Photo: MSN/FoxSports

Breaking down Patrick Kane’s season by looking at his end-of-year totals is impossible. All you see is the fact that his goals, assists, and points were all down against the last 2 years. The story of the boy’s season is much more intricate, and it all started last summer when a certain Blackhawks executive who shall remain nameless (but whose name rhymes with “Dan Showman”) decided to cover up his inability to obtain a second-line center, and in the process throw a wrench into Kane’s season.

In short, Kane was put in a position to fail, and I don’t hold him responsible for his statistical slump. It’s most demonstrably the fault of the guy who has never played a single minute of time in the NHL.

In mid- to late-summer of 2011, Kane was approached with the idea of moving to center on the second line. This had been tried before back in the pre-season of 2008, when Kane played one period at the pivot — a move that contributed to the Blackhawks allowing lowly Minnesota to race to a 3-0 first period lead. That was the end of that. But yet, here it was, rearing its ugly head again. It was soon apparent that no measure of haranguing by the media or the fans was going to prevent this from happening, so everyone decided to put a happy face on it and wait to see what happened.

Optimism reigned as the season got underway: Kaner notched 2 goals and 4 assists in his first 4 contests, with a cumulative +3 rating. Additionally, the area where it was expected that Kane would flounder embarrassingly turned out to be one of his strengths: Kane won 2/3 of his face-offs in game 1, and nearly 3/4 of them in game 3! Things were looking pretty good, and both the fans and the media were ready to take the dunce cap off of the guy who conceived of this scheme.

Then somebody noticed: where are the goals? Kane soon fell into some troublesome goal slumps: 6 games, then 4 games, then 8 games without a tally. He was throwing some helpers in there, but his face-off percentage was dropping to the levels everyone expected at the outset, and his defensive lapses were beginning to cost the team goals. He was ending the majority of his games either flat or in the minus column, and it began to look like this wasn’t such a good idea anymore.

Blackhawks Head Coach Joel Quenneville agreed. Kane was moved back to the wing, and soon youngster Marcus Kruger was given the job of centering the 2nd line. Lo and behold, Marian Hossa went on an 8-game point streak starting almost immediately after Kruger was put at the pivot. Unfortunately, the move did not improve Kane’s game one bit: the goal slumps continued, as did his negative-column appearances. He was tried again at center for a four-game stretch spanning the New Year, with equally calamitous results. Kaner was moved back to the wing, where he stayed from January 6 to the end of February.

But then, once again, there he was back playing center! He stayed there for the final 18 games of the season, notching a middling 9 goals and 5 assists, tallying a cumulative minus-4 in that stretch. Doubtless this was a last-ditch effort by a certain Blackhawks executive who shall remain nameless to try to justify a bad decision.

What it did instead was put an exclamation point on a lousy year for Patrick Kane. It showed that he did not have the ability to play the center position well, and it also showed that it messed up the boy’s mind enough that it affected his play on the wing also. Kane finished with 66 points in 82 games, his worst season since turning pro.

Do I blame him? Not one bit. That performance is the fault of a certain Blackhawks executive who shall remain nameless. Kane actually did more than a respectable job playing a position he was unfamiliar with, and he endured this foolishness with a fair bit of class.

The Blackhawks have tried to do this for years: take a player who has spent his entire career playing one way, and try to make him play a different way. They ruined nearly every draft pick they brought to their AHL affiliates during the 90′s, resulting in teams that had no idea whether they were coming or going half the time.

There are very few players, even at the NHL level, who can re-train themselves and adapt to a new position successfully. We have found out the hard way that Patrick Kane is not one of them. Taking a craftsman like Kane and asking him to change a mind-set that he has turned into an art form over 15+ years of honing his skills is butt-stupid in two ways: it puts an ill-equipped and badly-trained player at a position he is unfamiliar with; AND it leaves a hole at that player’s previous position that is necessarily going to be filled by somebody with inferior skill.

Nope, this experiment was a terrible mistake, it ruined Kane’s season, and Quenneville has stated behind the scenes that this kind of “meddling” on the part of a certain Blackhawks executive who shall remain nameless is not going to be tolerated anymore. With luck, that means we will see Patrick Kane back on the wing where he belongs, chewing his mouthguard like an 8-year-old and putting the moves on defensemen and goaltenders like they were cardboard cut-outs.

I am looking forward to seeing Patrick Kane back on the wing next season. Hopefully we will see him back at the point-per-game level again like we all know he can be.

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