It was kind of a weird season for Patrick Kane. And not all of it was self-inflicted. But perhaps no player symbolizes what went wrong for the Hawks, and their reaction to it, better than him. Let’s deep dive.
27 goals, 49 assists, 76 points, -20, 32 PIM
51.6 CF%, -1.1 CF% Rel, 48.0 xGF%, -2.36 xGF% rel
There are a couple thing to know about Kane before you get into how this season fit. While his previous two MVP-level seasons are the ones that get the most attention, Kane had actually been a point-per-game player for five straight seasons before this one. One was the season-in-a-can of 2013, and the next two were ended prematurely due to injury where he only played 69 and 61 games. So he could have had eye-popping numbers in five seasons instead of the two he did simply due to different fates. So to complain he’d fallen off that a bit this seasons would seem the most petty of tactics, but it’s the standard he set.
Second, it’s important to note that Kane is one of those players that the metrics don’t mean a ton to. He’s never been a great possession player, and has always lagged behind the team rates for the past six years. In fact, his relative marks above are the best he’s had in the past four seasons. Some of that is playing with exclusively offensive players like Panarin or basically glorified obelisks like Artem Anisimov or players needed heavy sheltering like Brad Richards or Michal Handzus (the horror…the horror…) or Andrew Shaw. The roster wonkiness has always seemed to affect Kane most or thereabouts, but it doesn’t matter because he’s going to score anyway.
So why the dip in points this year? Quite simply, luck and linemates. Kane’s personal SH% dropped to 9.5% this year from 11.6% last year and 16% the year before that. Even if 16% is the outlier leading to a 46-goals season we’re probably not going to see again, 9% is low enough below his career 12% mark that you know it’s crap luck. Even that career mark would have seen him score 34 goals this year instead of 27. The team’s overall shooting-percentage when Kane was on the ice dipped from 9.5 to 7.7. That might not sound like a lot but it’s a difference of 12 goals over the season at evens just for Kane’s time on the ice.
And we can boil it down to luck, mostly, because he was getting the same chances as he had the previous seasons. Kane actually had more attempts at evens per 60 minutes this year than he had in five seasons. Some of that could be a product of playing with the pass-happy Schmaltz. Kane got more shots on net than he had in five seasons as well. His individual expected goals was higher than it was the previous two seasons, though not as high as ’15 or ’14. Again, this is where we can’t measure if he somehow lost something off his shot or accuracy, but it’s a good sign he was getting the chances we’re accustomed to seeing.
It would be easy to point to the power play as a points-dipper (phrasing?), but Kane actually only had one less point on the power play than he did last year, though obviously nowhere near the 37 power play points he piled up in his Hart year. But this is where the discussion turns. Because most will tell you the Hawks power play struggles due to it standing around and waiting for Kane to do something. Our argument this year is Kane is just as much of a problem. The puck dies when it gets to him. It’s isolation basketball, and there’s little temptation for anyone to do anything when that consistently happens. It’s not near the full explanation for why the power play in a constant state of self-fuckery, but it’s one. Going forward, whoever is running it has to get Kane to make decisions quicker and to move around more. The stick-handling at the circle for 10-15 seconds isn’t getting anyone anywhere except closer to the embrace of the reaper.
And this is where we get beyond the stats. There wasn’t anything Kane could do to save this season. A 110-point tour-de-force still lands this team well outside the playoff spots. And there were some nights, or at least periods, where it did seem Kane was trying to salvage everything himself, and drag this team to relevance.
But there were other nights, or shifts, where it was clear Kane couldn’t locate a fuck to give. On some level, you understand. As well-informed about hockey matters as he is, Kane almost assuredly knew this season was toast in January. And in his 12th year, you could understand if a game against Minnesota in February just doesn’t have the same ring as it did when the Hawks were good. Still, that’s not what he’s asked to do. There were lazy passes or changes, a lack of desire to backcheck, or trying shit simply to entertain himself. Cynically looking for his 500th assist when the Hawks were getting clubbed in Arizona was a particular highlight.
He’s not alone. Toews had his nights. So did Keith. When you’ve spent as long at the top as these guys have, finding the same charge when at the bottom is near impossible. They shouldn’t be given a pass but they also shouldn’t just be accepted either.
If the Hawks are going to be good again, they’ll need Kane back at his PPG+ form. And he probably will be with simple luck rebounding. But it would also help if he were there every night, and that can’t be dependent on if he thinks the rest of his team is at his level. Sure, accepting the problems and putting Top Cat on his wing for the 35 goals he could assuredly score with Kane wouldn’t be a bad idea either.
But also, whatever fatigue there is with Joel Quenneville has to be cleared by the team’s veterans. Our suspicions before have been that Kane and Toews have sort of tired of the coach’s voice, but with the Hartman trade it appeared that it was the kids who weren’t really responding. And yet…and yet…
Get to the 5:07 mark of this video, and while dabbling in body language and speech analysis is probably a really dumb thing to do, does this strike you as someone believing in the direction of everything? Something tells me there are interesting times ahead, and that doesn’t necessarily mean smooth.