CHICAGO -- Questions swirled around the Chicago Blackhawks on Wednesday morning because of the distraction that threatened to derail their focus from their primary goal.
But the championship banner ceremony and all the accompanying chaos that posed a danger to the defending Stanley Cup champions' chances against the New York Rangers on the NHL's opening night, was hardly the distraction of this preseason.
Discussion of the ongoing criminal investigation of Patrick Kane for an alleged sexual assault has quieted here since the accuser's mother's claim of tainted evidence was proven to be unfounded. The Chicago Cubs' ascent to Wednesday night's National League wild-card game helped to overshadow the Kane story.
But it's still there, quietly festering within an organization that had to hope the case would be dropped by now.
Last season, a combination of on- and off-ice problems disrupted the Los Angeles Kings' season and ultimately diminished their chances at defending the Cup, beginning in October 2014 with the suspension of Slava Voynov after his arrest on domestic violence charges.
But the Hawks seem impervious to distraction. Last season, they absorbed rumors of locker-room strife like it was another harmless check. Their leadership core, which begins with captain Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith and extends to Marian Hossa, Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson, seems able to keep the Kane scandal from disrupting the room as well.
It all begins with Toews, who was introduced last in Wednesday night's ceremony and who more than ever is the face of the franchise, seamlessly leading the team since he was a teenager and neither flinching nor deflecting questions about Kane on Wednesday morning.
"I think he's always known deep down that after a certain amount of time, he's going to keep taking some heat until everything is settled," Toews said. "But he knows he's going to focus on what he does on the ice and try not to let external forces bother him. And eventually, this whole thing will have taken its course and it'll resolve itself."
You can almost hear Toews delivering the same words to Kane himself, big brother words of advice from a guy just seven months older but light years more mature.
"We don't allow ourselves to overreact to any situation that would be more detrimental than anything," Toews said simply about how the Hawks' leadership group operates in general.
Kane received a warm ovation Wednesday and raised the banner along with Hossa, Seabrook and Corey Crawford on a night that ended with the Blackhawks losing to the Rangers 3-2. But he had been poised for a full-blown hero's welcome after coming back from a broken clavicle last season to help the Hawks to the Cup with 23 points in 23 postseason games, tied for the lead in league scoring.
Awkward and gagged by lawyers and the team at a September media conference, Kane looked relaxed among his teammates Wednesday morning.
"I feel good when I get to the rink, to be honest with you," he said. "It's kind of my little getaway from everything coming here, being with the guys, playing hockey, doing things I love. When I'm here, I just try and focus on that."
Kane will be surrounded for now with new linemates Artem Anisimov and Artemi Panarin, neither of whom speak more than a few words of English, not that Kane is probably up for much small talk these days.
It was with a childlike grin that Panarin, 23, dubbed "the Russian Patrick Kane," celebrated the Hawks' first goal of the season, potentially another sizable notch on the belt of Chicago general manager Stan Bowman, who has retooled the team with more and more expertise after each Stanley Cup, beginning with the great salary cap purge of 2010.
"I thought the [2010-11] team, after we won, was a whole different team," said coach Joel Quenneville, who received one of the biggest ovations of the night. "We almost felt like we lost half our team. This year we didn't lose quite as many players. And I think we have some players who are NHL-ready or NHL-proven already coming onto our team. ... I think there's less uncertainly than 2010."
Quenneville, who survived talk of losing the team and squabbling with management even after leading the Hawks to the first Cup of their modern-day triumvirate, has always been smart enough to allow his players to handle the locker room.
And short of one of them spending the offseason at Kane's side, they've done that.
"He comes to the room and we treat him like we always have," Hawks forward Andrew Shaw said of Kane. "He's one of our brothers, you know?"
It's easy to forget the Hawks were third in the Central division last season with a 48-28-6 record. That they pulled it together when they had to is but one of the trademarks of the best hockey team of the decade.
"It's huge, vital when you're able to reach the top and win a championship and you come back around and all of a sudden you realize just how unimportant the little details and the little things you may have reacted to are, just as long as everyone is focused on the same thing, going in the right direction," Toews said.
Kane's strife may not qualify as a little thing, but in the bear hug that is the Blackhawks' core, it is not likely to do any lasting damage to the team.
"We've been together a long time and know each others' personalities and help each other through thick and thin," Kane said. "Whether it's hockey or different things, I think we've done a good job of quieting that outside noise and focusing on what we have to do when we're here at the rink."