Rozner: Kane paints Blackhawks into corner

The least important part of the Patrick Kane story is how it will affect the Blackhawks, but the reality is it will soon impact the hockey team on and off the ice.

The Hawks report to camp in less than three weeks, and GM Stan Bowman has to prepare for several different possibilities.

He obviously doesn't know whether Kane will be available when the Hawks raise the banner and begin the regular season six weeks from now, and he may not know yet whether his bosses even want Kane here if he is available to play hockey.

It's certainly fair to wonder, given that Kane was warned about his behavior after the sloppy Wisconsin display in 2012 and made promises before signing his $84 million contract 13 months ago.

He's used at least three strikes and put Hawks ownership in a no-win situation where Rocky Wirtz will be criticized if he allows Kane to play, and criticized if removes or trades a popular player from the roster.

But the decision might be taken out of the Hawks' hands.

If Kane is charged with a crime — and he has not been charged with anything — NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has the authority under the CBA to suspend Kane indefinitely while the NHL awaits the legal outcome.

A year ago, Los Angeles defenseman Slava Voynov was suspended indefinitely after a felony domestic violence charge, and a month later Bettman gave the Kings considerable cap relief.

If the NHL does nothing — as it did in the case of Colorado's Semyon Varlamov after an alleged assault of his girlfriend — the Hawks also could do nothing, or they might try to trade, release or suspend Kane.

The standard NHL player contract carries a morals clause that every player agrees to, which states that a player must behave on and off the ice “according to the highest standards of honesty, morality, fair play, and sportsmanship, and to refrain from conduct detrimental to the best interest of the Club, the League or professional hockey generally.”

Whether or not Kane is charged, if the Hawks suspend or cut ties with Kane you can expect the NHLPA to go to bat for their player and file a grievance.

Thus far, the NHL hasn't taken a serious stand against domestic violence, but it's difficult to imagine the Hawks with the same posture.

Kane had been warned about his behavior, and the Hawks were not pleased that he announced at the Stanley Cup rally that he intended to act the fool again while celebrating the team's third championship in six seasons.

Furthermore, the Hawks represent one of the great marketing and attendance turnarounds in sports history, their success on and off the ice since Bill Wirtz passed away absolutely unthinkable when Bill Wirtz, Peter Wirtz and Bob Pulford were running the team.

Perception and optics matter to the current regime, purely antithetical from the previous 40 years. The Hawks are considered a first-class operation in every imaginable way, from how they treat the fans to the players to everyone who comes in contact with the club.

The brand, the titles and the sweater go hand in hand as far as the Hawks are concerned, but no one player is bigger than the team and the Hawks and their litany of sponsors do not want to be known as a group that values winning above decency.

They do not want to be the Baltimore Ravens after the Ray Rice debacle, so the Hawks find themselves painted into a corner and Kane is holding the brush.

So you wonder just how angry the Hawks must be that they are forced to ponder the unthinkable as it applies to Kane's future, not to mention the hit they'll take on the ice if they have to move one of the league's best players and the hit they'll take off the ice if the details of this case are ugly.

Again, this all takes a back seat to real life and what it means for the accuser and Kane, but there are also questions being pondered on West Madison that go beyond hockey.

The guess among NHL folks is that the Hawks probably know more about this than the rest of us and are planning accordingly.

The guess is they have spoken to the commissioner about their options.

The guess is they have probably fielded calls from teams already interested if the Hawks move on from Kane.

The guess is they are considering everything from absolutely nothing to a trade, and all possibilities in between.

Those are merely guesses from those who have been in NHL front offices a long time.

What is certain is Kane made promises to the Hawks, and the Hawks, in turn, vouched for his character and paid him scores of millions to perform on the ice and be a decent citizen off it.

If this ends with Kane in jail, missing games or maybe even separated from a city that worshipped him, the blame will be easy to place.

• Listen to Barry Rozner from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on the Score's “Hit and Run” show at WSCR 670-AM.

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