By Shane Nicholson
This was a moment any clear-minded Blackhawks fan had dreaded since early August: Patrick Kane, behind a microphone, with reporters.
It went as bad as you could expect.
Team President John McDonough led off with an opening statement saying that any questions had to be related to hockey only – eschewing the reason reporters from Chicago and Buffalo and all Canadian points in between had showed up in South Bend in the first place – and closed by saying, “We will have no further comment on this issue at this time.”
He promptly handed it over to Kane to comment further on the issue, reading off a quad-folded single sheet of paper he fished out of his sweatshirt pocket upon entering the room.
Kane read his statement with all the confidence of a middle-school student giving a report on 16th century Franco-Thai relations. All the usual just happy to get back focused on hockey cliches were capped off with a slip of Lord Stanley’s Cup proportions: “I’m confident that once all the facts are brought to light, I will be absolved of doing nothing wrong.”
An awkward rambling Q&A commenced in which Kane didn’t skip a chance to tell every reporter how much he appreciated their questions, even when it was clear that was anything but the case.
All references to the ongoing sexual assault investigation were swept under the rug as Kane answered through gritted teeth. Even questions unrelated to the case – such as Mark Potash asking if Kane would consider giving up drinking – were avoided due to the ever-present “ongoing legal situation.”
He made sure to tell Potash that he “appreciated the question very much.”
McDonough at least acknowledged that it may be time for Kane to re-evaluate his nightlife later in the press conference. Asked if they would seek alcohol counseling for the star winger, McDonough said, “We will deal with that at the appropriate time.”
It’s unclear whether he appreciated the question.
The waters around the investigation have become as muddy as the messaging on display at Thursday’s presser. Rumors of some financial agreement between Kane and the accuser have ate up headlines and column inches galore, none of which means anything to a criminal investigation that could still see charges brought regardless of any exchange of money.
And the Blackhawks themselves have finally shown a dent in the armor, hosting a crisis-situation press conference focused from their end on how successful the organization is. For an organization so dedicated to PR and public image perfection it was a devastating effort.
Hauling Kane out may have been a bit of corporate punishment, much as they did with Corey Crawford in the past. But letting the entire presser go off behind the shield of “we’re here to talk hockey” had a whole lot of Goodell to it and not a lot of satisfactory answers. A statement issued would have sufficed, and would have saved us the image of Kane stumbling through a pre-written bit of nothing, refusing to respond with anything of substance.
It was a mess. It was unnecessary. It was a moment the Blackhawks will look at as say, “What were we thinking?” Despite McDonough’s insistence that he’s not tone deaf to the situation, today showed just the opposite. They wanted to get this day out of the way; they’ve now set themselves up for an ongoing circus as they prepare for the defense of a championship.
It was bad. From start to finish it was bad. “This was a terrible idea by himself, the team and his agent,” an NHL player told Yahoo Sports’ Puck Daddy. “This is doing everything they didn’t want to do.”
It was everything the Hawks didn’t want but ended up being everything it had the potential to be. This “distraction” will not go away; it won’t be ignored. If anything, it will now be magnified to a degree McDonough and coach Joel Quenneville never wanted to see.
The image of Kane as someone above it all will persist, as it has following every unfortunate incident of his career. McDonough’s peerless image has been undone by a player who exists seemingly in a bubble separate from the rest of his team, protected from reality.
Today could’ve been a matter of procedure. It could’ve been a pat on the back for Brent Seabrook becoming a new alternate captain. It could’ve been, “We’re dealing with the Kane situation on an organizational level and will discuss it further as it unfolds.”
Instead, it was a train wreck, and one which McDonough and the rest of the organization will be cleaning up for some time. Except for Kane; he’ll just be concentrating on the hockey.