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Sorry, Sid and Jonathan: Patrick Kane is the Best Player in the NHL
That headline above is an uncomfortable one.
Most just laugh it off. "Sure, he's good, but... you know, he's not the best." Because a guy as skilled as Patrick Kane will never compare, in their minds, to a guy like Sidney Crosby or Jonathan Toews. Others will never fail to bring up the mullet man's 2009 taxi affair, or his Cinco de Mayo saga, or his general perceived asshole-ness.(It's not true, in my opinion. At least, on the ice, Kane has appeared to me to be humbler than anyone else on his team – certainly, humbler than anyone else in the league among players who deserve the credit he does. Kane has always deferred compliments to his vanquished enemies, guys like Roberto Luongo and this currently L.A. Kings team that Kane has just laid waste to twice in three nights. I've heard Toews whine and complain when he doesn't get his way – his way is winning, which is why most love him – and we've certainly seen Sidney's cry-baby pout. Same goes for Logan Couture, whose entire face is just naturally shaped that way – the quivering, protruded lips, the wet eyes, and the always-tilted visor make it look like Couture has been insulted, beat up, and robbed every time you see him.)
Pretty much, Patrick Kane is slighted for the same reasons he's great. He's flashy, he's exciting, and he's unconventional. There are times you just see him not play hard, or not contest a puck. He spends most of his time just biding it, looping and observing like a python waiting for the rabbit to come his way.
You'll hear the greatest things about past players like him, guys like Pavel Bure or Ilya Kovalchuk or Pavel Datsyuk. But you'll never hear them called THE BEST or the greatest. Because their fans are too in love with them, where the stigma around players like Crosby or Toews is that their fans love the game.
Of course, Kane has something in common with those other players I listed... he's not Canadian.
When you're born above the 49th, you have the benefit of your birthplace. Everyone who analyzes you is Canadian. Everyone who scouted you was Canadian. Most of your competition is Canadian.
The praise you earn will never last. You're not part of the club. It's like being a California wine in a French tasting contest.
(I had a guy say to me the other night, "You know, I don't mind when Kane celebrates his overtime goals, either." Yeah, why wouldn't it be okay?)
So Crosby gets it by default. And because he really is terrific. And Toews rides shotgun. So when the Penguins are eliminated earlier than their bandwagon hoped, the lemming in all of us turn to the safest other option, and that would be Toews. And then the debate doesn't turn into one at all – it just becomes a closed-off, exclusive choice between the only obvious picks for the crown, an insult to the other 10 or 15 players who do all they're supposed to do and do it excellently all the time.
But acknowledging only those two guys as if they're guaranteed to be A and B is just, like, so Canadian of us. And the nature of covering sports – no matter what sport is is, or what sport you watch the most – is an infuriating exercise, because everything is temporary.
Honestly, the best player in the world is Sidney Crosby. It's not close; not right now. Toews is great. Patrick Kane is jaw-dropping. But then there are Anze Kopitars and the Patrice Bergerons and the Shea Webers, Zdeno Charas, Datsyuks, Alex Ovechkins, Drew Doughtys, Duncan Keiths, and even goalies like a Henrik Lundqvist or a Carey Price. Steven Stamkos never gets a vote, either, because he scores too many goals and is therefore viewed as a one-dimensional player. John Tavares?
They've all been the best players in the world at some point in their careers – maybe for five minutes, maybe for one game, maybe for one season, and maybe (eventually) for all-time.
But writers and reporters have to add something to the narrative every night. They have to overthink it when the evidence is slapping them in the face, and the evidence is this...
When the Chicago Blackhawks needed two goals to keep their season alive, last night, Kane assisted on one and scored the next. The game before, facing the same sort of elimination, he had four points. He has three career series-winning overtime goals, one for a Stanley Cup and the other to put Chicago in last year's Final. He has a Conn Smythe Trophy – which he said should have gone to Corey Crawford because, again, he's humble.
(Case in point, here's Patty last night: "This team just sticks with it. For some reason, when the chips are down, we’ve got a lot of guys that step up." Actually, Patrick, you were the guy who stepped up. You were the one who stuck with it. And while it's not new for a superstar to laud his teammates before he accepts the praise he individually might deserve, you should still be recognized for it.)
(And here he is below, after a reporter asked him whether he'd ever scored an extra-frame game-winner before, when he had clearly scored several. Kane could have humiliated her or embarrassed her. He could have gone all Duncan Keith on her, torching women's employment equality along the way. He could have high-roaded her like so many athletes, actors, politicians, and even other reporters always do. Instead he just smiled and said, "Oh, I'll have to check that.")
He was the best player (by far) in the 2010 Winter Olympics. He did it all with effortless cool, his mouth guard dangling from his lip like a loose strap dangles from an 18-wheeler.
You can go back-and-forth and you can give me a top 10. You can break down the compliment with terms like "best two-way forward" and "best all-around player" or whatever. But if I'm going into a Game 7 and I have to pick one player, it's not even close. It's Kaner, hands down.
Even Darryl Sutter seems to agree, and he has a first-row seat.