CHICAGO -- In the city of big shoulders and even bigger ticket prices, how many Chicago athletes are worth the price of admission?
Chris Sale pitches only every five days for the otherwise forgettable White Sox, and the view is great at Wrigley Field only as long as you're not watching the Cubs play baseball.
But there is one guy in town worth your money to watch in person.
"This is no slight to Sidney Crosby, Crosby is probably best player in the world, but if I was going to sell a ticket to tell someone who's never watched a game, to watch one player, it would be Patrick Kane," Blackhawks forward Kris Versteeg said. "The way he can control the puck and handle the puck, as a fan you can be awed by it."
As Versteeg said, you can always tell the greats in hockey with a quick eye test, but "there's even some more about watching Kaner."
I can't define it, but it's something about the way he moves with the puck. He is fluid on ice; he turns a quotidian hockey shift into poetry.
The Chicago Blackhawks are the only sure thing in Cook County, besides graft.
While captain Jonathan Toews is the stolidly Canadian face of the team, Kane is its soul.
And as 2013 ends, we can remember this year as the Wrath of Kane. Thus, he is an easy choice as ESPN Chicago's Sportsman of the Year.
What did Kane do in 2013? Well, he scored 55 points in 47 games in the lockout-shortened 2013 season, then piled up 19 more points in the playoffs to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as he claimed his second Stanley Cup. Now he's second in the NHL in points for a first-place team going into the new year. He also turned 25 in November.
"Pretty good year for him," Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp said. "Can't argue with that pick."
After a seamless lockout trip to play in Switzerland, he was fifth in points during the shortened season as the Blackhawks famously streaked and then breezed to the No. 1 playoff seed.
After a slow start to the playoffs, he turned it on late, scoring a hat trick to beat the Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference finals and then scoring two in Game 5 at home to win the penultimate game of the Stanley Cup finals over the Boston Bruins.
Kane won the summer by being anonymous, and now he's second in the NHL in scoring, behind only Crosby. The Blackhawks lead their division and have the second-most points in the NHL.
Kane will always be looked at as a kid by older teammates like Sharp, who considers himself the official agitator of Toews and Kane. While Kane takes a lot of heat in the locker room, he never reacts to it.
"In all the years I've been here, I've picked on him and Jonathan [Toews] the most," Sharp said. "I think I've gotten a rise out of Kaner once or twice in those six years, and Jonathan, I could get him once or twice a day. [Kane's] got some thick skin. He might get bothered, but he doesn't let you know he's bothered."
That's been a good trait for Kane to have, considering his name became synonymous with extracurricular activity. From an altercation with a Buffalo cab driver back in 2009 (he pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct), to more frivolous things, like riding around a limo shirtless in Vancouver or being publicly intoxicated in Wisconsin, Kane has had to deal with questions about maturity for years. He's always handled the questions with poise. The negative attention has mostly morphed into a lingering storyline about "maturation."
"It's funny," he said. "You see articles and they tend to always bring up stuff that happened off the ice, whether it's five years ago or two or three years ago. It's just the way it's going to be, something you have to deal with. But I don't really feel I've changed too much, to be honest with you. I think I'm still the same kid at heart. Still like to have fun, do some certain things. I'm just more aware of certain situations now."
The Blackhawks quickly rebuilt the chasm between the team and its fans once Rocky Wirtz took over and instituted some common sense into the franchise. Kane is perhaps the best Blackhawk at connecting with them.
"I think first and foremost, I know how to cheer for a professional team," he said. "I lived in Buffalo for so long and you're always hoping there's going to be some kind of championship coming out of there. I could remember sitting on the couch and watching the Sabres play on their runs to the Cup and be excited when they score. It's sort of the same feeling when you're playing."
When Kane, who won the 2010 Cup in overtime with a nasty shot from the corner, scored his two goals in Game 5 in 2013, he sold his celebrations a little harder because it meant a little more to him and to the fans.
"I think you want them to think you're having fun out there, that you enjoy what you do for a living, enjoy your job," he said. "You've got to be ready to play for your team every night, but at the same time, as a fan you're always looking for a little showmanship. Sometimes in certain situations you feel like you can work that in there too."
While he doesn't feel more mature, there's no question he's getting better as a player. Coach Joel Quenneville likes his improved defense, but it's still the scoring that drives him.
Kane has 49 points (22 goals and 27 assists) in 39 games. That's 13 more points, and four more goals, than the closest Blackhawk, Sharp. Kane also has two 12-game point streaks ... in the last 25 games; each is an NHL high.
"It's been a crazy start he's had," Sharp said. "The numbers aren't so crazy but if you look at rest of our team and how far ahead he is in that individual statistic, it's pretty impressive. Every time he's on the ice, he either has an opportunity to get an assist or score a goal. Literally every time he's on the ice. It's fun to watch right now as a player and we just hope it continues."
As good as 2013 was, this coming year offers even more career goals for the scorer, most notably the Sochi Olympics and a legitimate chance to defend the Stanley Cup.
"Hopefully, a lot of things to look forward to," Kane said.