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Photo Credit: © Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

A breakdown of Evander Kane’s tenure in Edmonton thus far

A frequent talking point around the Edmonton Oilers and the fanbase is the addition of Evander Kane, and the impact he’s made.

Kane was signed by Edmonton on January 27, and ever since, he’s posted 16 goals and 31 points in 37 games. At a raw glance, it seems extremely encouraging, as a big power-forward that can score is something that many fans have yearned for.

There has been discussion and speculation regarding what Ken Holland should do with Kane this upcoming off-season. He requires a contract, but so do wingers Jesse Puljujarvi and Kailer Yamamoto. On OilersNow, host Bob Stauffer stated that Kane’s next contract could be around $5M, with a term of around three years. 

Does he deserve this contract? Is it an overpay, or a fairly reasonable deal?

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In this piece, I’ll break down Kane’s metrics from a statistical standpoint at both ends of the ice, evaluating his current performance and what sort of deal Edmonton should grant him. Is Kane as good as his point totals indicate? Or are there red flags in his on-ice performance that should cause concern and trump the positive value he provides?

*All microstats via Corey Sznajder, all other stats via EvolvingHockey and Natural Stat Trick unless stated otherwise

Kane’s most valuable traits are his goal-scoring and volume shooting

This is obvious; Kane’s goal-scoring has been quite beneficial for Edmonton. As stated before, he’s produced 16 goals in 37 games, which is an excellent pace.

Additionally, one of Edmonton’s prior issues was the excessive rate of low-quality shots from the point. This was especially true for Dave Tippett’s Oilers, who seemed to prioritize their defencemen shooting constant point shots, as opposed to more dangerous shots from forwards.

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This issue has improved under Woodcroft, and Kane has played a significant role in this as well. This season, Kane ranks in the 94th percentile in Shots/60, 92nd percentile in Shot Attempts/60, and in the 90th percentile in High Danger Shots/60.

Kane is doing a superb job at crashing the net, and taking quite a lot of shots, especially from high-danger areas. Goal-scoring is an exceedingly important facet in hockey, and Kane is performing very well in this area.

Kane’s microstats

Here’s a statistical breakdown of Kane from a microstat-level.

There are several things to note here, and this matches what I’ve seen on the ice. 

Kane’s rate of zone exits is solid, but it’s rarely with possession. The majority of the time, Kane’s Zone Exits typically result in an icing, clear, or a turnover to the opposition. Only 41% of his total zone exits are with possession.

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Kane’s Zone Entries/60 is relatively high, ranking in the 86th percentile. However, 62% of his entries are dump-ins, as he ranks 3rd in the league in Dump-Ins/60. 

He still carries the puck into the offensive zone at a decent rate but doesn’t utilize them to generate many chances. This is quite different from his play-style in 18-19 with San Jose, a season in which he was superb at generating shots and chances off the rush.

Consequently, Kane isn’t the most effective and efficient transitional player, as his Entries and Exits aren’t always controlled/with possession, and he isn’t a very dangerous rush attacker like he previously once was.

Furthermore, although Kane is a physical player, his forechecking isn’t exceptional. Kane’s an OK forechecker, overall, with his Forecheck Pressures/60 ranking in the 45th percentile. Moreover, even though he dumps the puck in at a high rate, he’s not efficient at recovering these pucks. His Dump-In Recoveries/60 ranks in the 32nd percentile.

Additionally, Kane’s In-Zone Passing is quite poor. Kane doesn’t produce many assists or offence off the cycle, and he’s brutal at making high-danger passes. 

Kane’s impact on driving offensive scoring chances (RAPM xGF) is at the 53rd percentile in the past two seasons, so he’s essentially close to a league-average player in that regard. Most of the scoring chances he creates are individual ones, as Kane’s performance and value are primarily reliant on his shooting abilities in the offensive zone. His passing/play-making abilities are substandard.

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Overall, this isn’t the most encouraging microstat profile.

How good is Kane’s defensive play?

Kane possesses the puck quite a lot, but he isn’t exceedingly active in his defensive zone, as his Defensive Zone Retrievals/60 ranks in the 29th percentile. His linemates (most notably McDavid and Puljujarvi) typically do the heavy lifting deep in the defensive zone. As stated previously, Kane is also often prone to making turnovers/DZ exits without possession, which can often lead to chances against.

He isn’t a massive defensive liability in any sense, but his results aren’t optimistic.

Edmonton allows fewer shots, shot attempts, expected goals, and high danger chances against with Kane off the ice. Most of his linemates (most notably Draisaitl) see a solid improvement in their defensive totals without Kane, and his defensive track record isn’t encouraging either; his xGA impact from 18-19 – 20-21 ranks in the 24th percentile.

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However, what about actual goals against, you may ask?

Here’s a career overview of Kane’s goals against, as opposed to his expected goals against.

Kane’s on-ice GA/60 impact has been quite good with Edmonton, but history suggests that it’s exceedingly unsustainable. With the exception of 17-18 (in which he received roughly average goaltending), Kane’s GA/60 has always been higher than his xGA/60.

PDO is a common proxy for puck luck, and it’s the sum total of a player’s on-ice shooting% and on-ice SV%. Kane is at a career-high in PDO, at 1.03. 

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Kane hasn’t really been lucky in regards to offence. His on-ice Goals For/60 is 2.86. His on-ice xGoals For/60 is 2.83. The difference is minimal, and certainly not large enough to deduce that he’s been exceedingly lucky offensively.

The more notable thing driving Kane’s fortune is his defence. Edmonton’s goaltenders currently have a SV% of 94.5% with Kane on the ice.

On-ice SV% constantly varies and changes for the vast majority of the league, season by season (unless your name is Leon Draisaitl). Skaters have a significant impact on the number of chances their goalies face, but they have minimal control over if their goalie saves the chances they allow or not. It’s why most people in the analytics community use xGA as a proxy for a player’s defensive performance, rather than GA. 

Overall, Kane is at a solid 5v5 goal share of 62.0%, but his expected goal share is at 50.4%, which is unimpressive when considering that he’s played frequently alongside McDavid and Puljujarvi (who have an xGF% of 58% and 59% respectively). Relative to teammates, Kane has a negative impact on xGF%.

It’s even worse when you consider that Kane’s xGF% without McDavid is at a dreadful 41%. If you compare every Edmonton player’s xGF% with McDavid off-ice, 41% would rank dead last. In other words, no Oilers forward is more reliant on McDavid, than Kane is.

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There’s minimal indication that Kane’s current goal share can sustain. The likelihood of a 30-year-old forward suddenly having the ability to sustain a 62 GF% and an on-ice SV% of 94.5%, in spite of holding a career GF% of 48%, is exceedingly low.

Consequently, regression won’t look pretty for Kane on the defensive side when it inevitably occurs.

Kane’s issue with penalties

Furthermore, Kane’s penalty impact is also an issue. In spite of playing considerably fewer games than the majority of the team, Kane ranks 2nd on Edmonton in minor penalties taken.

Kane’s Minor Penalties/60 is 1.83. The skater with the 2nd highest Minor Penalties/60 on Edmonton is Zack Kassian, who’s at 1.16

This is a difference of roughly 0.67. The gap between 1st and 2nd place (0.67) is larger than the gap between 2nd and 15th among Edmonton players (Connor McDavid is 18th at a Minor Penalties/60 of 0.5, so the gap between McDavid and Kassian is 0.66). Not good.

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This is a notable concern, and a player just can’t take penalties at this high of a rate, and consistently cause his team to be short-handed.

Some things to note in Kane’s production and finishing

In his last thirteen games, Kane doesn’t have a single 5v5 goal. In general this season, his 5v5 production hasn’t been eye-popping at all, and the same can be said for his production on the power play.

Kane’s 5v5 Points/60 is 1.62, which would rank 201st in the league. Kane’s PP Points/60 is 2.51, which ranks 295th in the league. 

His raw production totals have been somewhat inflated by his empty-net totals, as he ranks atop the team in Empty Net Points/60. One could argue that his production on the penalty-kill is quite good, but it’s in a limited sample of 11 TOI, as Kane isn’t a frequent penalty-killer. Short-handed production is significantly less repeatable than 5v5 and PP production, especially for players who don’t often penalty-kill in the first place.

I’m not suggesting he’s a poor producer in any sense at all, but this is something to keep in mind. Paying a player for his point totals when his even-strength (or even PP) production rate isn’t exceptional in the first place, rarely ends well.

Furthermore; among the analytics community, many people separate goal-scoring abilities from finishing talent. Goals Above Expected (GAx) is frequently used to evaluate a player’s finishing ability. It’s essentially a player’s goals, subtracted by their xGoals. Expected goals take both shot volume and quality into account.

GAx attempts to measure how well a player can score relative to the shots and chances they obtain.

Typically, players that score more than expected are good finishers if they sustain it over multiple seasons. For example, the leaders in GAx this season are Matthews and Draisaitl, players that have consistently scored more than expected throughout their careers. Consequently, they’re excellent finishers. Other players with a good GAx include Ovechkin, Debrincat, Makar, Forsberg, etc. 

Now, what does this have to do with Kane? This season, Kane has scored 7 even-strength goals on 9.2 expected goals, meaning a GAx of -2.2. He has a total of 13 non-empty-net goals on 13.9 expected goals, which equates to a GAx of -0.9.

In other words, Kane may be excellent at scoring goals, but relative to the shots he’s taking, he may not be an exceptional finisher, if that makes sense. Kane’s GAx from 19-20 and 20-21 is also slightly negative, so he has a recent history of scoring less than expected.

However, this is much less objective than the other red flags I’ve mentioned. The concept of finishing is quite subjective, so it’s entirely up to you how you interpret this. I just felt it’s something worth noting, and it’s certainly not Kane’s most significant issue.

Conclusion

To briefly summarize, Kane is a power-forward that can shoot and score, extremely valuable traits in the game of hockey. However, he has several red flags in his 5v5 performance, such as his track record of substandard defensive play, inefficient transitional results, mediocre production rates, and poor passing/play-making abilities. He also takes an excessive rate of penalties, and his finishing talent is arguable. There’s much more to the story beyond his raw point totals.

Personally, I feel that Edmonton should give Kane a maximum of 1-2 years, in regards to term. Physical players don’t always age well, and Kane turns 31 in several months, so Edmonton shouldn’t grant him a lot of term. In addition, Dylan Holloway is also in the pipeline, so Kane will likely not be of some necessity in the long term.

I’m mixed on an exact number for his contract value, but I do feel $5M is somewhat of an overpay, and I wouldn’t be too disappointed if Edmonton let him walk.

Kane just can’t be prioritized over younger players like Kailer Yamamoto and especially Jesse Puljujarvi. I wrote a bit about this in my article last week, but Puljujarvi is an extremely valuable player who impacts Edmonton in ways beyond point totals.

All of Edmonton’s top centers perform much better with Puljujarvi as opposed to without, in regards to goal share, expected goal share, and even Points/60. Unlike Kane, Puljujarvi’s metrics without McDavid and Draisaitl are also prominent, relative to the team. Kane is the superior goal-scorer, but Puljujarvi exceeds him in nearly every other facet.

Of course, I’m not suggesting that Kane is some terrible player, because he isn’t. He undeniably provides value in some facets, and Edmonton has largely benefitted from his goal-scoring capabilities. However, overemphasizing his box-score totals, and not looking deeper, could end up being a poor decision.

It’s difficult to say that Kane hasn’t exceeded expectations, but it’s always important to remember both the positives and negatives of a player’s value.

What are your thoughts on Kane?

Find me on Twitter (@NHL_Sid)