the would-be plaintiff here – the State of New York is.
Formal charges would come in the form of a grand jury indictment, but the inexplicable, last minute postponement of his grand jury presentation (neither Kane’s nor his accuser’s camp claim to have requested it) originally scheduled for Sep. 8 and subsequently rescheduled to a date TBD have thus far pushed out the timeline on word of those charges. Per the Chicago Tribune, Erie County DA, Frank Sedita III offered no explanation for the postponement. It seems likely that short of DNA testing results, which have since come back with positive responses in all but the necessary places, there wouldn’t have been much to go on other than witness accounts – which are specious at best.
As of Sep. 18, Kane is at preseason training camp in South Bend, IN with his teammates. An afternoon presser Thursday at Notre Dame’s Compton Family Ice Center gave an eager press corps a surprisingly direct opportunity to address Kane in the open. Kane was allowed by the club field direct questions from reporters. He was none-too-shockingly rather curt and contrite regarding the case in an appearance which Larry Brooks of the New York Post called “tone deaf.” He apologized to his team, family and friends for the media hype he has drawn over all of this and didn’t offer much beyond that save to say “I am confident I will be absolved.”
But are the Blackhawks?
Blackhawks President John McDonough is a PR craftsman. For now, he and his front office see utility in standing with their $10.5MM/yr asset. Earlier this month, reports surfaced regarding a number of teams’ interest in Kane as a trade target. Very obviously, his perceived value is dropping faster than gravity would like. Nothing has come of any trade chatter and nothing likely will. If anything happens to Kane contractually, a trade would be amongst the best outcomes he could hope for, thanks in large part to recent precedents set by another prominent NHL franchise of recent Stanley Cup success: the Los Angeles Kings.
Three separate events in the past nine months have put the Kings their players’ off-ice antics and the NHL very much under the searing hot-lamp scrutiny of the KCPO. First and least impactful was Jarett Stoll’s Las Vegas arrest for possession of cocaine and MDMA. His contract was up, his numbers were down, the Kings weren’t re-signing him and all he did was screw himself by being caught in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong things in his pockets. He has since signed with the New York Rangers on a one-year $800K deal and continues to date Erin Andrews. Mike Richards and Slava Voynov, however, are two different stories whose respective fates form a convergent narrative that will directly, or indirectly inform the fate of Patrick Kane in the NHL.
Voynov was arrested on domestic abuse charges in Redondo Beach, CA on Dec 15 2014. He is alleged to have fought with his wife, first punching her at a party, then returning home with her, to have continued the dispute using physical force. When authorities arrived at the Voynov residence there was what Nate Fenno of the LA Times reported “lots of blood.” Voynov was immediately suspended by the league and prevented from participation in team activities.
The Kings shortly thereafter be fined $10K by the league for trying to sneak him into a practice. The Kings’ GM, Dean Lombardi’s comments after that revealed that perhaps the Kings hadn’t taken the event too seriously until the league fine.
Per Deadspin, he offered the following comment:
“Quite frankly, I’m beyond caring about reinstatement or cap relief…My biggest concern is that if he is charged with a felony, this one incident could jeopardize Slava’s entire career.”
Well, he was charged with a felony and for now, at least, his NHL career is over. Voynov pled no contest to a lesser misdemeanor charge, served 90-days’ confinement and was taken into custody by ICE officials upon his release. Effective Wed, Sept 17th, Voynov has “self departed” from the Kings and the NHL, announcing his plans to return to Russia as soon as he is cleared to do so. The announcement came concurrently with the Kings’ announcement that they were voiding his contract.
That’s the second Standard Player Contract (SPC) this season that the Kings have managed to terminate prematurely and with what appears to be the blessing of the league.
Voynov’s case has an atmospheric impact on Kane’s due to its domestic assault bent. There is topical cross-current there that even non-sports fans would and have reacted to. It fuels comment and opinion on NHL player misconduct in a very timely manner as it relates to thought on Kane’s predicament. However, the third and most functional lever waiting to be pulled on Kane is the Kings’ SPC termination that of forward Mike Richards, the infamous “material breach” contract-out.
As of June 29 of this year, Richards had cleared unconditional waivers. No one wanted any part of a contract which still owed him ~$22MM/5 in the wake of having been particularly ineffective and having spent a good portion of his season riding a bus in the AHL. The Kings were thought to be on the hunt for an out on his contract and it was widely assumed that he’d be bought out at a cap hit of about $1.3MM annually for the remaining term of his contract. When Canadian authorities detained him on June 17th at a border crossing for possessing what turned out to be inappropriately packaged oxycodone (for which he did have a prescription), Lombardi didn’t take too long to act.
After reportedly discussing the issue with some other GMs at the entry draft on 26-27 June, his office announced that Richards’ SPC was being terminated for what was called a “material breach of contract.” It was a brash move by a front office looking to free up cap space and the NHLPA wasn’t happy about it.
Barring formal charges and with very little publicly available information to go on, an NHL franchise almost automatically dropped a player who was owed a lot of money. Per league bylaws, the NHLPA had sixty days to file a formal grievance, which they did, but as they did it, the Manitoba RCMP also handed down formal charges on Richards, which essentially obviated said grievance. Richards failed to appear for a Sep. 10 hearing in Emerson, Manitoba and his case has been adjourned until December.
The particulars notwithstanding, there are some basic similarities between Kane’s circumstances and Richards’ which will likely come into play should McDonough decide that the weight of Kane’s baggage is getting too heavy to carry in addition to his contract.
When his SPC was terminated, he had been detained, but not formally charged. This obtains with Kane.
The circumstances surrounding his detainment were initially unclear and details were not made fully available until his arrest on Aug. 25. Kane is in this window right now and the grand jury postponement has lengthened it.
The Kings killed Richards’ his contract, anyway, and then sat back and waited for the NHLPA’s grievance to be filed and/or for official charges from the RCMP. The grievance arrived and so did the charge, with the latter effectively dousing the former. The ‘Hawks have not done this, yet, opting instead to publicly align with the player. McDonough’s messaging prowess likely tells him that isolating Kane from the team is more distracting than having him present and visible to his teammates, fans and the press at the ‘Hawks open practices.
All of that windy explaining boils down to this: recent precedent within the NHL empowers (if not emboldens) the Chicago Blackhawks to terminate Patrick Kane’s SPC under a similar quotation of material breach of contract. Should they do so, public opinion would support the move, the NHLPA would be powerless to block or reverse the move and the NHL will likely suspend Kane immediately via Article 18-A of the current CBA as it pertains to players finding themselves under criminal investigation: “The league may suspend the Player pending the League’s formal review and disposition of the matter where the failure to suspend the player during this period would create substantial risk of material harm to the legitimate interests and/or reputation of the League.”
If this were anyone but Patrick Kane (or maybe Sidney Crosby – who would never cross Lord Lemiuex like Kane has the Hawks…repeatedly), the NHL would likely have already moved to suspend the player. But there’s a lot of money riding on Kane’s presence in NHL games. He’s one of the marquee players in the league, he’s the only active player with 90+ playoff points sice 2009, a Conn Smythe & Calder winner and a guy with a Cup winning goal on his CV. The Hawks are one of the league’s marquee franchises and Chicago’s market is anything but small. The NHL is wisely letting the Blackhawks take the lead in handling this until/unless it gets so out of hand that they have to step in and act. That moment may be coming.
Viewing Kane’s predicament in this light makes discussing potential trades rather moot. It’s clickbait and nothing else. In fact, I’ll just go ahead and say this: Kane, with his spanking new obscenely lucrative contract, is basically un-tradable to all but a very few teams with the cap space (or maneuverability to create it) to accommodate him – that, combined with his penchant for exposing himself to league suspensions do not scream anything but “very expensive liability.” If Kane’s going to play n the NHL, it will be with the Blackhawks. If not, he may as well dial up Slava Voynov’s ICE case handler and inquire about visas.
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