An ill wind blew through the Chicago sports landscape Tuesday night, chilling the championship hopes of both the Blackhawks and the Bulls and proving again that you can build a contender as meticulously as possible only to have one freak accident change everything.
To recap: The Blackhawks' Patrick Kane, who was tied for the NHL scoring lead, lost his footing when cross-checked into the boards by Florida Panthers defenceman Alex Petrovic in the first period of what ended as a 3-2 Blackhawks shootout victory. Kane left the ice favouring his left arm and shoulder and underwent surgery Wednesday for a broken clavicle.
His doctors say he will be out for 12 weeks, which means he won't be available until the third round of the playoffs.
On the same day, the Bulls announced that point guard Derrick Rose will undergo surgery on his right knee for the second consecutive season and would be out indefinitely.
Some wonder if Rose will ever regain the form that made him the most valuable player of the 2011 playoffs.
Chicago has been blessed in recent years by hockey and basketball renaissances – the Blackhawks winning the Cup twice since 2010, and the Bulls recovering from the fallow period that characterized the post-Michael Jordan era.
But these surges can be fragile and so dependent on the health of their linchpin players.
The Blackhawks were without both Kane and captain Jonathan Toews down the stretch last year as well, but managed to win enough games to earn the third seed in the Central Division.
Both players came back in time for the playoffs. Both were rusty early as the Blackhawks fell behind 2-0 to the St. Louis Blues in the opening round.
But both eventually got it going and were humming along on all cylinders by the third round, when they played a classic Western Conference final series, decided by a deflection in overtime of the seventh game, against the eventual champion Los Angeles Kings.
Kane was placed on long-term injured reserve Wednesday. The move frees up salary-cap space for general manager Stan Bowman, if the Blackhawks want to make a deal, but 27-goal, 37-assist players generally aren't available at the NHL trade deadline, set for next Monday.
Kane was bidding to becoming the first United States-born winner of the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL's scoring leader.
That won't happen now.
At 26, he was in the midst of his most dynamic season, an MVP candidate who drove the Blackhawks offensively with his puck-possession skills and the way he backed off defencemen with his moves.
Generally, coach Joel Quenneville played Kane and Toews on different scoring lines but together on the power play, forcing opponents to adjust their checking schemes when they played the Blackhawks at even strength. Which defence pair gets to shadow Toews, and which draws the assignment of playing against Kane? That luxury – of deploying two world-class players on separate lines – is gone now and lessens the offensive threat level in Chicago by a considerable margin.
Rookie Teuvo Teravainen is up from the minors as Kane's replacement, and while he has some offensive gifts, they are not comparable to Kane's at this early stage in his career.
Petrovic's cross-check on Kane earned a minor penalty but no supplementary discipline from the NHL. While it was a dangerous play – Kane was chasing down a puck in the corner about two feet from the boards and thus wasn't able to protect himself when Petrovic knocked him off balance – it was an altogether common play, too. The only difference between what Petrovic did and a hundred other similar infractions was that Kane didn't get up right away. When he finally did, it was clear something was wrong – for him and for the Blackhawks' championship aspirations, which have taken a decided turn for the worse.