Denis Savard fathered Patrick Kane’s style, so it’s no surprise that he loves the player like a son.
“You get to meet him, you get to know him, and you’re gonna love him like he’s your son or your brother. He’s a great kid. He’s done a lot of great things for Chicago,” says Savard, a 52-year-old Hall of Famer. “And I always remind people of this: Patrick Kane comes to play every night.”
For the first time since the Chicago Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup-winning season of 2009-10, Kane produced at better than a point-per-game rate in the 47 games he came to play in 2013. His 23 goals and 32 assists in this chopped-short season were good enough for fifth overall in NHL scoring — and Kane averaged at least 50 seconds less ice time per game (20:03) than the four guys ahead of him in the race.
While Chicago’s multidimensional captain, Jonathan Toews, has taken some heat this postseason for producing nary a goal and only three assists in the team’s first eight playoff contests, Kane’s output has maintained. No. 88 has eight in eight.
Savard is an official ambassador for the Presidents' Trophy-winning Blackhawks and an unofficial ambassador for "Kaner," whose fantastic year has been attributed by some to personal growth after an off-season that saw him party a little too hardy. But Savard, Kane's first NHL coach, stands by the 24-year-old -- insisting the extracurricular activities have been overblown.
"He doesn’t have an issue off-ice, because he comes to play. Those numbers wouldn’t be as good as they are if he had an issue off the ice. And last time I checked, in 2010 he scored the Stanley Cup-winning goal," Savard says. "Being on the big stage, people will make things up, they’ll talk about about different things. Of course he had some good times. He’s no different than any of us. You need some time to relax, to let loose once in a while, and maybe he did. But that’s part of life.”
Savard would know where Kane's head is at better than most; the two skill-first Blackhawks greats -- one present, one past -- stay in touch through their smartphones. (“He ain’t answering his phone too often, but he’ll do the text stuff,” Savard says.)
But their bond digs deeper than tapping out "good luck" on a touchscreen. A young Kane memorably cried back in 2009 when Savard was fired as Chicago's coach. "It was definitely a love relationship, where he just wanted to get the best out of me," Kane said at the time. And Savard thinks so highly of Kane, he believes either Kane (a darkhorse Lady Byng nominee) or Toews (a Selke candidate) deserve the Hart Trophy this year.
“They played a full season, both of them. Not that Sidney (Crosby) is undeserving, but he missed a quarter of the season," Savard says of the NHL's most valuable player award. "One of those two should get it. They finished first overall.”
Where Kane comes in as a runner-up, however, is popularizing the spin-o-rama -- Savard's trademark move from the '80s. And the inventor plans to collect his royalties.
“I always tell Kaner: ‘Kaner, here’s the deal. At the end of the year, you’re gonna get a bill in the mail. Make sure you pay up, OK?’" Savard lets out a laugh. "People have asked me, ‘Did you teach him that?’ No, not at all. He’s done that by himself. It’s just a reaction. When you play, you learn as a young boy to protect the puck. And you’d rather have your back to the player when he charges at you defensively. That’s how the spin-o-rama came about, and we kinda think alike. I’ve had a chance to coach him, and I know where he’s coming from. He’s done a great job with it.”
Patrick Kane, the No. 1 pick of the 2007 NHL draft, holds up his jersey as he is introduced to the media by then Chicago Blackhawks head coach Denis Savard, June 25, 2007, in Chicago. (AP/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Sixteen years after retirement, Savard still attends almost every Blackhawks game. So when he says the 'Hawks, who trail the seventh-seeded Detroit Red Wings in the Western Conference semifinal, aren't playing their best hockey yet, you believe him.
“I don’t know if there’s extra pressure (being Presidents’ Trophy champs), but they got a target on their back as No. 1 overall. Teams want to beat them, but they’ll be okay. They’re fun to watch,” says Savard, who could well own a patent on Fun to Watch. “I think they’d tell you as a group they need to play better. This is playoffs. It’s a new season."
With new heroes.
Despite the heaps of praise Savard scoops on Kane, he doesn't see any of the Hawks' top-six forwards as being the key skaters in this tournament. The third and fourth lines have been clutch for the Boston Bruins and Detroit Red Wings, and Savard expects the same from Chicago's bench.
“Any team, the difference makers are going to be the third- and fourth-line guys. The first and second lines will take care of each other. The end of the day, the guys who will score the big goals are those guys. The reason I like our team, we have that depth. Our fourth line is able to score against any team on any given night. We have (Viktor) Stalberg, (Bryan) Bickell and (Andrew) Shaw – pretty good line.”
True. But we can think of a couple guys who could skate circles around them.