Love him or hate him, there isn’t a player on the Chicago Blackhawks more polarizing than Patrick Kane.
During the Hawks’ 23-game point streak to begin the 2013 campaign, Kane made headlines on several fronts. His on-ice play has been spectacular, and his demeanor after scoring goals has been critiqued. He also weighed in on numerous topics, including his thoughts on the Chicago Blackhawks-Miami Heat comparisons by ESPN.
Despite all of those types of discussions, there is only one that is really worth having as the Hawks approach the halfway point of their season tonight against the Colorado Avalanche. It's whether or not Kane is the front runner for the Hart Trophy, given to the “player adjudged most valuable to his team” by the members of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association.
Statistically, Kane has to be part of the discussion. He has 12 goals, which is tied for third in the league behind Steven Stamkos and John Tavares, and added 15 assists, putting him in a tie for seventh in the league with 27 points. Add to that his +11 rating (albeit not an ideal demonstration of defensive ability, though it does help show the aggressiveness that Kane has played the game on that side of the puck this season) and his five power play tallies, and you have a solid resume for the writers to consider.
Deeper than any individual numbers, Kane’s clutch play at critical junctures could resonate with voters the most. One need look no further than the team’s past two games against Detroit and Minnesota for examples of this trait. On Sunday, Kane was the one who put the puck past Jimmy Howard to tie the game with two minutes left in the third period, and then was the only skater to score in the shootout that followed. Against the Wild, Minnesota was making a comeback, cutting a three-goal deficit down to one, when Kane positioned himself perfectly for a rebound off a Patrick Sharp shot to pot a goal that ended the rally and iced the game.
Finally, there is the argument that in order to qualify as “valuable,” you must be instrumental to your team’s overall success. If that is a metric that voters keep in mind when voting, then Kane definitely is near the top of the heap. The Blackhawks have the best record in the league and having a point-per-game guy like Kane on the ice for 20 minutes a contest is a big reason why.
Just as there are many factors working in Kane’s favor, there are a few working against him. A couple potential wet blankets on his candidacy include the depth of the talent surrounding him and the big names in the Hawks lineup. Yes, Sidney Crosby has Evgeni Malkin and James Neal stealing some of his thunder, but Kane has to deal with guys like Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp being on the team. Add to that the notoriety the third and fourth lines for the Blackhawks have gotten, and you have the potential for Kane’s season to be drowned out a bit by all the other noise surrounding the team.
Another thing working against him is his status, or lack thereof, among the team’s leaders. Crosby is obviously considered one of the best leaders in the league, which elevates his standing in the eyes of voters. Kane, on the other hand, plays with Toews who is also in that upper echelon of leadership, so that could have a detrimental effect on the way that voters perceive his impact on the Blackhawks.
Ultimately, Kane should be considered the frontrunner, albeit with a slim lead, for the Hart. The fact that his team is the best in the league is a huge boost to his candidacy, and his impact on games translates well into highlight reels, which is how a good number of writers see news about certain players. His brashness may turn some of them off, but ultimately his talent should shine through, and the two-horse race between him and Crosby for the Hart should be one for the ages.