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Blackhawks mum on whether Patrick Kane will be at preseason camp

Blackhawks won't talk about Patrick Kane's preseason, but say everyone else will be in camp

The Blackhawks return to the ice in two weeks, but the team still won't say whether Patrick Kane will lace up his skates alongside his teammates.

"I don't have an answer to that question," Blackhawks spokesman Brandon Faber said.

Faber would confirm all the other players — about 30 of them — are expected to attend preseason camp at the University of Notre Dame on Sept. 18. And that's because, as Faber pointed out, none of them are involved in a criminal investigation like Kane.

The team's reticence reflects the difficult situation facing the image-conscious Blackhawks, who sources say have grown tired of Kane's off-ice behavior, while being equally reluctant to burn the superstar who has helped win three championships and has an $84 million contract. Sources say the team has mulled a number of options, including permitting Kane to take a personal leave of absence until the matter is settled.

A source also has told the Tribune that several teams have contacted the Blackhawks to inquire about a possible trade. However, it's unlikely such a deal would happen before the criminal investigation is completed.

Practices at the preseason training camp — three days in South Bend, Ind. — are open to the public, meaning Kane would inevitably face questions from a horde of news reporters. Kane, 26, has not been charged with any wrongdoing, and he has not spoken publicly about the allegations.

Still, he appears to be preparing for the coming season, as neighbors frequently have spotted him working out in the yard of his lakefront mansion in Hamburg, N.Y., which includes a basketball court outfitted with hockey goals.

Kane's attorney Paul Cambria and agent, Pat Brisson, did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

But the winger's presence — or absence — at preseason camp would serve as the Blackhawks' loudest statement on Kane since police began investigating the sexual assault allegation against him. The team and NHL have issued only terse statements acknowledging the investigation. Blackhawks Chairman Rocky Wirtz has said he's "disappointed but hopeful" about the situation.

On Friday, a source close to Wirtz said the chairman is "watching and waiting until all of the facts bear out."

Commissioner Gary Bettman has the right to suspend a player under criminal investigation if allowing the player to take the ice would "create a substantial risk of material harm to the legitimate interests and/or reputation of the League," according to the collective bargaining agreement between the NHL and its players. A league spokesman declined comment on Kane's status Friday, saying there are still two weeks before camp starts.

Bettman has never exercised that option on a player without criminal charges being filed first.

However, the sports landscape has changed in the past year, particularly since former NFL star running back Ray Rice's domestic violence scandal. That episode — in which NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell increased his punishment after video footage surfaced of Rice knocking out his now-wife — sparked sharp criticism of how the NFL and other professional sports leagues handle violence against women.

After the video became public, Bettman said the NHL had no room for error when dealing with such issues.

"Our code of conduct is we expect you to do the right things and if you don't we hold you accountable," Bettman said in September 2014. "More important than that is I believe you need to be proactive."

Kane has been under investigation for an alleged incident at his gated home in early August. The Buffalo News, citing unnamed sources, reported that police and prosecutors were looking into a woman's allegation that Kane raped her. Tribune sources have confirmed that authorities were investigating a sexual assault complaint.

The Tribune previously has reported that Kane spent the night of Aug. 1 at SkyBar, a popular night club about 15 miles from his Hamburg home, and he stayed past midnight with friends. His attorney publicly confirmed an off-duty Buffalo police officer's revelation that he had driven Kane, a male friend and two women to the player's home after leaving the bar. The officer, Lt. Thomas English, had his department's permission to moonlight as a personal security guard for Kane, according to records obtained by the Tribune.

Hamburg Chief Greg Wickett said Thursday the case is still active.

Police have said they are awaiting the results of forensic testing in the case, though Buffalo-area sources said the bulk of that work has been completed and prosecutors are now contemplating whether the evidence merits charges. The ultimate decision rests with Erie County District Attorney Frank Sedita III, a longtime prosecutor known for being cautious on high-profile cases.

Sedita declined comment on the investigation this week.

His predecessor as district attorney, Frank Clark, said he expected Sedita to present the case to a grand jury to determine whether Kane should be indicted. Sedita almost always sends high-profile investigations to a grand jury, even in cases that he doesn't intend to prosecute. The move — which often prolongs investigations — prevents him from being the sole voice on the case.

"You take too much heat if you do that," Clark said.

Buffalo TV station WGRZ and The Buffalo News reported that an Erie County grand jury will hear evidence and testimony on the sexual assault allegation involving Kane beginning next Tuesday.

Many of Kane's current and former teammates have declined comment on the winger's situation. Still, some told the Tribune they have been in communication with Kane since the investigation became public and have offered him their support.

"I reached out to him and told him I was here for him if he needs anything," said former Blackhawk Daniel Carcillo, Kane's teammate for three seasons. "There's definitely that support that goes out to him, whether it's through texts or calling him. ... It's a tough situation."

In a brief interview, winger Bryan Bickell said that he didn't know enough of the particulars of the investigation to give details.

"Hopefully everything works out," he said.

Captain Jonathan Toews, in his first public comment on the investigation, told a Canadian radio station this week that Kane had his teammates' support.

"It's not the first time we've seen situations like that and eventually you deal with it internally and you stay together as a team," Toews said. "We don't let anything going on the outside affect the way we do our jobs and the way we come to work together as a team."

Tribune reporter Chris Hine contributed.

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