Longtime NHL observer: No big deal if Patrick Kane returns to the Detroit Red Wings

Speculation builds on whether the Red Wings' most significant offensive addition will be back. Here's why it shouldn't matter.
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As the Detroit Red Wings' playoff hopes teeter, a few stories have surfaced about Patrick Kane's possible return to Motown. Does he want to be back in the red and white of the Winged Wheel? Does general manager Steve Yzerman want him back? What kind of contract, dollars, and length would Kane want?

Lots of questions, to be sure. Especially relevant if the Red Wings fail to secure a playoff spot. Entering Saturday's game in Toronto against the Maple Leafs, the Red Wings were a point out of the postseason. The Pittsburgh Penguins, 6-5 overtime winners versus Detroit on Thursday, held the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference ahead of Detroit and the Washington Capitals.

While Kane has captured the hearts of Detroit fans and the team's adoring media, one has to wonder why. Seriously. Does it really matter if he returns? No, we're not kidding. Yes, he's been offensively effective, with 20 goals and 24 assists in 47 games. He's been pretty much what he's always been: a gifted scorer.

Patrick Kane has been an effective scorer but frankly, it's not enough. Detroit needs more physical players and better 200-foot players.

But that's it. And frankly, it's not enough. Despite his rather remarkable return from hip-resurfacing surgery, Patrick Kane has not been a difference-maker. He's not a physical presence. He's not a rugged, two-way center to pair with Dylan Larkin, something Detroit so desperately needs. And he's not been much of a complement to his former Chicago Blackhawks teammate, Alex DeBrincat. Remember all the hype in December about Kane reuniting with DeBrincat and igniting the scoring prowess of "The Cat?"

DeBrincat has 23 goals overall. As the Wings fight for a playoff spot, he has one goal in his last 20 games. Kane, obviously, has not ignited much of a spark.

This isn't a knock on Kane, who is in the twilight of a Hall of Fame career. He is what he is, what he's always been. He's a 70-foot player, an offensive threat from the blue line toward the goal line. If he doesn't score, he cannot help you. He doesn't defend. He doesn't win puck battles or faceoffs. And rarely, if ever, is he going to help break up an odd-man rush with a spirited backcheck.

In Chicago, Kane and DeBrincat reaped the benefits of playing with talented teammates, gifted forwards like Artemi Panarin, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, and several others.

Actually, the criticism here is more of a knock on the Red Wings. Yes, Steve Yzerman inherited a pretty bleak pool of prospects, but his rebuild has been painfully slow. So why pick on Kane?

Again, how much better are the Wings with Kane? He's not contributed like Lucas Raymond, has he? Raymond's been a buzzsaw over the last dozen or so games, right? This type of play, a 200-foot presence, is what's missing among Detroit forwards. And he's not a centerman—not a Larkin, another 200-foot presence.

In Kane's 47 games, the Red Wings are 20-22-5, a .478 winning percentage. He's minus-5. Granted, the loss of Dylan Larkin to injury twice in that 47-game span has been a significant factor in Detroit's record. But on Dec. 7, when Kane made his debut, the Wings were plus-19 in goal differential, and their power play was clicking at 23.1 percent. Before facing off against Toronto for their 80th game, the Wings ranked even in goal differential (261 for/against), and their power play -- with Kane (2G, 11A on the PP) -- was at 22.7 percent, a slight decline, but still No. 11 in the NHL.

Now, to be fair, Kane has been credited with seven game-winning goals. So, yes, when he scores, he can be a factor. But is he really what this team desperately needs? Of course not. And this is coming from a fan/journalist/longtime observer who goes back to the Original Six.

As for Kane, he doesn't seem too excited about coming back.

"It’s just this year, and then we’ll see what happens,” Kane said. "I haven’t really thought about it much. Obviously, it’s in the back of your mind. It’s gonna come up eventually. Obviously, it’s not an easy decision on deciding where you want to play, where you think you’d fit best.

“Hopefully, all that stuff figures itself out.”

My guess: The Wings will try hard to bring him back. As Yzerman's rebuild continues, the GM realizes the best way to hide his roster's many flaws is with offense. And Kane provides some of that. But not making the playoffs -- and the Wings are facing tough odds here -- means Kane is more likely to join another team, one that has a better chance than Detroit to win the Stanley Cup.