By Chris Block
Patrick Kane returns tonight for the Blackhawks, seven weeks to the day since surgery to repair his fractured left collarbone. Of course, Kane’s return coincides with Game 1 of the Western Conference Quarter-Final series in Nashville against the Predators.
Original projections for Kane’s return were pegged by Blackhawks lead medical physician Dr. Michael Terry at 10 to 12 weeks.
Kane was medically cleared to return to action on Monday, less than 7 weeks since the surgery.
But who cleared Kane?
The Blackhawks released a short, and peculiar statement on Monday that was worded quite interestingly, evidently by Terry himself.
The following statement was issued [Monday April 13th] by Chicago Blackhawks Head Team Physician Dr. Michael Terry:
“Patrick Kane suffered a broken left clavicle on February 24, and underwent successful surgery to repair the fracture on February 25. Patrick has been working extremely diligently with his rehabilitation and has recently returned to full-contact practice without any difficulty.
After discussions with Patrick and the team, and examining Patrick today, we collectively feel it is appropriate, with minimal risk, for him to return to full participation.”
That’s an incredible final sentence, there.
Take from that what you wish, but Terry himself, in his own wording, is distancing himself from this decision to a degree in his quoted statement in noting that team officials and Kane were also involved in this declaration of ‘medical clearance’.
It’s one of the more weird medical clearances you’ll read, unless John McDonough or Stan Bowman have medical degrees and practices that we are unaware of. It’s a surgically repaired, fractured bone. In general, this should be the attending doctor’s call.
If Kane was medically cleared free and ready to go, there wouldn’t be any more risk attached to his being cleared to play than there is for any of the other 19 Blackhawks who will dress to play in tonight’s game.
Should the Hawks be questioned further about Terry’s statement, noting that this decision was not Doctor Terry’s, and his alone, I’m sure the Blackhawks would deflect inquiries to that “minimal risk” portion of that statement by saying something along the lines of ‘there’s always risk when you step on the ice.’
But that wouldn’t explain why Terry felt the need to add that into his statement, or why Terry, evidently, doesn’t solely stand behind Kane’s clearance.
Every time a coach, or front office official is asked about the status of a player’s injury, invariably that individual will respond saying “that’s up to the doctors to decide.”
Did Dr. Michael Terry decide in this instance? His statement causes reason for doubt.
The Blackhawks have unquestionably missed Kane the past seven weeks. He was having an MVP caliber season at the time he went down and there’s no doubting Kane is in the conversation when it comes to best hockey player in the world.
It’s a great thing to have him back because he’s one of the most exciting players in the game and he lifts the Hawks from being just another playoff team with a chance to a Cup favorite in many people’s eyes.
But at what risk? And how are we defining minimal?
Kane’s return is coming three weeks ahead of Dr. Terry’s original timetable. Minnesota Wild sniper Jason Zucker had the same injury and returned on April 7th against the Hawks.
I’ll avoid the conspiracy theorist’s suggestion that the Hawks knew Kane’s timetable was much shorter than the 10-12 week projection, but they went with the extended timetable so they could use the collective bargaining agreement’s long-term injury cap relief clause to beef up for the postseason without any serious inquiry from the league or objection from another NHL club. I suppose that’s possible, but I don’t buy that.
If we Kane and Zucker have the same injury and we assume Kane’s long-term prognosis is much better off holding off a return until the 8 week mark, what does that say about the Blackhawks front office and coach’s confidence in this group they have assembled and guided without Kane? I’m certain Kane wants to play and believes he feels well enough to play tonight. It’s the doctor’s job to make the best decision for him, though, as it would be in the case of a doctor overseeing the health and rehabilitation of any person reading this.
Every injury is unique to some degree. Brian Campbell suffered a collarbone fracture in March of 2010 when Alex Ovechkin shoved him from behind into the boards and Campbell returned for Game 3of the Nashville series, less than six weeks from his injury. Campbell didn’t look right until later in the next round in the Vancouver series. Was that way too soon? Probably, but only Campbell, the Hawks and their medical staff know for sure.
Campbell was a second-pairing defenseman. A key component in that Hawks’ Cup team, Campbell was, but he’s comparable to Kane.
Joel Quenneville likes to double-shift Kane, who was averaging 22 minutes per night in the weeks leading up to his February 24th injury against Florida. Kane also skated 22 minutes per game in the season series with Nashville.
His workload itself makes a premature return more than just a “minimal” risk.
Is it that the Blackhawks are that unconfident in their team heading into the playoffs? That they can’t manage three or four games of this series without Kane and still make it out of the first round?
This is still a group packed with All-Stars, Olympians and Cup winners that managed to have the least goals against in the NHL. There have been warning signs and the past two months haven’t been pretty, but Nashville slide into the postseason was even uglier.
There’s no questioning the incredible talent and value of Patrick Kane. However, is the Blackhawks front office undervaluing the rest of the team, or are they wise enough in writing off a Kane-less cast of 2015 Blackhawks?
Due to the additions of Antoine Vermette and Kimmo Timonen at the trade deadline, the 2014-15 Chicago Blackhawks are a salary cap upper limit team even without Patrick Kane. Consider that. This team isn’t trusted to win a couple games against the Predators without Kane? What an admission that is on the part of the organization, if that indeed is the case.
This is a group, Quenneville included, that blew a chance at the Central Division crown, and an opportunity to overtake Nashville for home ice in the first round in the last week of the season. That four-game losing streak to close out the regular season cost them home ice in at least the first round and potentially millions of dollars the Blackhawks could have earned in hosting additional playoff home games. Don’t kid yourself, that matters, even if the Hawks tell you they somehow ‘lose’ money hosting playoff games.
Whatever the risk is in fast-laning Kane’s recovery, it comes off as a calculated gamble on the part of the front office, who apparently stepped in and were a part of this decision, for better or worse.