Blackhawks back Patrick Kane for MVP

CHICAGO – Now 30-years-old, Patrick Kane has seemingly done it all.

His NHL career got off to a blazing start in 2008 and he’s never looked back. Over the course of almost 12 years, the illustrious Blackhawks’ top winger has captured a Calder Trophy, an Art Ross Trophy, a Conn Smythe, eight All-Star selections, and of course three Stanley Cups. It speaks volumes that one of the most decorated American-born NHL players ever is playing the best hockey of his career. Yes, even better than his 2015-2016 campaign, when he accrued 106 points and his first ever MVP.

At his meteoric pace, Kane is projected to reach 123 points, shatter all previous career highs, and become the first Blackhawk to record at least 120 points in a season in over three decades.  It’s another level of play some thought Kane couldn’t reach.  A level of play Jonathan Toews emphatically said should be summarily rewarded with another Most Valuanle Player honor.

“You see who won the Hart Trophy last year, and in my book there’s no doubt that he should be taking home some hardware at the end of the season this year,” Toews said after Kane became the seventh NHL player ever to record two separate 20-game point streaks in a career on Friday. Kane joined the company of such Hall of Famers like Wayne Gretzky, Brett Hull, and Mario Lemieux. Ho-hum for a man continuing to transcend past expectations.

Last season, the New Jersey Devils’ Taylor Hall was awarded the Hart Trophy after leading New Jersey to a playoff berth with 93 points. On a pure production basis, Kane has already matched Hall’s point output with 20 games remaining, making Toews’ allusion to Hall quite sound in its application. Meanwhile, the presumed MVP front runner for most of this year has been the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Nikita Kucherov. Kucherov is the NHL’s active point leader (100) and the best player on the league’s best team. It’s a lofty achievement bar for anyone to climb past Kucherov. That Kane is even making it a worthwhile conversation could be seen as an accomplishment in its own right.

Toews’ comments shed a light on his superstar teammate’s elite proficiency to find ways to almost inexplicably make magic happen. They open up a Pandora’s Box of a discussion on what could arguably be hockey’s best player, at least for the moment. At this point, anything Kane accomplishes as he turns toward the second half of his career shouldn’t be surprising. Every time one thinks a decline might be on the horizon, he somehow improves and puts his team on his back. Naturally, another Hart Trophy, as the Blackhawks make a playoff push, isn’t out of the realm of possibility.

The Blackhawks’ captain isn’t the only long-time veteran with a ringing endorsement for Kane’s blooming and impressive MVP resume.

“I don’t think anyone’s playing as good as him right now,” Brent Seabrook said at Saturday’s practice at MB Ice Arena.

“I don’t know if anyone is as important to their team as Kaner is to us. The way he drives our offense, he’s playing both ends of the rink, every time I see him jump over the boards he’s a threat.”

As Kane’s game has ascended over the past two months, so has the Blackhawks’ collective performance. Over their last 13 games, the Blackhawks are a sparkling 10-3. They’ve averaged almost five goals a game in that span and have rarely seen a hurdle they can’t clear en route to sitting firmly in the postseason discussion. Individually, in his last 28 games, Kane has 24 goals and 32 assists and a point in all but one of them. A blistering scoring rate spurred by Kane serves as the main catalyst for the Hawks reemergence in the Wild Card playoff picture.

It’s rarified air for a player of his caliber to show younger stars the ropes. That in itself is perhaps the greatest MVP endorsement: A preeminent example of what it means to simultaneously elevate and teach your teammates.

“You see a guy (Kane) play like that, you want to emulate his game, and you want to be on that level,” said Alex DeBrincat. “Everyone in here wants to be the best player in the game, for him best player in the world. That’s a goal everyone has and watching him is really going to help you.”

It isn’t a stretch to say DeBrincat, who has 34 goals in just his second professional season, has taken after Kane in the most impeccable of fashions. The 21-year-old is on pace to become the 15th Blackhawk to ever score at least 40 goals in a season mostly because of his own efforts. But it’s also because DeBrincat gets to see what a premier, experienced scorer looks like every every night. Kane’s on-ice influence factoring in more than raw offensive production.

How Kane has played this year paints the picture of a special all-timer at the top of his game and at the peak of his powers. It’d be easy to say it’s all downhill from here based on logic. But general logic doesn’t apply to greats who write their own rules. A decline of any kind for Kane would fly in the face of how his entire career has unfolded. If anything, this latest resurgence is more likely the beginning of Kane carving out an even more prolific career well into his 30s.

If Kane isn’t the Hart Trophy frontrunner as he establishes new performance boundaries, don’t tell his reenergized teammates.

“Watching a guy like that’s really going to help you. You see what he does on the ice, you see what he does off the ice, he’s a very unique guy,” DeBrincat said. “He’s definitely got my vote.”

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