CHICAGO - It's been one thing after another for the Chicago Blackhawks this off-season after a trip to the Western Conference finals. They signed one star forward in Marian Hossa, only to lose another one in Martin Havlat. They stunned everyone by demoting general manager Dale Tallon.
And now one of the young stars Tallon brought to Chicago, Patrick Kane - the centrepiece of the team's marketing effort for the past two seasons - is accused of teaming with his cousin to beat up a Buffalo, N.Y., cabbie over pocket change before daybreak Sunday.
Whether the incident will amount to much remains to be seen. Andrew LoTempio, a lawyer for the cab driver, told WGN radio in Chicago on Monday that he thinks Sunday's incident was blown out of proportion.
"There was a dispute over the fee and it just kind of escalated from there," LoTempio told the station. "It was not really a robbery. That is probably a large distortion of what happened."
Asked if the case would end up as a felony, he said: "Absolutely not."
"I think we should be able to work things out," he added.
Kane is scheduled for a court hearing next Monday in a Buffalo courtroom. He has pleaded not guilty to felony robbery and misdemeanour counts of theft and criminal mischief. His cousin, James Kane, faces the same charges.
Next Monday is the same day a U.S. Olympic Men's Hockey orientation camp starts in suburban Chicago. USA Hockey spokesman Dave Fischer said Monday that Kane is still expected to participate in the three-day camp.
"We are aware of the incident. We don't condone or approve of what has been suggested the facts are. We are looking into it ourselves," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said Monday.
Police say the cab driver was beaten because he did not have 20 cents in change to give Kane, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 draft and the NHL rookie of the year the following year. The 62-year-old cab driver, identified as Jan Radecki, said he was punched, grabbed by the throat and had his glasses broken.
His lawyer said it is customary for some Buffalo cab drivers to lock the doors of their vehicles with the passengers inside - if they think they might be stiffed on their fare.
"Early Sunday morning, Pat Kane was involved in an unfortunate situation with a cab driver in Buffalo," Kane's agent, Pat Brisson, said. "The cab driver's attorney in recent media reports was quoted as saying that the incident has been blown out of proportion. Kane has retained Paul Cambria as his attorney in this matter. Cambria has told me that, based on the evidence that he has reviewed in this case, there is no doubt that Mr. Kane will be fully exonerated.
"Since this is an ongoing legal matter, I think it is inappropriate for me to comment further at this time. But I am absolutely confident that, when the legal process has been completed, Pat Kane will be fully cleared."
The cab driver's lawyer did not return a call seeking additional comment. A message was left with Kane's mother was not returned.
Whatever happens, it's not the kind of publicity the Blackhawks have been seeking the past two years with the 20-year-old Kane and 21-year-old captain Jonathan Toews as the public face for a young team looking for the franchise's first Stanley Cup since 1961. Kane garnered so much league-wide popularity that he will be featured on the cover of EA Sports' anticipated NHL 2010 video game, which is slated for release next month.
Under team president and former Chicago Cubs marketing guru John McDonough and owner Rocky Wirtz, the Blackhawks' transformation over the last two seasons has extended off the ice, including the televising of all home games and welcoming back legends like Stan Mikita and Bobby Hull. After playing in front of thousands of empty seats two years ago, the team drew more than one million fans this past season.
But after losing to the Red Wings in five games in the conference finals three months ago, the off-season has been uproarious. And Kane's arrest has been the most stunning episode of all.
Kane had 25 goals and 45 assists last season and had a hat trick in the victory that clinched the second-round playoff series against Vancouver. As a rookie, he had 21 goals and 51 assists.
The off-season's first hiccup occurred when the team was late in getting out qualifying offers to restricted free agents, and the players' union filed a grievance. All the restricted free agents eventually re-signed, but a short time later Tallon was demoted to adviser and replaced by Stan Bowman, the son of the legendary coach Scotty Bowman.
The Blackhawks's biggest off-season acquisition was landing Hossa with a whopping 12-year, US$62.8-million contract.
A couple of days later, in the aftermath of the Tallon demotion, McDonough was booed at the team's fan convention.
Havlat, who led the team in scoring last year but was not re-signed and went to the Minnesota Wild, criticized McDonough, saying he had been out to get Tallon because he wanted all the credit for the Hawks' turnaround.
And after it was revealed that Hossa had a shoulder injury, one that eventually required surgery and will force him to miss the beginning of the season, the NHL acknowledged it was investigating whether his long contract violated the league's salary cap.