Patrick Kane, grand jury on training camp collision course; more notes

Resumption of grand jury hearings in the Patrick Kane rape investigation could keep the Blackhawks star out of training camp.
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Earlier this week, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman told reporters that the league would not rush to judgment on Blackhawks star Patrick Kane, who is under investigation for sexual assault.

“It’s a terrible thing but we’re going to have to watch the process play out and at the appropriate time we’ll make whatever decisions have to be made at the time,” Bettman said.

Gary Bettman: NHL won't rush to judgment on Patrick Kane

That “appropriate time” is fast approaching. The Chicago Tribune is reporting that a western New York grand jury is expected to resume its investigation into Kane after a scheduled session was postponed earlier this week. Sources told the Tribune that the case would be heard in about two weeks, a schedule that puts it in direct conflict with training camp.

The Blackhawks declined to say Thursday if Kane will join his teammates when camp opens in South Bend, Ind., on Sept. 18.

At the time of the postponement, there was speculation that the parties were involved in settlement discussions. But Kane’s attorney, Paul Cambria, told the Tribune that he doesn’t know why the hearing was delayed and that he was not the one to ask for a postponement, which suggests there were no ongoing negotiations.

That doesn’t preclude them from happening during the coming days, but it seems less likely that a private settlement will prevent the NHL from making a decision regarding Kane’s future prior to the start of camp.

No doubt the league is hoping to put that off as long as possible. But with this news it seems highly unlikely that a resolution will come in time for Kane to join his teammates at Notre Dame. It’s simply a matter of when the league decides to make its call.

• While the NHL and the Blackhawks wait on Kane, New Jersey Devils prospect Ben Johnson will be held out of rookie camp and is expected to miss the team’s main camp while he awaits the verdict in his own sexual assault trial.

Rape case settlement likely won't end Patrick Kane's troubles

Johnson, a third-round pick by the Devils in 2012, is accused of grabbing a woman’s hand and forcing her to touch his genitals in the washroom of a bar in Windsor, Ont., where he was playing junior hockey for the Spitfires.

The judge presiding over his case is expected to make her ruling on Oct. 30. Johnson, who split the 2014-15 season between the AHL and the ECHL, might also face additional sanctions from the NHL as well as those two minor leagues at that point.

• There was surprise in some corners last week when it was revealed that Pittsburgh Penguins owners Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle had floated a $750 million asking price for the team.

On the surface it’s not a particularly outlandish fee, at least if the $500 million asking price for an expansion team is taken as the low-water mark for admission to the club. After all the Pens come with a new, state-of-the-art arena along with plenty of land for development opportunities, a dedicated fan base that has filled the house for 377 consecutive games, and a roster that’s blessed with some of the best talent in the league. Compared to what those expansion hopefuls would get for their money, the Penguins seem like a bargain.

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Of course, like any other commodity, the Pens are a bargain only if someone out there sees them that way. And to this point, no one has. Which isn’t altogether surprising for a number of reasons, including how little profit the team actually generates (estimated to be around $15 million annually).

But according to one writer, there might be another issue that’s suppressing interest in the franchise: the lingering concussion issue.

Specifically, the damages the NHL and its teams could be on the hook for as a result of the lawsuits alleging that the league knew, or should have known, about the long-term effects of concussions and that it kept the information from players.

“It’s hard to tell what the upper limit of the liability might be,” West Virginia University sports economist Brad Humphreys told “It could be substantial.”

Fair enough. But would the cloud of nine pending concussion lawsuits be enough to deter a well-heeled potential buyer from living out his dream of sports team ownership? Probably not as much as the fear of what an aging Sidney Crosby might mean to the team’s value five to 10 years down the road.

It's time for the NHL to take a new approach to expansion

And given that it’s widely believed any potential settlement would likely come in at a level lower, possibly much lower, than the $1 billion the NFL paid to settle similar legal action, that’s not an amount that would stop an ownership bid cold. Especially considering that  NHL owners could be on the verge of splitting a $1 billion windfall if, as expected, the league admits two new expansion clubs in the next 12 months.

Huh. You don’t suppose the league’s interest in exploring expansion at this particular time has anything to do with protecting the owners from the financial hit of the inevitable concussion settlement, do you?

• The Russian sports website Championat is reporting that Traktor Chelyabinsk, the franchise for whom Slava Voynov played from 2005 to 2008, is ready to offer him a contract in the event that the Los Angeles Kings defenseman is deported and his NHL contract is nullified.

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But Ivan Senichev, the team’s chairman of the board, warns that a KHL deal won’t be as lucrative as the one Voynov earned as a Stanley Cup champion in the NHL.

“We did not conduct contract negotiations [with Voynov], and I do not think we will be able to repeat the North American conditions,” Semichev said. “But we will do what we can to get a deal done. The contract will be adequate. The value that we can offer him is not always measured in money. Of course, we wish him every success in the U.S., and will do what we can to support him.”

Senichev also suggested that other KHL teams have been in contact about acquiring Voynov, but said “we do not want to sell his rights.”

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