This past season was the worst for the Chicago Blackhawks since 2005-06, finishing with a 28-42-12 record and just .415 point percentage. When a team plays that poorly, fans are going to focus somewhat on the star players’ performances, which is fair.
In Chicago, that focus is going to start with Patrick Kane and his offensive game, specifically his lower goal totals from some of his career bests. And let’s be honest, the critique that Kane scored less has merit. He scored just 26 goals in 78 games, and his goal-scoring rate of 0.92 goals per 60 minutes was the fourth lowest of his career, thanks to the third-worst shooting percentage (9.1) of his career this season. But that only tells half the story … literally.
This season really was a tale of two halves for Kane when it came to goal scoring:
- First 39 games: Kane scored 9 goals, shooting at 6.34 percent
- Second 39 games: Kane scored 17 goals, shooting at 11.72 percent
It’s pretty common for Kane to go through goal-scoring droughts throughout a season, but never to this degree. And while that 11.7 percent mark above is still below some of his best seasons, it is on par with his career average of 11.7 percent. In addition, Kane’s goal production rate (0.44 goals per game) in the second half was practically the same (0.46) as his best five-season average between 2015 and 2020. So Kane has definitely had issues scoring in the first half of seasons before. But the second half of this season was like a much closer to his normal levels of goal production.
Why did Kane shoot so poorly in the first half of the season then? This is a difficult thing to determine, and there are at some theories out there that all have merit. For example, Kane did look like he struggled with his shot some this season — especially his wrister — and his skating looked less explosive than in the past. Both these issues could be a general decline that comes with age and/or the number of games he’s played in his career, or they could have been due to that undisclosed injury he was carrying all season. It also could have been due to the Blackhawks, as a whole being terrible, in most offensive categories under their two AHL coaches.
Note: An interesting point about the charts above: the ones where the Blackhawks are ranked higher in the league tended to be in microstats where Kane excels the most (cross-slot pass, high danger passes, transition).
What we do know is that Kane’s shooting habits in terms of number of shots and location of shots didn’t change much on the surface as the season progressed. His shot rates were practically identical from one half of the season to the next:
- Shots per 60 rates were 10.07 vs 10.16
- Scoring chance per 60 rates were 7.66 vs 7.85
- High danger chances per 60 rates were 1.99 vs 1.96
- Expected goals per 60 0.78 vs 0.77
The last point is particularly interesting because that is the second lowest expected goals rate of Kane’s career, which would make it seem like his lower goal total was predictable. However, Kane has always wildly overperformed when it comes to expected goals models — except the first half of this season.
Remember that expected goals is a stat that attempts to quantify shot quality value in terms of that shot’s probability of being a goal. It’s historically a highly accurate advanced stat, but there are exceptions that break its model (and others), and Kane is definitely one of those players. The main theory being, as JFresh summarizes here, is “that [Kane’s] pickiness and love of the cross-slot pass creates tap-ins that expected goal models can’t adequately measure”. It’s why Kane’s offensive microstats are always in the top of the league, but his wins-above-replacement (WAR) is not.
For Kane to have 11.05 expected goals in his first 39 games but only score nine, that’s definitely a statistical anomaly for him as an individual player and an indication that something was not working for him.
That point is reiterated when you look at his expected goals for the second half: he scored about six more goals than the 10.99 predicted by the expected goals model — much more in line with his career trend. Statistically, it was likely that Kane was going to regress positively as the season progressed, which is exactly what happened. That doesn’t negate that Kane did struggle with scoring in the first half, just that the probability was good that that he wouldn’t struggle the entire season – either because his shots would eventually go in or because he adjusted his game to compensate for whatever held him back previously.
Good way to visualize this is a heat map from HockeyViz.— JFresh (@JFreshHockey) April 17, 2022
The public model sees Kane totally neglecting the most dangerous area of the ice, the slot.
The microstats and eye test see that those red spots in the circles are looking at empty nets or at least moving goalies. pic.twitter.com/2kfxrofnOy
Did Kane’s lower goal total impact the team negatively? This is a question that’s come up in a few comment sections here when discussing Kane’s lower goals this season, and while any loss of goals is going to be a negative for a team, the “loss” here from Kane is marginal when you look at how absolutely terrible the team was on offensive.
Let’s say Kane scored at a 36-goal pace instead – roughly the average he scored the five seasons before COVID-19 took over the world — which would give him exactly 10 more goals than he had this season. Some of the scenarios mentioned below have extremely low probabilities of happening that they border on impossible, but the hypothetical still paints a decent picture.
- The Blackhawks would have had a minus-62 goal differential instead of a minus-72 goal differential, making them the 27th worst in the league instead of 28th worst.
- If all 10 of the goals happened during one-goal overtime or shootout games: The Blackhawks would have a .475 points percentage and still be seventh in the Central Division.
- If all 10 of the goals happened during non-overtime or shootout games and still they won the same amount of overtime/shootout games, the Blackhawks would have a points percentage between .536 and .545, which may have bumped them up to sixth place.
The only way for the 10 “missing” Kane goals to be materially impactful is if the second point is true and those wins were against divisional rivals, so those opponents points percentages would be lower. This may put them in line with the Nashville Predators and in the playoffs. But again, the probability that all 10 goals would be a win-determining factor is so low, it’s borderline impossible – never mind any additional conditions added that lowers the probability even more — that ultimately this bares out that Kane’s small drop in goals from previous strong seasons did not have a significant effect on the fate of the Blackhawks this season.
Note: Obviously these numbers change slightly more if you went with Kane’s career best for goals, but considering he’s only scored more than 40 goals twice ever, using that would stretch the above hypothetical to even more improbable levels.
Kane also still led the team in points and directly contributed more to the Blackhawks offense as a whole than anyone else on the team. Using Alex DeBrincat as a comparison as the second best offensive producer on the team:
- Kane had 92 points overall with 72 of them being primary. DeBrincat had 78 and 60, respectively.
- Kane had 49 points at 5-on-5 with 38 of them being primary. DeBrincat had 39 and 28, respectively.
- Kane contributed to 79.31 percent of goals overall. DeBrincat was at 65.45 percent.
- Kane contributed to 75.35 percent of goals at 5-on-5. DeBrincat was at 66.10 percent.
By the end of the season, Kane contributed to about 42 percent of all Blackhawks goals, which is higher than any season except his Art Ross season. To put that even more into perspective, that goal share is as good or better than the top-five offensive players in the league this season:
- Connor McDavid contributed to 42 percent of the Edmonton Oilers’ goals
- Johnny Gaudreu contributed to 39 percent of the Calgary Flames’ goals
- Leon Draisaitl contributed to 38 percent of the Edmonton Oilers’ goals
- Kirill Kaprizov contributed to 35 percent of the Minnesota Wild’s goals
- Auston Matthews contributed to 34 percent of the Toronto Maple Leafs goals
Ultimately, Kane did score less than he did in the best seasons of his career — which might be the new normal for him due to natural decline, such as with his shot – but it did not affect his overall contribution to the Blackhawks production and success (or lack thereof) this season. If anything, this shows how little the rest of the Blackhawks contributed to offense outside a select few, of which Kane is at the top.
What’s next for Kane? Now, when discussing the future of Kane’s contributions to the Blackhawks, that’s more difficult to ascertain when we don’t actually know why he struggled with goals in the first half. Whether it was due to age, injury, team quality, or just bad luck, the concern over his goal-scoring was definitely valid in the first half of the season but should have been alleviated by Kane’s second half performance. He either learned to compensate for whatever ailed him, the consistency of linemates compensated for lack of overall team quality, or the first half was just an anomaly that was going to improve as Kane’s numbers progressed to the mean.
What we can take away from this is that, no matter what, Kane is going to find a way to contribute offensively and will probably continue to do so at a decently high level for at least a few more years — whether that’s with the Blackhawks through their rebuild or not.