That sounds weird to say, given he already has a Hart Trophy and all and was leading the league in scoring the year before that before his collarbone went TWANG! And yes, I’m one of those who doesn’t really like saying anything nice about the little fucker at all, but to deny what he’s doing on the ice this year would simply be a miscarriage of our job here.
Kane’s just about on pace to match his 106-point total from his MVP season, though not quite to the 46 goals he put up that year (he’s somewhere around 42-43). But at the top, the difference for me is the context. In ’15-’16, he played basically every shift with Artemi Panarin, himself an All-Star caliber forward.
This year? The teammate he’s shared the most time with is Artem Anisimov, and boy have we written that book. And most of that has been with Arty on a wing, not really his strength (if he has one). Then it’s Dylan Strome, who looks like he might turn into a pretty nice player but is still very much in the figuring-it-out phase. Then Brandon Saad, and then Nick Schmaltz. This is not a murderer’s row of talent, exactly.
And yet Kane is actually creating more and better chances this year, with less possession mind you, than he did in his MVP year. The Hawks xGF/60 with Kane out there is 2.31. It was 2.1 three years ago, though he did even better last year at 2.56 (Kane’s career-low 9.5 SH% last year probably kept him from having another 90-point season or so).
Kane’s individual high-danger chances per 60 is the highest it’s been since 2013-2014, which came on a much better team that opened up things for him a little better. He’s mostly having to do it himself this year, and clearly that’s not a problem for him. Just his scoring-chance per 60 at evens mark is one of the highest of his career, though not reaching the peak of ’13-’15. But again, those were different teams that just willed possession and chances because it felt like it.
A big difference from the past couple seasons for Kane is that he’s firing more on the power play. In the first part of the season it was because he was basically the only one who could, given the incompetence of the whole thing. Now it’s because that’s actually open. He’s taking 16.1 shots per every hour of power play time, which is right in line with where he was in that Hart season. It goes right along with him being on pace to set a career-high in power play assists, and Alex DeBrincat thanks him (it’s 22 set in ’08-’09, and he’s at 12 now and rapidly climbing).
Kane’s been able to get as many shots and chances for himself and his teammates despite those teammates being worse and this being just about the worst possession season of his career. Kane’s never been a great possession player, usually somewhere around the team-rate. But as McClure likes to say, he’s one of the few players in the league who’s a “bad-shot maker.” He doesn’t need the same chances as others to put up the same points, even if he does create those chances anyway. He’s basically hockey’s version of Steph Curry, in that anyone else playing this game would drive a coach to the bottle/hemlock, but he makes it work (no if only he were half the person…)
This is the first season that Kane is under water in terms of Corsi, and his xGF% is a downright shit-tastic 41.6%. But that’s more due to the bewildered blue line behind him, the shorter talent next to him, and really that Kane’s never been a great defensive player and has never had to or will have to be. Playing him with other defensively flawed players is only going to exacerbate that.
If you want the biggest reason the Hawks can’t “tank” other than moral or financial obligations, real or imaginary, is that Kane is probably going to be a major reason why they can’t be bad enough. He won’t get any MVP talk this year because the Hawks suck, and the theory would be they could such just as easily without him. Without him, they’d probably be far and a way the worst team in the league.