NHL: Arizona Coyotes at Chicago Blackhawks

Maybe They’re Lookin’ For Answers – C.I.’s Season Preview: Can Patrick Kane Repeat Last Year?

Well, probably not. But these posts can’t be three words long.

It’s amazing what can happen for a player like Kane when he gets an actual line with which to play. After spending years with the likes of Michal Handzus and Andrew Shaw and Kris Versteeg or centering a line or whatever other jokers and punters the Hawks could drudge up rather than just playing him with Toews, Kane got Brad Richards two years ago and finally a center and other winger in Panarin and Anisimov. It resulted in an Art Ross and Hart Trophy.

And the Hawks needed all of it with Saad and Sharp gone, Hossa falling off, Toews not being able to produce a top line’s production all by himself, and basically no bottom six for most of the season. The problem for the Hawks is that they might find themselves in the same bind again this year. And this time, other teams are not going to be fooled by the names of Toews or Hossa and leave their best out against them instead of Kane’s line.

There are clearly a couple spikes that would be a surprise if Kane can repeat. One, Kane shot 16% last year, a mark he’s only eclipsed one other time and just about 25% over his career rate. Sometimes, the shots just don’t go in at the same rate as they did before. He could shoot that again, with Panarin’s skating opening up more lanes than he’s used to seeing, but it’s unlikely.

What Kane did do that’s could be repeatable is become a volume shooter. 287 in the season, more than he’d ever managed in a previous campaign by 30. Some of that had to do with getting a real power play system thanks to Kevin Dineen and not the cocktail napkin doodles of Jamie Kompon. Kane had 12 more shots on the power play than ever before at 5v4, and while Corsica isn’t giving me 5v3 stats right now I’m sure we’d see a similar rise. Kane should be getting the same looks on the PP, and last year that resulted in 37 power play points, by far a career-high.

But again, there’s a spike there that probably can’t be repeated. Kane shot 22% on the power play last year, and until an end-of-season blip that number was actually over 30%. That’s just not going to happen again, even if he’s one of the best bad-shot makers in the game. The team as a whole shot 18% with Kane on the ice during the PP, a rise of over 3% of any previous season. So some of those assists are going to dry up as well.

The biggest problem facing Kane and the Hawks is that with no one skating with Toews that’s going to give anyone pause, at least until Schmaltz proves he belongs and Panik shows the world that he is indeed the love child of Rick Tocchet and Thor, they’re going to put their top pairings and top lines against him. This started to happen in the second half of the season last year, and with War-on-Ice dead it’s not all that trackable but the Anisimov line’s possession numbers went into the toilet when the quality of competition rose. That’s going to be the full season.

Because even though he had his best possession numbers last year, Kane has never been a dominant possession player. His numbers have usually been right in line with the team’s rate, maybe a tad higher. It’ll be an interesting balance because Q is going to want Keith behind Kane and Anisimov if they’re facing top lines, and that should help. But that’s putting a lot on Keith without two knees at full-strength.

However, Q is still going to get Kane and his line out mostly in the offensive zone, and if teams want to throw their top lines at them they’ll at least have to turn the ice completely over to score against them. That’s a hard task for anyone. Maybe Kane’s numbers come down, but they might be able to suppress just a little what top lines can do against them scoring-wise.

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