Musings

Gustafsson, Kane, Weirdness, and Fatigue

When I attend games with Fifth Feather, as I did last night, our minds and conversation tend to wander to all sort of subjects, at least until he get back to bitching about the White Sox. But many topics are usually covered, and one that keeps coming up is the extreme weirdness of Erik Gustafsson. Remember, a year ago Gustafsson really had only been with the team a month or six weeks after a year and a half exile to Rockford. All for one turnover in a playoff series. And yet here he is, with an outside chance at a 60-point season from the blue line. Certainly 55+ is on the cards.

And yet, for listeners to the podcast or regular readers, you know that we remain unconvinced of Gustafsson’s value. We’ve used the term “third-pairing bum-slayer” quite regularly. And that remains the feeling. But what Feather and I asked ourselves last night was, “Has a true bum ever put up 55+ points?” There are thresholds in a most sports where if a player crosses them, he has to be good, right? Like, if you can put up 55 points even once, then you have to have some use. Which caused me to go to the archives.

In the past 10 seasons, there have been 57 instances of a d-man scoring 55 points or more. And on that list, you’d be hard-pressed to find a player who was a total bum-ass bum. Sure, some of them eventually turned into that when they got older, but not when and around when they were putting up that many points. You remember Mark Streit being terrible, but around 2009 and 2010 when he was putting up that total he certainly wasn’t. Kevin Shattenkirk would be a stretch, as though he’s hardly top-paring material he’s gone down with the ship on Broadway and has always been a solid second- or third-pairing puck-mover. Torey Krug is on the list, and seems a pretty solid comp, as he doesn’t have a clue what he’s doing on his half of the ice but racks up points and chances on the other. He has his use. Lubomir Visnovsky is a name that pops out, and remember that one because we’re coming back to it, who somehow collected 68 points in ’10-’11 for the Ducks in the one season apparently he gave a shit the whole time. He was 34 then and right afterwards turned into sawdust and vomit.

So then the question last night became how many d-men had their first 55+ point season at 27, which Gustafsson is. And the answer is a little more than you might first guess (technically this is Gustaffson’s age-26 season, but he did just turn 27 a week ago).

The first name is Brent Burns, whose first 55+ points season came at 29. Burns has been consistently in the league since the age of 20, and as you know spent considerable time at forward in both Minnesota and San Jose. Mark Giordano’s first 55+ point season came at 32. Injury problems prevented it from happening at 30 or 31, and Gio had been a Norris-caliber performer before that, but he didn’t crack the code until much later than even Gustafsson has.  Visnovsky was 29, and again seems almost the perfect comp. He’d only been in the league a couple years before that, was woeful and helpless defensively, but could definitely make it happen at the other end when he wanted to.

There are more: Andrei Markov was 29. Brian Rafalski was 27 when he cracked 50 for the first time, and only in his second year in the league. Dan Boyle was 26 when he got to 53 for the first time in Tampa. Mark Streit was 31.

The difference, at least for most of these names, is that they were in the league for years before cracking this ceiling we’ve made up. There are a couple exceptions, obviously, but rare is the player who does this after only being in the league a year and a half, or at least not playing in Europe first. They’re there, though.

Look, I would love to tell you that Gustafsson is going to become Brian Rafalski, and if the Hawks could find another Nicklas Lidstrom to pair him with, well everything would be fucking golden, wouldn’t it? And there are considerations/caveats to consider. Just this season is a higher-scoring environment than even two or three years ago, for one. None of these players are going to have any influence on what Gustafsson goes on to do.

But still, if you an put up this kid of total, basically it’s kind of who you are? That’s what it looks like at least. Gustafsson may be a dragon with diarrhea (explosive at both ends), but if you’re going off what came before this kind of production might be the norm for the next few years instead of just a goofed spike in percentages.

Well, that 11% shooting-percentage will probably come down, but you get it.

-Normally, when Patrick Kane isn’t having an influence on game, the easy joke/observation (and one he’s more than earned) is that the give-o-shit meter is on empty and/or he’s hungover. But when it’s gone on for a few games like it has now, it has to be something more.

Not that seven points in nine March games is bad, or even close. But it’s only one goal in nine games, and watching him last night his game just didn’t have the pop that it’s had. And I think it might be obvious, but again, back to the archives.

At the top, Kane is averaging two more minutes per game this year than last. It might not seem like much, but that’s a 10% increase and over 70 games were talking almost three full games worth of time. Fatigue has to be a factor, right?

Let’s stat it out. On the year, Kane is averaging 4.5 attempts himself per game at evens. In six of the last seven games, he’s failed to reach that mark including a skunk against the Sabres. Kane has averaged 2.6 shots at evens per game on the season. In five of the last seven games, he’s failed to reach that mark. He’s averaged on the season 2.4 scoring chances per game at evens. He’s failed to reach that in six of the last seven. So just personally, Kane is averaging less attempts, shots, and not getting the same looks in the month of March.

But as we know, Kane’s a creator first and finisher second, even if he’s got 40 goals. So is he creating the same amount? We can only judge what is happening when he’s on the ice instead of what he himself is creating, but generally when he’s on the ice everything’s going through him anyway.

When Kane has been on the ice this season, the Hawks have created about 16 attempts per game at evens. He’s crossed that threshold of late just as much as he hasn’t. Kane on the ice has meant almost exactly nine shots per game from the Hawks. Again, he’s reached that four times out of the last eight games. Again, the same story with scoring chances, as the Hawks have hopped over and back the line of 7.9 per game that he’s been averaging on the season.

Given Kane’s vision, he could stand still most nights and probably get his teammates attempts and chances. But he doesn’t seem to have that extra oomph to get himself into the prime scoring areas or finish off plays. And who could blame him? Not only has he averaged two more minutes per game this season, but his heavy-load games have almost always been scrambling the Hawks back into a game late, which is even more frenzied work. It’s the type of extra ice-time that’s almost certainly been even more draining.

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