The Chicago Blackhawks’ worst nightmare came to pass on Tuesday evening, as Patrick Kane was sent crashing into the boards, labored off the ice and did not return. News came Wednesday that the Blackhawks have placed the NHL’s leading scorer on the long-term injured reserve, which likely means his regular season is through.
With Kane’s injury, the Blackhawks lose their current leader in goals and assists, one of the most dynamic offensive players in the sport and the type of game breaking talent that the team could use down the stretch.
Where does Chicago go from here? Can the team succeed with the loss of Kane, and what will the impact be on the lineup?
Regarding Kane’s injury, some reports have him sidelined as few as six weeks. Others have him out up to 10. There are more, still, that say Kane could be out more than 10 weeks, in which case hug the nearest Blackhawks fan and tell them everything is going to be all right.
For the Blackhawks, the first move came shortly after the announcement of Kane’s move to the LTIR, the recalling of top prospect Teuvo Teravainen. The 20-year-old Finn will move into the lineup and try to make up for some of Kane’s lost punch, but it’s nearly impossible to replace the thigns that Kane can do on the ice.
However, what Teravainen can do that Kane cannot is play down the middle or on the wing. That coach Joel Quenneville can move Teravainen around in the lineup means it gives him more flexibility. Some Chicago fans will tell you that more flexibility with how to blend lines is the last thing Quenneville needs, but when you’re missing a player like Kane being able to shuffle the deck until you find something that fits is important.
If Quenneville goes with Teravainen at center, it will give the Blackhawks an offensive option on their top three lines. If they put him on the wing, there are even more possibilities.
On the power play, Teravainen is also likely to get the chance to prove exactly what he can do for the team. In 15 games this season, he’s only skated 1:31 seconds with the extra man – yes, that’s total time – but Quenneville will likely want to move another playmaker into the spot now vacated by Kane’s injury.
Since returning from injury in December, Patrick Sharp has struggled mightily. He’s goalless in 12 games and has just one point in his last 10 outings. Brad Richards isn’t the most fleet of foot pivot in the league, so putting Teravainen – who is younger, faster and whose playmaking ability is what makes him such an attractive prospect – on a line with Sharp and Richards could also be an option. That would allow Kris Versteeg to slide down onto a line with Bryan Bickell and Andrew Shaw, or allow a mixing of the bottom six to create lines out of Versteeg, Bickell, Shaw, Ben Smith, Marcus Kruger, Joakim Nordstrom and, when he suits up, Dan Carcillo.
None of this is to say Tervainen is Kane or that Kane-like performance should be expected of the young man. Rather, it’s to point out that Teravainen has a considerable amount of skill and will be given his best opportunity this time around to show what he can do.
Smith, whose offensive production has been ever more stunted than Sharp’s, could also see some time up the lineup. He’s responsible defensively, something that Quenneville loves, and has offensive upside. That he’s been snakebitten this season shouldn’t be a concern for the Blackhawks at a time like this. He’s been a fixture in the bottom-six this season, but his best offensive production came in 2013-14 when he was driving play with the top lines.
The Blackhawks other option, on top of having Teravainen in the lineup, is making a trade to try and shore up their top-six with Kane on the sidelines. The Chicago Sun-Times’ Mark Lazerus astutely pointed out that sending Kane to LTIR frees up in the neighborhood of $5 million in salary cap space for the Blackhawks.
Chicago has reportedly been interested in Arizona’s Antoine Vermette and Calgary’s Curtis Glencross. Landing either would immediately give the roster a boost offensively, no matter how small that boost may be compared to what Kane can deliver.
That said, the Blackhawks’ real need is on the blueline and they may be able to use the added cap room to secure a defenseman to help move the puck up ice and out of trouble. Without Kane, who can rag the puck in the offensive zone as well as any forward in the league, Chicago’s offensive zone time might struggle, but an upgrade on defense can help counteract that loss just as much as adding a piece up front.
Even with all the cap space, landing a deadline rental isn’t even a certainty, and that’s not the worst thing for the Blackhawks, either. While losing Kane is obviously far from ideal, consider that Chicago's roster consists of Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Sharp and the ever-improving Brandon Saad and they have just as many offensive weapons as some of the stronger teams in the league. Kane is the piece that put them over the top in most circumstances, but without him they’ll need their secondary scorers to step up.
While things look awfully bleak at the time being without Kane, the Blackhawks are blessed in that they may be one of the teams that is best positioned to lose an offensive star. Teravainen should help, Smith can help and Sharp is bound to turn it on at some point. If the defense can figure it out, this may not be the end of Kane’s 2014-15 campaign.