‘I truly believe he’s going to shock the world:’ Inside Patrick Kane’s rehab and why he picked the Red Wings
For nearly six months, the greatest active American-born hockey player, the one fans call Showtime, lived in obscurity. As Patrick Kane recovered from hip resurfacing surgery — a bold move to breathe new life into his career at age 35 — he relocated his family to Toronto.
For three hours a day, Monday through Friday, Kane worked with chiropractor Ian McIntyre, who oversaw the rehab. Then he got on the ice. Kane’s skating coach, Randi Milani, made sure his locker rooms at the local rinks were farthest away from the lobby. She insisted that LiveBarn, the ubiquitous arena streaming service, was turned off, and often reserved ice time under fake names. Sessions included Kane battling in drills with retired defenseman Cody Golobeuf and shooting on free agent goalie Chris Gibson. Spectators who somehow caught wind were kindly told to get lost.
When it was finally time for Kane to meet with NHL suitors, a series of Zoom calls with teams interested in signing the free agent, one head coach remarked: “Wait, you were in Toronto, the center of the hockey universe, this whole time?”
It marked a new era for Kane. The winger has won nearly everything there is to win — three Stanley Cups, league MVP, playoff MVP, a scoring title — while captivating the biggest crowds with inimitable dangles. But, Kane said, he had “a little bit of a sour taste in my mouth after last year.”
After being traded away from the rebuilding Chicago Blackhawks, his home for 16 seasons, Kane’s short stint with the New York Rangers underwhelmed by his standards. Kane had six goals and 19 points in 26 games as the Rangers were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by the Devils. “Going to New York was a new challenge for me,” Kane said. “I was really excited about it but it didn’t really go the way I expected or the team expected. I figured at that point it was probably time to do something to give myself a chance to get back to a high level — almost more mentally rather than physically. I don’t want to say [I was] miserable, but I was thinking about [my hip] every day.”
Kane was willing to tear it all down — opting for a procedure with little proof of concept in the NHL, powering through 116 treatment sessions to relearn movement patterns. Risky would be an understatement.
“It was no man’s land in terms of what to expect,” McIntyre said.
But Kane’s confidence barely wavered. He still considers himself one of the top players in the league, when healthy. Kane believed, firmly, he had more to give. So he attacked rehab with his signature meticulousness and intensity.
If Kane finds the success he’s expecting, his legend will only grow — and he could set a new path forward for other players.
“No one’s really come back from this type of surgery, but no one has done what he’s done to recover this way,” Milani said. “Right now, he’s moving better now than he was a few years ago. It’s crazy. I truly believe he’s going to shock the world. It’s going to be unreal.”
KANE’S HIP BEGAN bothering him in the 2020 NHL bubble — and only got worse. Kane’s crossover left over right was “pretty much nonexistent,” he said. By last season, those close to Kane described him as essentially playing on one leg.
“Anytime I would take a hit on the right side of the hip, the joint would kind of compress and it would basically feel like bone on bone,” Kane said. “So your leg like shuts down for like 30 or 45 seconds. It’s just painful, right? You’re almost playing the game not to get hit, which you can’t do in this league.”
Kane was reluctant to have surgery. He loved the game too much, he couldn’t imagine taking time away. Once the Rangers were eliminated, Kane’s agents at CAA took him to see Dr. Edwin Su at New York’s Hospital of Special Surgery.
“When I saw his hip, it was completely, completely worn out,” Su said. “It’s incredible he was still able to play, and play at a pretty high level.”
Hip resurfacing surgery involves placing a metal ball on top of the head of the femur (thighbone), capping it like a tooth, then fitting the socket with a thin metal shell. It was first performed in the United States in 2006, when the implant was FDA approved, meaning there’s still not much long-term data on several aspects. Su said hip resurfacing has fallen out of favor among many surgeons who are concerned about the impact of metal-on-metal, and it represents less than 1% of artificial hips in the United States. The ideal candidate is a healthy, young (under 50) male. Only two NHL players have returned to the ice after having their hip resurfaced: Ed Jovanovski, who retired after 37 games, and Nicklas Backstrom, who stepped away after playing eight games this season,17 months after his procedure.
Kane peppered Su with questions, but at the core he wanted to know: will this make me better?
“If you’re still playing with such a bad hip,” Su told Kane. “Then there’s no doubt it should make you better.”
Su was particularly confident about Kane’s prognosis. Other athletes underwent hip resurfacing as a last resort, having done several procedures beforehand. That meant bone cartilage was shaved down, leading to muscle atrophy. “Part of [Kane’s] incredible recovery is that he did this right off the bat instead of having other surgeries and letting the condition deteriorate further,” Su said. “He also may have more success than others because he’s incredibly fit. He’s not really heavy. He’s just an agile person.”
Su downplayed potential risks of hip resurfacing, even in a high-impact sport like hockey.
“The only thing holding this artificial hip in place is the joint capsule, the tissue and the muscle force. So it would have to be really unusual, but you could imagine some sort of collision where the leg is basically torqued in a way that pulls it out of the socket,” Su said. “That would definitely be worrisome, but hockey I don’t think is a high risk. I’m more worried about football, because of the pile-ons.”
Since Kane’s operation, Su has performed a double hip resurfacing on free agent Jesse Puljujarvi, who is 25, and said there is another active NHL player who is considering. “The biggest risk was the unknown factor,” Kane said. “But from what it sounds like, more guys will end up having the surgery. Hopefully I’ll be a pioneer and play for a long time.”
Kane underwent the surgery in June. Almost immediately, his pain disappeared. Within two weeks, he was on a skating treadmill. A week later, he was jumping off a box. “So I think when he got to us, he thought ‘wow this is going to go fast,'” McIntyre said. “But then I showed him some very easy things that he couldn’t do, that was humbling for him. Then, the light switch went off. He wanted to be the best at it.”
Why Patrick Kane joining the Red Wings is ‘massive’
Kevin Weekes explains why Patrick Kane signing with the Red Wings is such an impactful move.
AS HE PLAYED through his injury, those close to Kane said he was bothered when people commented on his limp.
“Even after the surgery that was something that surprised him, that he was still limping,” McIntyre said. “But some of that movement isn’t in your hip, it’s in your brain. If you’ve been limping for 2½ years, you can fix the joints but your brain still acts like it’s hurt.”
McIntyre said the arthritis in Kane’s hip severely impacted his range of motion — something he needed to relearn after the operation.
“If I asked him to rotate on his hip on a small elastic band, when he came back to the beginning, it would snap back,” McIntyre said. “He had no strength to hold himself in that position. Being such a good athlete, he just found a way to work around it. Which is remarkable, because he couldn’t move.”
McIntyre and strength coach Jason Martin progressively added exercises for Kane. Many were mundane and tedious. Kane had only one speed: diligence. If Kane did nine reps perfectly and messed up on the 10th, he would start doing the 11th, 12th and 13th unprompted.
“I was surprised by how hard he was on himself, despite all that he accomplished in his career, and having arguably the best hands in the world,” said Golobeuf, who joined the on-ice sessions once Kane was ready to absorb contact. “The look in his eyes if he mishandled one time, I was like, ‘Whoa.’ And then the focus he’d have on the next rep would be incredible. I think it’s important for young guys to know a guy that good also works that hard.”
But Kane also has traits that are unteachable: how he processes the game, how he dials in when the puck is on his stick.
Sometimes Golobeuf would say something on the ice, met with no reaction from Kane. Golobeuf would wonder: Did I say it loud enough? Could he hear me?
“He was so in the zone,” Golobeuf said. “I feel like he doesn’t hear anything outside of his own head.”
A COUPLE OF TEAMS were willing to sign Kane on July 1, when he became a free agent. Kane preferred to wait, finishing out his rehab to see how he felt. He also wanted to see how the season shook out.
Kane met with five teams on Zoom. He met with another general manager, Florida’s Bill Zito, in Toronto. The options were intriguing. Zito pitched for Kane to play alongside Aleksander Barkov, one of the few players in the league who processes the game at a similar level. Kane could live out his childhood dream of playing for the Buffalo Sabres. He could team up with fellow American Auston Matthews and help the Maple Leafs (and Canada) break through their Stanley Cup drought. The defending champion Vegas Golden Knights rolled out an entire deck. On his call with the Boston Bruins, Kane nerded out over X’s and O’s with coach Jim Montgomery. Following nearly every call, Kane was personally recruited by the team’s star players.
“I could say so many good things about different teams I talked to and their interest in me was incredible,” Kane said. “I mean, some teams you don’t really expect to have interest in you, and they do, and it’s a good feeling.”
Kane watches as much hockey as anyone in the NHL. His nightly routine is putting his three-year-old son, Patrick Kane III, down to bed – “then watch hockey the rest of the night,” he said. He asked pointed questions about teams’ medical staffs, their personnel and systems — even their neutral and defensive zones.
Kane also showed a level of humility, repeatedly saying: ‘I know I need to earn my spot’ and that he didn’t expect to play on a team’s top line or top power-play unit.
But as Kane went through the process, in the back of his mind, he always came back to Detroit. At age 14 Kane moved away from home to play for the Michigan-based Honeybaked AAA program, where he billeted with Red Wings legend Pat Verbeek. Kane fell in love with Detroit, which was just as obsessed with hockey as he was. He adored the Red Wings’ history and tradition.
But the Red Wings, who have been in a timeframe-less rebuild, still had to win Kane over.
“Our approach, me and [GM] Steve [Yzerman], was to be simple, direct and honest,” coach Derek Lalonde said, knowing that whatever he said, Kane would fact check with one of his good friends, Alex DeBrincat. Lalonde had a vision for Kane — including pairing him with DeBrincat early, finding ways to create wide ice, where he thrives, and maximizing Kane’s ability to play off his off hand.
The Red Wings are looking to break a seven-year playoff drought. For the last several years, they’ve subtracted ahead of the trade deadline, which dejected the group – especially last season. “Steve [Yzerman] has a plan, he’s extremely patient,” Lalonde said. “But Kane choosing us, it’s a credit to what the guys built and what they’re doing. This is the first shot in the arm.”
Lalonde had heard stories about what type of competitor and teammate Kane is. A few of Lalonde’s friends, including Tampa Bay assistant Jeff Blashill, were on the staff of the USA 2018 World Championship team.
“It was one of the first years Chicago missed the playoffs, so he went to the World Championships,” Lalonde said. “They won the bronze medal, they had an end of the tournament party. He’s the only guy who wore his medal during the whole thing. Those are the things that were in my head before meeting him. And then once I did [meet him], I was maybe even more impressed. It’s like talking to the CEO of a company. He’s inquisitive about all of the right things.”
Kane agreed to terms with the Red Wings on Nov. 28. The team had already departed for New York for a game against the Rangers as Kane reported to the facility for his physical. Once he cleared, Kane had a request: he wanted to fly to New York as soon as possible, to join his new teammates.
Kane has been patient with his debut. When he finally gets back in a game, a culmination of the quiet hard work he’s been putting in since June, he wants to be Showtime again.
“I’m very optimistic,” Kane said. “Hopefully I’ll be even better than I was in the past.”
Additional reporting by ESPN’s Stephania Bell.
Ohio gaming regulators ban NCAA player props
The Ohio Casino Control Commission (OCCC) on Friday granted a request by the NCAA to prohibit wagering on prop bets involving collegiate athletes. Ohio sportsbook operators have until March 1 to implement the ban on any wager on “an individual athlete’s performance or statistics participating in a sporting event governed by the NCAA.”
Examples of prop bets include the over/under on a basketball player’s points or a quarterback’s passing yards. More than 20 states with legal sports betting prohibit or limit player-specific prop bets on collegiate athletes, according to the OCCC’s announcement. The OCCC announced the ban three weeks after Baker made a written request to its executive director Matt Schuler, which received support from Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine.
“Today’s decision by the Ohio Casino Control Commission to prohibit player-specific prop bets on collegiate competitions marks a significant step in the protection of student-athlete well-being and game integrity,” NCAA president Charlie Baker said in a statement. “I thank The Commission for recognizing the serious threats posed by prop bets and implementing controls to help safeguard student-athlete mental health from the risks of sports betting harassment and abuse.”
Schuler agreed with the NCAA’s concerns that prop bets on individual player performance can lead to bettors harassing athletes, the solicitation of insider information and attempts to manipulate small events during games.
“I have determined that good cause supports the NCAA’s request to prohibit player-specific prop bets on intercollegiate athletics competitions because the NCAA’s request will safeguard the integrity of sports gaming and will be in the best interest of the public,” Schuler wrote in his decision.
Ohio passed a law in 2023 that aims to ban anyone who threatens athletes with violence or harm from participating in sports gaming in the state. The OCCC estimates Ohio sportsbooks received $104.6 million in bets on NCAA player props in 2023, or 1.35% of the total amount wagered last year.
McGee leaves UGA to be Georgia St. head coach
McGee’s deal is for five years, sources told ESPN’s Pete Thamel.
McGee, 50, was the Bulldogs’ run game coordinator and running backs coach and has deep ties in the state from years as a high school coach. He joins the Panthers after spending the past eight seasons as a Georgia assistant, primarily working with the running backs while helping the team to College Football Playoff titles in 2021 and 2022. He played college football at Auburn and had a brief NFL career as a defensive back, appearing in three games for the Arizona Cardinals in 1998.
McGee also previously coached at a rival of Georgia State, spending two seasons as an assistant at Georgia Southern and serving as the interim head coach for a win in the GoDaddy Bowl (now called the 68 Ventures Bowl) in the 2015 season.
McGee replaces Shawn Elliott, who agreed earlier this month to return to South Carolina as tight ends coach and run game coordinator.
Georgia State is coming off a 7-6 season that included a win over Utah State in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. The school had postponed spring practices and its spring game after Elliott’s departure.
Judge grants preliminary injunction over NIL rules
A federal judge in Tennessee granted a preliminary injunction Friday afternoon that prohibits the NCAA from punishing any athletes or boosters for negotiating name, image and likeness deals during their recruiting process or while they are in the transfer portal.
The injunction is not a final ruling in the case, but the judge’s decision will likely have an immediate and dramatic impact on how NIL deals are used in the recruiting process.
“The NCAA’s prohibition likely violates federal antitrust law and harms student-athletes,” U.S. District Judge Clifton Corker wrote in his decision Friday.
NCAA rules prohibit student-athletes from signing NIL contracts that are designed as inducements to get them to attend a particular school — one of the few restrictions in place for how athletes can make money. For example, the NCAA recently announced sanctions against Florida State football because a member of its coaching staff connected a prospect with a booster collective that works closely with the Seminoles. The collective made a specific offer to the player, who was considering transferring from his current school to Florida State.
The attorneys general of Tennessee and Virginia argued that the NCAA is illegally restricting opportunities for student-athletes by preventing them from negotiating the terms of NIL deals prior to deciding where they want to go to school. The lawsuit was filed Jan. 31, one day after University of Tennessee chancellor Donde Plowman revealed in a letter to the NCAA that the school’s athletic department was being investigated for potential recruiting rules violations.
In Friday’s ruling, Corker determined that the attorneys general have a reasonable chance of winning their case and that student-athletes could suffer irreparable harm if the restrictions remain in place while the case is being decided.
“Turning upside down rules overwhelmingly supported by member schools will aggravate an already chaotic collegiate environment, further diminishing protections for student-athletes from exploitation,” the NCAA said in a statement. “The NCAA fully supports student-athletes making money from their name, image and likeness and is making changes to deliver more benefits to student-athletes, but an endless patchwork of state laws and court opinions make clear partnering with Congress is necessary to provide stability for the future of all college athletes.”
Anthony Skrmetti, Tennessee’s attorney general, said in a statement Friday that his office plans to litigate the case “to the fullest extent necessary to ensure the NCAA’s monopoly cannot continue.”
“The NCAA is not above the law, and the law is on our side,” Skrmetti said.
Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares called the win in court “rewarding” and saw it as an extension of the Supreme Court ruling in the NCAA vs. Alston case in 2021, which he said should have put the NCAA “on notice” for its legal vulnerabilities.
“We’re finally getting to the point where you’re seeing real student-athlete empowerment at the collegiate level,” Miyares told ESPN in a phone interview late Friday. “The NCAA in an arbitrary and capricious manner was trying to restrict that.”
Miyares said the NCAA model has gotten to the point where it’s unsustainable, pointing out the billion-dollar NCAA tournament television contract that was signed without the players getting any cut of it. The potential of change to NIL rules that would come with this ruling could be just the start.
“I think could be the first steps of significant change,” he said. “And I think it’s been coming for a long time.”
College athletics attorney Tom Mars, who worked with a Tennessee collective, Spyre Sports Group, on this case, said the ruling could mark the beginning of the end for the NCAA.
“I think this will be one more brick in the wall that is the end of the NCAA,” Mars said. “Short of intervention by Congress, the demise of the NCAA now seems inevitable based on nothing but a financial analysis, as it appears the NCAA is poised to lose all of its upcoming antitrust cases. The cumulative effect of which could make the NCAA financially insolvent.”
“A bad case is a bad case, and they’ve put all their defenses forward,” Mars added. “And there’s no precedent anywhere in the United States that supports their defenses.”
Corker said the NCAA’s lawyers did not make a compelling argument for why using NIL contracts as recruiting inducements would undermine the academic side of college sports.
“While the NCAA permits student-athletes to profit from their NIL, it fails to show how the timing of when a student-athlete enters such an agreement would destroy the goal of preserving amateurism,” the judge wrote.
Earlier this week, Skrmetti told ESPN that he was willing to work with the NCAA to find some middle ground on how it could enforce some of its recruiting rules while the case is resolved.
“If they want to talk about possibilities for finding a workable solution in the short term, we’re always open to conversation,” Skrmetti said, noting he had not discussed the case with NCAA leadership. “There’s no guarantee we’ll be able to reach an agreement, but if there’s a mutually agreeable path forward as we work to get these issues figured out, we’re open to that.”
In an interview with ESPN on Tuesday, NCAA president Charlie Baker said the restriction on recruiting inducements was written because the association wants athletes to choose their future schools based on the best educational opportunities rather than where they could make the most money.
“I also think it makes it enormously challenging, as we are currently seeing in the existing NIL environment, for kids and families to figure out what the right choice is in the first place because an enormous amount of information flows their way that may not in fact be accurate,” Baker said.
ESPN asked Baker if having contracts that the prospective athletes could sign before committing to a school would help ensure that the offers they were receiving were accurate or could provide some way to hold a booster or school accountable for false promises.
“I don’t know,” Baker said.
Since adopting new rules that opened the door for NIL deals in 2021, the NCAA has issued two sanctions related to how boosters used NIL opportunities as an inducement in the recruiting process: the recent Florida State case and one involving the Miami women’s basketball team in February 2023.
The NCAA has struggled to enforce the inducement rules despite widespread acknowledgement and complaints from coaches, players and administrators that offers for NIL money have become a central discussion in recruiting players out of high school and the transfer portal. The rules allow coaches and collectives to share information about a prospect’s potential earning power as long as they don’t make specific offers or promises. Without documented evidence of a violation or cooperation from parties directly involved in an offer, the NCAA’s enforcement staff doesn’t have the power to compel the information they need to levy sanctions.
Plowman, Tennessee’s chancellor, said in her letter to the NCAA that it was “intellectually dishonest” to have rules that allow collectives to meet with recruits and enter into contracts with recruits but prohibit “conversations that would be of a recruiting nature.”
“Any discussion about NIL might factor into a prospective student-athlete’s decision to attend an institution. This creates an inherently unworkable situation, and everyone knows it,” Plowman wrote. “Student-athletes and their families deserve better than this.”
Baker told ESPN that he didn’t think the NCAA was ignoring reality by asking athletes to pick their schools based on academic and athletic opportunities and worry about NIL opportunities after they arrive.
“I think the most important thing here is let’s deal with some of the issues around accountability and transparency and consumer protections first,” Baker said. “And if we then want to have a conversation about other stuff, about how this should all work, especially if we get to the point where we give schools the ability to do more in this space, I’m all-in on that.”
In a separate case about the NCAA’s rules that restrict an athlete’s ability to transfer to a new school without penalty, a federal judge decided in December to grant an injunction. That ruling compelled the NCAA to change its rules to allow athletes to transfer as many times as they would like during their college careers while the case is pending.
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