Evaluating Patrick Kane as a trade target
Patrick Kane turns 34 in November, and considering the looming lengthy rebuild in Chicago, it seems likely the Blackhawks sniper will be moved at or before the trade deadline.
As a prospective trade target, Kane is a bit of a unicorn: He’s a prolific scorer who has racked up a ton of mileage over 16 NHL seasons. He’s on an expiring contract and has a full no-move clause.
The contract in and of itself is a quagmire to consider. On one hand, you have a great hedge in place if a trade doesn’t work out – Kane’s contract expires next summer, and if the aging curve starts to bite hard on his scoring, a buying team won’t be financially hooked.
On the other hand, you have the reality of the NHL’s economic landscape. Nearly a third of the league is pressed against the cap, and fitting in Kane’s contract, even with salary retained, will be awfully difficult. And considering Kane’s no-move clause, some of the most desirable teams – generally your quality playoff teams and Stanley Cup contenders – may not be viable landing spots because of a cap crunch.
It’s a bit of a mess. But the most important question to evaluate is whether Kane should be a player teams pursue. We know he can score, and scoring is immensely valuable, but there have long been concerns about his defensive play. And with more than 1,200 games logged, are there signs Kane’s performance is starting to erode?
That’s something that will be heavily studied and scouted this regular season. But Kane’s record leading into this year is impressive. If we look at Kane’s offensive production, you see very little slippage – he generates heaps of scoring chances on a consistent basis (and notably has done so recently on less-talented teams), and is still an above-average shooter:
Kane still checks most of the boxes. Not surprisingly Kane’s power-play production is still utterly sublime – give a player with his skill set time and space, and it matters not if he’s a half-step slower in 2022-23. Even on a bad Blackhawks team last year, Kane (and departed winger Alex DeBrincat) were the focal point of their power play, combining for 23 goals.
Even strength is a bit more of an important focus area, as it’s where the lion’s share of the game is played, and it’s also where the effects of aging and slowed production can first manifest. If there is one data point to home in on, it’s Kane’s individual goal scoring. From 2007-20, Kane averaged 0.93 goals per 60 minutes played. Over an average deployment season, that’s worth about 21 even-strength goals a year.
Those numbers have slumped over the past two seasons. Kane is averaging closer to 15 goals at even strength over a full season, and his rate scoring is at lows not seen since 2008-09.
Is that a cause for concern? Perhaps not, because the bar for Kane’s offensive production was so high during his prime it would invariably regress as he ages. And 15 even-strength goals, with some additional power-play scoring, is nothing to sneeze at. But it’s the first potential indication we have of a player’s production starting to slip.
I think it’s reasonable to assume Kane will still offensively produce like a top-six forward this season. That brings us to the defensive side of Kane’s game. He’s never been great off the puck, but he’s never needed to be, either. His sheer offensive prowess, coupled with a staple of capable defensive-minded players around him, made Kane very effective for years.
Where is his defensive production at now? Let’s look at how teams are playing with Kane on the defence:
Kane is at his best when he’s allowed to make plays in the offensive zone with a heightened level of aggression – or, said differently, being given the freedom to make plays on the attack without being concerned about counterattacks or transition plays burning his line. It’s one of the reasons why you have seen Blackhawks coaches over the years experiment playing Kane with more capable two-way players and even defensive-minded centres. In theory, it’s the type of hedge you put in place to get the most out of a player like Kane, who wasn’t even stymieing opposing attackers in his prime.
Kane has generally conceded more goals than what we would expect over the course of his career, and that’s because, on average, a shot against a line featuring Kane is more dangerous than a shot against a line not featuring Kane. His career low point was in the 2020-21 regular season, where the Blackhawks conceded 54 even-strength goals in just 56 games. Kevin Lankinen and Malcolm Subban weren’t a dream team in net, but what exactly are they supposed to do when shot volume is coming from the net mouth and inside the slot with regularity? (Via HockeyViz)
The beauty about Kane is he’s been the same player for most of his career. Elite offensively, concerning defensively, and yet at aggregate a very valuable first-line forward who most every team in the league has probably coveted.
But general managers considering acquiring Kane right now must consider both the financial tightrope walk of their current cap outlook and be willing to wager that Kane’s offence – which has seen marginal slippage in recent seasons – is still good enough to dispel defensive concerns.
I think Kane is still a big value-add addition because of his scoring. But this same question at age 34 requires a bit more thought and consideration as teams evaluate their lineups.
Data via NaturalStatTrick, NHL.com, Hockey Reference, Evolving Hockey