Two points were made abundantly clear at the Patrick Kane/Chicago Blackhawks press conference on Thursday. First, Kane is involved in an ongoing legal matter and everyone involved with the team respects the process.
And second? The organization is unwilling or incapable of understanding the cultural realities of 2015.
In an event that seems destined to leave a permanent black mark on many reputations, the Hawks trotted out president John McDonough, general manager Stan Bowman, coach Joel Quenneville and Kane himself for an accounting of the team’s decision to bring the troubled winger to camp while he remains under investigation for an alleged sexual assault.
“The organization prides itself on trying to make calculated and deliberate decisions based on information we have at the present time,” McDonough said. “We recognize that Patrick Kane is dealing with a very serious situation. Based on our discussions with his legal representatives ... we have decided to have Patrick join us for training camp.”
Kane, looking thoroughly defeated, then read from a prepared statement:
“This has been an incredibly difficult time for many people. I cannot apologize enough for the distraction this has caused my family, my teammates, this incredible organization and of course, our fans. While I have too much respect for the legal process to comment on an ongoing matter I am confident that when all the facts are brought to light, I will be absolved of having done nothing wrong.”
If that was all he was going to say—and honestly, given the circumstances, no one should have expected anything else—Kane probably should have been excused from the dais at that point.
Instead, in an epic PR disaster, he was left up there to take questions, with the stipulation that they be “hockey only.”
Understandably, it did not go well.
Asked if he felt he’d embarrassed the organization, Kane stammered out a scripted apology, repeating the “respect to the legal process” line and saying he appreciated, but could not answer, the question. And so it went with each successive question. Kane asked about being a distraction around his teammates, how Hawks fans might react to him, and even if he’d quit drinking. Each time he did his best Peter Lafleur impression: dodge, duck, dip, dive and dodge.
After a dozen or so questions were deflected, Kane was excused, clearly shaken by the failed exercise. And then the three men remaining on the stage began speaking and turned the event into a total garbage fire.
McDonough actually talked about how the team’s success (he called them “the Camelot Blackhawks”) was based on doing things the right way. There was not a trace of irony in his voice. Bowman reminisced about his days attending Notre Dame. Quenneville gushed about the Fighting Irish football team and about how excited he is to see the prospects from AHL Rockford in camp.
If this had been any other team at any other time, this pep rally pabulum would have been of keen interest to the team’s fans. But no matter how hard they wish it were otherwise, these Hawks don't have the luxury of reveling in last season's successes. They're locked in a here-and-now that is at least partially of their own making. And each cliché about how excited they were to be at Notre Dame and how much work they have ahead of them only served to belittle the nature of the crime that Kane has been accused of committing and underscored the perception problem the team has created for itself by bringing him to camp.
If they didn't get it before, they surely must now. As long as Kane remains under investigation, the black cloud that has been following him will envelop this team. And no matter how many times they politely request that everyone "stick to hockey," it will not go away.
Sadly, the league only doubled down on Chicago’s stance. Shortly after the conference ended, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly issued the following statement to Renaud Lavoie of TVA: “We have been in close contact with the Blackhawks’ organization over the last seven days and given the circumstances as they exist now, we are supportive of the organization’s decision.”
We don’t know if Kane is guilty or innocent, but after today we know this much: The Hawks and the NHL are standing squarely behind Kane.
We’ll see if it is worth it.