Could Olympic gold make Patrick Kane most decorated U.S. player ever?
A lot has changed for Patrick Kane since the 2010 Olympics.
At the time the dynamic Chicago Blackhawks sniper took home a silver medal with the U.S. team in his Olympic debut, he was a fresh-faced 21-year-old attempting to establish himself as a potent force at the highest level.
Four years later, Kane is that potent force.
Since last appearing in the Olympics, Kane has won two Stanley Cups – in 2010 and 2013 – with the Blackhawks; in 2013, he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the NHL’s playoff MVP, while in 2010, he became the youngest person to ever score a Stanley Cup-clinching goal in overtime as Chicago ended a 49-year drought without a championship.
Embedded owg_slideshow: Looking at Patrick Kane's decorated career
“I think I am a little more prepared this time,” says Kane of his preparation for the 2014 Olympics.
“I was pretty young last time around. So, I have that experience under my belt, as well as the experience of playing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and being to a couple Cup Finals. That always helps in tournaments like this.”
For Kane, the other thing that helps his Olympic preparations are the developments he’s made as a person. Because there was a time after he broke into the NHL in 2007 as an 18 year old that his unquestioned on-the-ice upside was accompanied by significant questions about his off-the-ice behavior.
These questions were primarily a consequence of an incident in the summer of 2009, two years after he entered the NHL as the League’s top draft pick.
The incident that shaped Kane’s reputation occurred on a summer night in Buffalo, NY, his hometown, when what started out as an innocent night out with friends quickly spiraled into a disaster. In the end, Kane was charged with second-degree robbery, fourth-degree criminal mischief and theft of services for an alleged altercation with a city cab driver over a disputed fare of fewer than 20 cents.
Although Kane was cleared of the charges against him, he was indicted on lesser charges, and seemingly cemented an unflattering image of himself as a troublemaking partier in the minds of hockey fans.
At the time, Kane credited the incident as being a case of him being in “the wrong place at the wrong time.” However, the “party boy” and “troublemaker” labels stuck with him as he continued to be featured in newspaper and Internet tabloids for his off-the-ice behavior.
Joel Quenneville, Kane’s longtime coach with the Blackhawks, believes the attention his young star received was partially an exaggeration, and something that stemmed from being thrust under an extra high spotlight at such a young age.
“As a young kid, I don’t think he was acting that different than any kid who comes into the League at 18,” says Quenneville, the third winningest coach in NHL history.
“But I think he’s gotten better (the last four years) and matured in both areas – as a player and as a person. I think he’s gotten better every year.
“(On the ice) I think he’s gotten better on both sides of the puck – this year, defensively, he’s been excellent. I can’t say enough about how good he’s been with the puck. He’s been more of a threat with it, but he distributes it real well.
“I’ve liked his progress.”
For Kane, the progress he’s made in maturing, both on and off the ice, could lead to lofty accolades.
Just as Kane’s been keeping his nose clean off the ice the last couple seasons, the quality of his all-around game has simultaneously skyrocketed. Along with that, the honors he’s started to accumulate are starting to put him in an elite class.
Kane, a speedster with a bag full of tricky moves, is far and away the highest-scoring American-born player in the NHL this year. In fact, he’s maintained an average lead of around 10 points on Phil Kessel, the second-highest scoring member of the 2014 U.S. team, for most of the 2013-14 season.
Instead, the company that Kane is starting to keep is of the most decorated American-born players ever.
Photo: USA Today Sports
Sure, 25-year-old Kane is still about 900 points away from the all-time NHL scoring lead among American-born players.
But of the top 10 American scorers ever, only five – Mike Modano, Brian Leetch, Chris Chelios , Joe Mullen and Neal Broten – have ever won a Stanley Cup, with only two, Chelios and Mullen, having won multiple Stanley Cups like Kane has.
However, although Mullen is currently ahead of Kane with three Stanley Cups to his name, he never won an Olympic medal, a Conn Smythe Trophy or had an individual moment as iconic as the Stanley Cup-winning goal Kane scored in 2010. So, if Kane added an Olympic gold medal to his resume this February, he’d have the same number of overall championships as Mullen, while also possibly being ahead in the individual accomplishment category.
Chelios, like Kane, has two Stanley Cups, and an Olympic silver medal in 2002 – along with many individual honors for his exploits as a defenseman. But like Mullen, Chelios also never had quite the individually iconic moments that Kane has had.
Former New York Rangers defenseman Brian Leetch can also match Kane’s Olympic silver medal, Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe Trophy. But while Leetch won one Stanley Cup in 17 NHL seasons, Kane has already won two Stanley Cups in a six-year career and can already match numbers of individual awards with Leetch.
Additionally, Leetch, like both Mullen and Chelios, trails Kane by a wide margin in the iconic moment category.
Not to mention, since neither Mullen, Chelios nor Leetch ever won Olympic gold medals, Kane potentially winning gold in Sochi, along with his other accomplishments, could already pull him even, and probably even way past those three American greats in the championship category, as well.
If Kane joined the gold medal/Stanley Cup club in Sochi, there would still be the matter of winning a comparison battle with the 1980 “Miracle” team’s Neal Broten and Ken Morrow, who are currently the only two U.S. born players to have ever won both an Olympic gold medal and a Stanley Cup.
Starting three months after the 1980 Olympics, Morrow topped his gold medal from Lake Placid with four consecutive Stanley Cups as a member of the New York Islanders. However, despite being a sturdy, stay-at-home defenseman, Morrow was never an individually decorated player like Kane has been, and was usually more a member of his teams' supporting casts than he was a focal point.
Meanwhile, although Broten slots in 10th all-time in points among U.S. born players with 923 in 17 NHL seasons, he never had the stature compared to his peers in his era that Kane has now. Also, if Kane was able to maintain his career scoring pace and have a career as long as Broten’s, he’d eventually outscore the former 1980 team standout by several hundred points.
So, if Kane could win a gold medal in Sochi, he’d probably pass both Morrow and Broten on the list of most decorated American hockey players, too.
Obviously, since Kane has not yet won an Olympic gold medal and the U.S. men’s hockey team is anything but a shoo-in gold-medal pick at the 2014 Olympics, beginning to place him in the discussion of “most decorated American-born players ever” could be made a moot point.
But if the U.S. can find a way to win?
If the U.S. men’s hockey team wins gold medals in Sochi –with a maturing Kane along for the ride – Kane could have as complete of a trophy case at age 25 as any American hockey player has ever put together in an entire career.
And as impressive as a gold medal would be by itself, this title might give Kane something even bigger to play for in Sochi.