Let’s enjoy it one more time, shall we?
And while we’re on the subject of backhand goals scored by Patrick Kane, let’s sample this personal favorite:
Take a moment to enjoy that goal and the sound of fans erupting in celebration. Fingers crossed that we get back to it soon.
Kane has been so good for so long that’s hard to envision a Blackhawks team without him. In the last several seasons, as the team rolled downhill from its spot atop the NHL mountain, Kane’s performance hasn’t wilted. In 2018-19, Chicago missed the playoffs by six points but Kane scored a career-high 110 points (44 G, 66 A). He’s averaged over one point per game in seven of the last eight seasons and is currently at 1.37 through 19 games in 2021 — the highest mark of his career.
Although he continues mounting evidence to the contrary, Kane can’t do this forever.
He turned 32 last November and is inching towards 1,000 career NHL games (currently at 992). He’s also played in 136 postseason games and even more international ones. There are a LOT of miles on his tires.
Chicago’s recent focus on its younger players has led to improved organizational depth at several positions — but they don’t have a replacement for Kane. And that’s no slight to any of the Blackhawks current players and prospects or the organization as a whole. Kane is a former No. 1 overall pick who’s headed into the Hall of Fame as soon as his career ends. Finding one of those players is difficult enough. Finding a replacement? Good luck.
Without any replacements on the way, the Blackhawks must hope that Kane can continue defying odds and producing like a 27-year-old while being farther and farther removed from that age.
But how much longer can Kane keep producing at this level?
Last season, during which Kane turned 31, he played in 70 games while producing 0.47 goals per game (GPG) and 0.73 assists per game (APG), both above his career marks of 0.40 and 0.65, respectively.
For a comparison, here’s a look at similar numbers for players with a similar level of production as Kane who are near him in age (Kane was born Nov. 19, 1988). Statistics below are GPG, APG and points per game (PPG) for more accurate projections because of the pandemic-shortened ‘19-20 season.
Ovechkin’s numbers dipped slightly during his age-34 season but its worth noting that’s he back at 1.15 PPG through 13 games in 2021. Crosby and Backstrom remained near their career levels through their age-32 seasons while Malkin enjoyed a late career surge during his age-33 season.
With Kane in his age-32 season, the numbers above suggest his production won’t be slowing down for the rest of 2021 and could also remain at this level for the ‘21-22 season.
What about the years after that? Here are some slightly older players from the last decade:
The levels of production from both Datsyuk and St. Louis well into their 30s offer a dose of optimism that Kane’s all-star level will persist for several more seasons. Getzlaf and Thorton are built much differently than Kane but it bears mentioning that their declines in production coincided with the regression of their teams — something that hasn’t slowed Kane down over the last 3-4 seasons.
Finding worthwhile comparables to Kane can be a lesson in futility, because any players from the prior century played in a league so different from today’s game that less apples-to-apples and more fruits-to-vegetables.
But the career trajectories of the eight players above suggest that Kane can maintain this rate of production for at least the next two or three seasons. The longer we venture into the 2020s, though, the murkier that picture gets. Away from the ice, Kane revamped his workout regimen a few years ago to stave off the battle with Father Time looming in the distance.
How soon that happens will be one of the most crucial developments in the franchise’s journey through the next decade because, as mentioned earlier, there’s just no replacement for Kane available in the organization.