Evander Kane's non-existent 'decline' (What We Learned)

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Evander Kane's non-existent 'decline' (What We Learned)
Evander Kane's non-existent 'decline' (What We Learned)

The Jets have been forced to sell low on Evander Kane, and whether it's this season or next you can bet he'll be traded to someone hoping to pick him up off the scrap heap and hope his shoulder fully heals.

This is basically the very definition of selling low on a player, and certainly his attitude and how he's perceived by the locals is at least partly to blame for this. Come up with any number of excuses you like, but the truth is he isn't well liked in either the room or the stands, let alone the press box. That rumors of his being discontented with his situation in Winnipeg have been swirling for years should come as little surprise, and this was perhaps the worst possible end to the already-toxic relationship.

There are a lot of reasons things seem to have soured in Winnipeg, but at least part of that comes from the idea that Kane is no longer the player he once was. Sure, he scored 30 in 74 games as a 20-year-old, but his goal total has declined in each of the last three seasons, one of which was shortened by a lockout while the other two were hampered by injuries.

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But injury or not, you have to say this is a disappointing output for a former No. 4 pick, whose points per game have dropped sharply during that stretch. This is problematic because he's still a young player, having not even turned 24 yet. Player are generally supposed to peak at around 25 years old or so, and thus the fact that he started doing so four years premature is a concern.

But rumblings out of Winnipeg that he's not even a top-six player are of course ludicrous, and anyone who doesn't have a vested interest in throwing some rotten garbage at the kid as he's on the way out the door (such as those who spent much of the last four years shivving him in the paper every chance he got) understands that fully. That doesn't mean they should retain him, but certainly they shouldn't have let it get to the point where he's being used as a third-liner (for dumb reasons), having his clothes thrown in the shower (for semi-legitimate ones, at least as far as his teammates are concerned), and getting season-ending surgery (maybe just so he doesn't have to play said teammates any more).

The fact of the matter is that while his point production isn't where it was, and hasn't been for a while, you actually have to do a little more work than saying, “He's not capable of playing that way any more.” Looking under the hood to see why a high-end sports car doesn't run like it used to will give you a much better idea as to the Why of it; otherwise you might be sending a Ferrari off to the junkyard because it had a problem that would have cost a trip to an auto parts store and $50 to fix.

So let's start at the beginning: When Kane looked like a budding elite goalscorer in 2011-12. He scored 30 goals that year, only six of which were on the power play, and 20 of which were at 5-on-5. Two more were with an extra attacker, one at 4-on-4, and one into an empty net. Despite cracking 30, he finished tied for 25th in the league in goalscoring. As you might imagine, part of that was driven by shooting percentage: 8.4 percent at 5-on-5 exceeded his career average to that point (though only marginally), and his current career average even more so. Add in the fact that he didn't exactly play tough minutes, and is it therefore reasonable to wonder whether this season was a fluke?

A look at those three seasons since indicates that the answer might be “maybe.” After all, his even-strength goals per 60 has declined to the point where he's tied for 39th in the league among forwards with 2,000-plus ES minutes in that time. Though with some pretty good players — like Anze Kopitar, Marian Hossa, Jake Voracek, Evgeni Malkin, et al — that kind of dropoff should come as a concern. But that comes despite the fact that he's taken the sixth-most individual shots at 5-on-5 over those three seasons (424). And he missed 19 games in 2013-14.

So really, the lack of goalscoring is because the percentage of shots he took that weren't blocked and actually made it into the back of the net came in at 5.3 percent, tied for 141st among the 160 forwards to get at least 2,000 5-on-5 minutes in the last three seasons. In his 30-goal year, that number was 6.7 percent, better by more than one-quarter.

This basically boils down to shooting luck: either he had it in one season as a 30-goal scorer, or he largely didn't in the 148 subsequent games. A reasonable guess is that his true shooting talent is somewhere in the middle, because no first- or even second-liner should generate the sixth-most shots on goal in a three-year period and score only the 43rd-most goals, though the evidence is mounting that while Kane is a nearly peerless generator of shots, his ability to put the puck in the net isn't quite what we might have once though.

But there are other factors at hand as well, obviously. For one thing, Kane actually gets a lot of use from his coaches; both Claude Noel and Paul Maurice used him nearly 20 minutes a night until the latter eased off the throttle more recently. He's third in even-strength minutes per game in the last three years (behind only John Tavares and Sidney Crosby), but gets some pretty sheltered minutes. Bryan Little and Andrew Ladd do most of the heavy lifting in terms of tough competition and difficult zone starts, respectively.

(Let's further note here that Kane is a possession driver for the Jets. Granted, he's not playing difficult competition, but from 2011 to present, his corsi-for is 51.4 percent, while his team turns in 49.4 percent when he's off the ice.)

There's also the fact that his use on the power play has been sharply in decline since that one big year; only six goals and 13 points. Part of the reason for that is he's just not scoring at the same clip. His PP goals per 60 has declined to 1.1 from the 2 seen that year, and it's mostly because he's not shooting 16.7 percent any more. He is, instead, shooting 7.9 percent. That means he's shooting more, but scoring at less than half the rate, and with only about 10 extra seconds of power play time per game. How much of that, too, is shooting luck just turning sour for him?

It's also important to look at who he's played with. In that 30-goal season, his most common linemates were Alex Burmistrov and Blake Wheeler, and they flat-out dominated the competition. But since then, let's just say the quality has been quite a bit lower; in the lockout year it was Olli Jokinen and Nik Antropov, last season it was rookie Mark Scheifele and Jokinen again, and this season it's Scheifele and Adam Lowry. The fact that Kane has played more minutes with Olli Jokinen — a negative-possession, negative-goals-for, flat-out-bad player —  as his center than any other forward tells you a lot about what's gone wrong.

And this year, he's also been playing with that shoulder injury that (may or may not have) required season-ending surgery — which has been nagging at him  and also missed 13 games with a knee sprain and, a few months later, a “lower body injury.” Last year it was two lower-body injuries in a month and a half (eight total games missed), and then two separate hand injuries in five weeks that caused him to miss another 10. Do hand, shoulder, and leg injuries impact a player's ability to score? We may never know.

So really, in the last three years he's played with rookies and possession/scoring anchors, and fought through injuries. All of which is going to hamper your goal production. These two things combined with what we know about his decline in shooting percentage paint a picture I think we'd guess at naturally: His shot quality has dropped off. This is, however, something he can probably recover; he didn't magically forget how to get to the front of the net.

Does all that mean Evander Kane is or should be considered a 30-goal scorer? Maybe not. After looking at all the data I'd lean toward “probably not.” But he's also not a guy who's going to score 15 to 20 either. With proper usage, actual good linemates, fewer injuries, and maybe a bounce-back in shooting luck (though I'd argue that the latter has at least something to do with the former), there's no reason he can't be a possession-driving second-line, 25-goal winger for years to come.

Someone has to give him the chance, and it's sure as hell not going to be the Jets. Whoever does is probably going to get a pretty good player. But you knew that already. Unless you're in Winnipeg.

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: Well here we go: “But what [Tyler] Myers does and what the Ducks need, to win a Stanley Cup, are identical.” Throw another one on the fire.

Arizona Coyotes: Martin Hanzal's been a scratch the last few games. Could be any number of reasons for that but how much do you want to bet “Trade Interest” is among them.

Boston Bruins: Zdeno Chara got his real estate license during the time he was injured. He'll probably be pretty good at it, since he already had a lot of familiarity with escrow.

Buffalo Sabres: Jhonas Enroth is certainly taking the “play well so someone wants to trade for you” advice to heart. In the month of February he's allowed six goals on 103 shots (.942).

Calgary Flames: This just in: Johnny Gaudreau thinks Sidney Crosby is the best player in hockey and hoo boy he recognizes it even though he's not Canadian. Can you imagine such a thing?

Carolina Hurricanes: Wild third period in San Jose on Saturday, as the Canes and Sharks traded five goals between them, including this goofy one from Andrej Sekera.

Chicago: Yeah I could stand to watch another seven of these. That would be fine.

Colorado Avalanche: The Avs only put 18 shots on goal against the Wild? Hmm, it's almost like they're............ bad?

Columbus Blue Jackets: Is this the least-aware assist of Scott Hartnell's career? All three replays are equally weird.

Dallas Stars: This is the correct reaction after losing to Buffalo.

Detroit Red Wings: Babcock on some upcoming difficult roster decisions: “It's the NHL, the best guys are supposed to play.” Replied Randy Carlyle: “Oh. Hmm.”

Edmonton Oilers: Is that new arena they're building on any sort of burial ground, or...?

Florida Panthers: Brandon Pirri entered Sunday afternoon with six goals in his last seven games. The rest of the Panthers combined scored 13.

Los Angeles Kings: That was a big W Saturday night for the ailing Kings. Not that it matters.

Minnesota Wild: In what ways are the Wild different this year? Did you guess “a 29-point drop in 5-on-5 save percentage?” Hey, me too.

Montreal Canadiens: A whopping 18 Habs played a quick little game pee-wee team on Friday. That'll get the possession numbers up.

Nashville Predators, America's Favorite Hockey Team: Oh hey Pekka Rinne's back. Stopped 30 of 32 and made Rick Nash's night a little frustrating.

New Jersey Devils: This season is, like, bafflingly terrible.

New York Islanders: Hey know how good the Islanders are this season? They're moving in the summer please don't forget that. Signed, Brooklyn.

New York Rangers: Cam Talbot is going to play more minutes in the next few weeks and anyone who thinks the Rangers will be “fine” might want to keep in mind that his career .933 save percentage comes in relief during blowouts or against weaker teams. Never assume a team will be “fine” when they lose one of the best goalies alive.

Ottawa Senators: Robin Lehner broke his stick in frustration on Saturday night, and the coach doesn't like it. Do you know how much a goalie stick costs, Robin? This team is on a budget!

Philadelphia Flyers: The Flyers have been mentioned in connection with Evander Kane more than most teams. Talented young player with an attitude problem? I agree, he'll make a great King in three years.

Pittsburgh Penguins: The tail end of that Western Canada swing could have gone better.

San Jose Sharks: Glad they shook up the leadership structure. That's why the Sharks are so good now.

St. Louis Blues: The Blues loss to Chicago on Sunday brought an end to a 12-0-1 run. Now they're 12-1-1 in their last 14 and that's really bad and they should be embarrassed.

Tampa Bay Lightning: The Bolts shored up some of their AHL depth and helped out the Leafs in the process. Odds they meet the condition on that conditional seventh-rounder are just about zero.

Toronto Maple Leafs: You did it!!!!!! (No one tell the Leafs the team they beat to snap that 11-game losing streak was the Oilers. Don't ruin this for them.)

Vancouver Canucks: Count the Pens who blow coverage trying to break the puck out on this Bo Horvat goal. Not pretty.

Washington Capitals: The Caps are in the middle of a stretch in which they play seven in 11 days. That seems fun and not bad at all.

Winnipeg Jets: Conspiracy theory: Evander Kane is a scapegoat-for-slash-diversion-from the whole “the Jets are falling apart” storyline.

Play of the Weekend

Hahaha welp. There were like four missed assignments on this play.

Gold Star Award

Photo by Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images
Photo by Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images

Patrick Kane had three points in two games this weekend and momentarily moved into sole possession of first in league scoring this season. Very sneakily having an awesome season for a real good team. In my opinion he's talented and good.

Minus of the Weekend

This is basically the most literal representation of the quality of officiating in Hockey East.

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week

User “TheKingSlayer” must have typed this one with his gold hand.

To Toronto:

Niklas Backstrom> 4th round pick 2015 from Minnesota
conditional 3rd round pick 2015 from Dallas

To Dallas
James Reimer

To Minnesota
Anders Lindback






Signoff

State bird: the mosquito.

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is hereand his Twitter is here

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