Patrick Kane just completed his 14th NHL season and turned in yet another Hart Trophy-type campaign after finishing with 66 points, which ranked No. 5 among all skaters as of Tuesday. He was one of the biggest reasons why the Blackhawks were sitting in a playoff spot when the calendar flipped to March.
But down the stretch, you could tell something was bothering the 32-year-old superstar.
Kane, who likes to be on the ice as much as possible, took multiple maintenance days in the final few weeks of the season to rest his body instead of participating in practice. During the team's morning skate on April 27 following a three-day break in the schedule, Kane was the first one on the ice and appeared to be testing whatever injury was nagging at him.
On Tuesday, the Blackhawks held their player exit interviews and Kane confirmed that he's been dealing with "one little issue" that began even before the bubble in Edmonton last season.
"Trying to figure that out and hopefully it’s nothing too serious," Kane said. "Hopefully just get it fixed, not have to worry about it next year. But besides that, conditioning and being able to play a lot of minutes, I feel really good about that and happy with where all that is at."
Kane declined to provide specifics on the injury but did admit he doesn't expect it to interfere with his offseason training. The only potential change in his summer routine is that he was advised to take a little bit more time off the ice.
"It was just something I’ve kind of been dealing with up close to the return to the bubble last year," said Kane, who will not participate in the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship after captaining Team USA for the past two years. "I feel we’ve done a lot of good things to make it feel good in games, and then other games it hasn’t felt as great. So it’s just like an ongoing process.
"Hopefully we can get to the point where I’m not feeling it at all, and just feel strong on the puck and feel like it’s not an issue when I’m out there. That’s the ultimate goal."
Even though he was battling through an injury all season long, Kane still had ways to produce. He racked up 51 assists, which is tied for second among all skaters; 33 of those assists were primary.
The one area he was unsatisfied with was his goal production. He had a career-low 7.9 shooting percentage and scored only 15 goals this season; over the course of an 82-game schedule, he was projected to finish with 22, which would've been his lowest total since scoring 21 his rookie year.
If there's one thing you can bet on next season, it's Kane having a monster bounce-back year in that department.
"Disappointed and obviously not happy about the goal production, but I’m happy I still found a way to produce, given that that wasn’t there for me this year," Kane said. "Just gotta figure that out, obviously. Not too concerned about it because I feel like I can score goals and be a big-time goal producer in the league. Gotta maybe figure out how to find a way to get to the net a little bit more maybe or get more chances.
"With the way our team plays now, it’s not so much puck possession as it is moving the puck ahead and tracking it down. I've been used to playing that puck possession game my whole career, so it’s a little different, but I've just got to find a way to create no matter what the situation is. Looking forward to bouncing back next year."