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I’m Looking Right At You, Big Daddy

This is kind of an extension of Wednesday’s Angry At Numbers, but looking more specifically at Patrick Kane. We’ve spent a lot of time on this blog analyzing Kane’s linemates and production, which seems weird. It seems weird because no one would argue that Kane isn’t one of the top 10 players in the league, so why should it matter so much who he is playing with? In one sense, you feel like it shouldn’t. But in another, it does. Kane’s such a unique talent with such a unique style, he’s not as user friendly as say Toews or Hossa is (and there’s been plenty of talk about who Hossa should play with too).

So I thought I’d go back through and look at Kane’s most productive seasons and see who they were spent with, and maybe we’ll have a better idea of what should be happening now.

For this, we’ll only be looking at Kane’s production at even-strength, because in reality he’s basically played with the same people on the power play for most of his career here (which is kind of fun to think about, but anyway…).

Kane’s best season to date is still 2009-2010, when he had 88 points in 82 games. He averaged 2.63 points per 60 minutes at ES, and it was also his best season in terms of Corsi%, at 58%. Who did Kane play the majority of time with? I know this will come as a shock… wait for it… Jonathan Toews. The only other forward who came close was Troy Brouwer, and he logged 200 minutes less than Toews. Kane had a 59% Corsi-percentage with Toews, and the only forward he had a higher one with was Sharp.

The following season he got a lot of criticism, probably because Kane spent the year having an ABV of 10% and being “If You Wanna Be Down, Down On The Ground Pat Kane.”  He still had a 56.3% Corsi, and 2.61 points per 60 at evens. He actually was a point-per-game that season too. Hmm, we yelled a lot for no reason, didn’t we?

Kane’s most common linemate that year? Ahem… Jonathan Toews. The only other forward that Kane had a higher Corsi with that season was… Viktor Stalberg? It’s true.

’11-’12 saw Kane’s point total drop to 66, with some of that due to his shooting-percentage dropping to 9.1. His P/60 at evens dropped to 2.34. His Corsi% dropped to 54%. That year, Kane didn’t have a common forward partner. This was also the year he spent a good deal of the season at center, so Marian Hossa had the most time with him, but Toews, Sharp, and again Stalberg had similar amounts of time. This year is kind of an anomaly because of how much time Kane had to play center (remember, this is when Toews missed the last two months of the year and Kane had to be the #1 center, taking on the other teams’ best).

The 2013 season saw Kane have his worst Corsi, an even 50%. But his P/60 jumped back up to 2.43. The greater production despite the worse possession was probably partially the result of an insane 16.1 SH%, as Kane had 23 goals in 47 games, by far his highest rate (this season saw his highest PDO of 1020). Why did Kane’s possession drop? Oh, might have had something to do with spending most of his time with Dave Bolland. Kane was just able to outshoot it basically.

Last year, Kane’s P/60 dropped to 2.34 but his Corsi rebounded to 55%. As discussed at length, Kane watched Handzus struggle to keep up and Versteeg cause enough turnovers to ruin all his good work. We also forget that had he not gotten hurt, Kane would have set a career high for goals (though he was on pace in the lockout year to pierce 40, which would have blown it away).

The answer here is pretty fucking obvious. I don’t know what happened exactly. One year Q got goofy and decided to start Kane at center. Then Toews got hurt and Kane kinda had to play center. The next year he just decided they couldn’t play together for some reason, after three solid seasons of playing together, and he got away with it because Kane was simply awesome, at least at shooting, and the Hawks won and everything seemed like it worked–including Kane winning a Conn Smythe for one hat trick game and another two-goal game that by every right should have gone to Crawford or Keith. But then again, everyone is better with Toews.

But there isn’t another option, and you feel like Sharp and Hossa could produce with any center (and it’s not like they’re lighting it up at evens with Toews right now anyway). If we get into the mechanics, Kane’s probably best when he plays with players who can get the puck back to him repeatedly, and who open up space. It’s why his numbers with Saad are so good, but he generally needs a second or an all-world like Toews. Versteeg isn’t going to win too many board battles in either zone. Shaw is kind of frantic. What I’ve seen so far this year tracking zone entries is that Saad is so good carrying the puck in, Kane thrives when possession is maintained. You don’t want him on a line that has to dump it in at all. But Shaw and Versteeg can’t power their way over a blue line most times, leaving Kane to do it himself. They’re also not going to produce off a cycle, like say Hossa and Toews have the flexibility to do.

Basically, Q should put Saad and Kane play on either side of Toews and let them tear a hole in the Earth, and sort the rest out later.

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