CHICAGO — As Patrick Kane settles into his new role with the New York Rangers, it’s time for some blunt chalk talk on the Lot C tribute to the longtime Chicago Blackhawks star.
Did the Hawks organization reserve a spot Thursday in the overpriced parking lot just to give Hawks fans a chance to write their goodbyes to the departed superstar in colored chalk?
Or was it simply a way to deflect the focus from the sad regression of the franchise, the unending rebuild and the embarrassing return from the Rangers for one of the greatest players in franchise history?
Nice gesture or disingenuous public relations move?
There’s no doubt the Hawks business operations department and front office will miss Kane, just like their fans. His contributions to the resurgence of the franchise in the 2010s are undeniable. No Kane = no Cups.
But the quick tribute to a player who really should have retired as a Blackhawk was a bit awkward. While general manager Kyle Davidson was negotiating the deal to give Kane away for draft picks and no-names, some other Hawks executive was imagining a soft landing to alleviate the pain.
As Kane prepared to make his Rangers debut Thursday night at Madison Square Garden, the Hawks sent a news release inviting fans to “show their gratitude and appreciation for one of the greatest Chicago Blackhawks players of all time.” By asking fans to celebrate Kane’s “legacy” by writing chalk messages in a giant “THANK YOU 88″ canvas on the Madison Street lot across from the United Center, the Hawks pretended their incompetence had nothing to do with his request to leave.
So the media was invited to “capture live shots and b-roll footage of the display,” and of course the response was what one might expect.
Chicago loves a nice goodbye story for their favorite athletes. I’m admittedly a sucker for them, too, having spent most of last summer chronicling the many farewells to Cubs catcher Willson Contreras. We already have penciled in the “welcome back” stories this baseball season for Jason Heyward (April 20 with the Los Angeles Dodgers), Contreras (May 9 with the St. Louis Cardinals), José Abreu (May 12 with the Houston Astros) and Carlos Rodón (Aug. 7 with the New York Yankees).
Kane’s return next season also will be a must-see affair, whether it’s with the Rangers or whatever team he signs with as a free agent. We can do this all over again, with a standing ovation while Kane raises his stick and skates around the ice with a tear in his eye.
The Hawks obviously could have waited until next season for the chalk thank-you messages and the video tribute, but someone decided a dress rehearsal would work fine. Maybe they knew their budget for 2023-24 wouldn’t have a chalk allowance.
If this sounds vaguely familiar, recall that Cubs fans also wrote messages to the team and players in chalk on the sidewalks and bleacher walls outside Wrigley Field during and after their championship run in 2016. But that was an organic movement started by an ordinary fan, not from a news release by the team’s communications department.
“The Wall” took off and became a phenomenon when fans wanted to write their names and thank-you notes, leaving a beautiful work of art at Wrigley in the days after their World Series win. Naturally, the Cubs business operations department couldn’t wait to get out the power hoses and erase the fans’ emotional tributes so they could get on with their renovation project.
Cubs gotta Cub.
They took photos of “The Wall” for posterity and even plastered one photo on the wall outside the Cubs clubhouse, complete with a “(Expletive) LeBron” message from some fan for NBA star LeBron James, the Akron, Ohio, native who was repeatedly shown the Fox broadcasts during the Series rooting for Cleveland.
Like the Cubs, the Hawks dutifully recorded fans’ messages to Kane and sent the media a drone video by Thursday night. After congratulating themselves on their benevolence, the Hawks can now try to end the season badly to have a better shot in the Connor Bedard draft lottery.
Everyone wishes the best for Kane, even those who didn’t come out and leave chalk messages. While it’s hard to root for the Rangers, they no doubt will have a following in Chicago come playoff time, when they try to win their first Stanley Cup since 1994.
That ‘94 Rangers team, of course, was a smorgasbord of Hawks refugees, including former coach Mike Keenan and players Steve Larmer, Greg Gilbert, Mike Hudson, Stephane Matteau and Brian Noonan.
“Mike knew what kind of players these guys were,” Larmer said after Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final in the Rangers’ celebratory locker room. “We were like the final pieces of the puzzle.”
Now Kane might be the final piece of the puzzle, joining former Blackhawks pal Artemi Panarin in the Big Apple. I was at the Garden on June 14, 1994, covering the Rangers’ historic Cup-clinching win over the Vancouver Canucks that ended a 54-year title drought. At the time it was the fourth longest drought in pro sports history behind the Cubs’ (86 years), the White Sox (77) and the Boston Red Sox (76).
All four streaks have since ended, and in a stroke of good fortune I covered all four drought-ending clinchers for the Chicago Tribune. (If the Detroit Lions are interested in ending theirs, give me a holler).
When the Hawks will return to contention is anyone’s guess, but it’s unlikely to be anytime soon judging from the stripping of the roster and stockpiling of draft picks.
Until then, we can be thankful for the memories Kane and Jonathan Toews provided.
We’ll always have Lot C.