There were a few weeks after the Patrick Kane injury when things seemed alright. The trade deadline brought reinforcements, the goaltending looked stellar and the team was winning game after game. For a brief time, it seemed like the Blackhawks would be just fine.
Now we know how wrong we were. Before the injury, Kane was a legitimate Hart candidate, showing the kind of elite offensive game that few players around the league possess. His goals weren't just goals -- at times, Kane was the oasis for an otherwise arid, dying offense.
And now that he's been sidelined, we're getting a better glimpse at just how much he helped this team. The Blackhawks may have added Antoine Vermette and committed to Teuvo Teravainen since the injury, but that's done little to shake off what's become a genuinely concerning situation.
Before the Kane injury, the Blackhawks were one of the best possession teams in the league, winning countless games despite having one of the lowest 5-on-5 shooting percentages in the league. When the team lost, it was usually because a Michael Hutchinson or Jonas Hiller decided to stand his head and make 50 saves in 60 minutes.
Since the injury, the 'Hawks haven't just looked worse. They've played much, much worse. For a team that's defined by its ability to dominate the puck and apply pressure on the offensive end, what we've seen over the past few weeks makes it difficult to argue that Chicago plays elite hockey without its best scorer.
Here are the team's advanced numbers with and without Kane in all situations:
It's not hard to see the problem here. The 'Hawks were the best possession team in the league overall when Kane was playing 20 minutes a night. Without him, the team is still in the upper half of the league, but not nearly as dominant as it was prior to the injury. You see a similar story in 5-on-5 situations:
Even with a higher PDO -- thanks largely to some ridiculously good goaltending -- the team's performance has waned significantly at even strength. A 50.5 percent Corsi figure isn't just disappointing for the Blackhawks, it's a sign that the team's system isn't working as designed.
Now, to be clear, this isn't entirely on the absence of Kane. He's only one piece in a much bigger machine, and it's taken a certain confluence of factors to get to this point. However, Kane offered some insulation to the risks that come with constantly changing lineups and healthy scratches and everything Joel Quenneville has tried lately. Kane made guys like Brad Richards and Kris Versteeg actually look like potent second-liners for a few weeks there. On a team where so little is predictable from game-to-game right now, a steady presence like Kane was often what helped right the ship.
But with each game, it's becoming clear that nobody has stepped up to fill the void, and the rest of the team isn't good enough to prop things up. Quenneville's tried pretty much everything -- arguably to the point of excess -- and the situation has only worsened. Getting beat up by the Stars, Flyers and Blue Jackets in one week should be a pretty loud wake-up call.
I'm just not sure any of it matters anymore, because the Blackhawks aren't getting Kane back any time soon. Even if the defense tightens up its zone-clearing efforts, even if Corey Crawford gets back to his best work between the pipes, even if Q stops futzing with the lineup, I'm not sure it matters. Chicago is missing one of the best players in the world, and while we had hoped a still talented roster and adherence to the system would allow the team to survive and advance, that's increasingly becoming a pipe dream.
I don't know if we underestimated Kane, or overestimated how the team would adjust in his absence. Either way, Kane's injury has crushed this team. Pardon going all "THE SKY IS FALLING" on everyone, but pretty soon, it's going to be hard not to look back and wonder what could've been.
(Advanced stats via War-on-Ice)