Patrick Kane. Untouchable Star? Or Odd Man Out?

Mike SzwajaContributor IOctober 8, 2009

CHICAGO - MAY 22:  Patrick Kane #88 of the Chicago Blackhawks looks on against the Detroit Red Wings during Game Three of the Western Conference Championship Round of the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs on May 22, 2009 at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois. The Blackhawks won 4-3 in overtime.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Only a select few have worn the crown, sat in the throne, served as the king for thousands of the most loyal followers in the land. You can count them on one hand: Hull, Mikita, Payton, Jordan. Kings of Chicago sports.

They all gave the city championships, and in return the city gave them immortality.

  Today, the throne sits empty, waiting for one worthy of wearing the crown to assume his rightful place atop the Chicago sports mountain.

  On Chicago’s West Side sits a boy with great potential, who took his first step last spring with a nifty, playoff series clinching three-goal performance.

  That’s what at stake for Blackhawks star Patrick Kane, and even though he’s so close, he’s so far away.

  In the era of the salary cap, Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman has the challenging task next summer of trying to sign a trio of key free agents, who Blackhawks fans have appropriately dubbed “The Big Three.” That trio includes Kane, co-kid wonder and team captain Jonathon Toews and do-it-all defenseman Duncan Keith.

  Bowman has continually insisted all three will be signed to lucrative, long-term contracts next summer, but it will take some heady salary cap maneuvers to pull it off. If Bowman can only find money for two of the three, who goes?

  Toews is already the captain. Hard to imagine letting a 22-year-old captain walk.

  Keith is the anchor on the blue line, and it’s not easy to find guys like that.

  Who will Kane become? Nobody really knows.

  He’s been a great scorer, who has delivered in crucial situations. But he’s also been known for taking stupid penalties and being completely over matched when he’s not in the offensive third of the ice. Can we blame that on youth? Laziness? Lack of size? All of the above?

  Or will it all be an afterthought? Kane added 15 pounds of muscle over the summer, which seemed to have quite the impression on head coach Joel Quenneville. Kane has cracked Quenneville’s penalty kill rotation, which would have been laughable a year ago.

  And in his first two games of the season against the Panthers last week in Helsinki, Kane was, unquestionably, the best player on the ice. He notched up two goals and two assists in the European double-header.

  He eluded opponents in the neutral zone with skill, speed and strength we had yet to see in him until then. He back checked all the way down the ice. Even his passing seemed even more precise and creative.

  It was a small sample size, but it left no doubt that Kane is better now than he was a year ago. His new challenge will be dealing with being a star. Opposing coaches will have no choice but to start game planning for him, ensuring their best defensemen are on the ice to deal with him.

  True stars don’t care what the game plan is and who’s coming after them, they just keep racking up points. If Kane struggles in this role, he might be the odd man out next summer. If he can handle it without a problem, look out.

  Off the ice, he’s already a star.

  He’s the cover boy for the popular NHL 10 video game.

  At the fan convention in July, teenage girls mobbed him in the hotel lobby like he was a Jonas Brother. Many of those same girls stood outside his exclusive autograph session sobbing because they didn’t have the required admission ticket. His Q&A filled a convention hallnone of the others in that same hall that day were even half full.

  When it comes to jerseys on the backs of Chicago sports fans, 88 is the new 23.

  If Kane can couple his stardom with truly dominating skills on the ice, he’ll demand and deserve Sidney Crosby money (five years, $43.5m). To do it in a market like Chicago, where endorsement deal opportunities are second to none, will mean a paycheck for life.

  A King for life.