There have been some green shoots for the Detroit Red Wings (how Christmas-y. Timely!) so far this season. Their trade for Alex DeBrincat has paid off so far, as Top Cat has 12 goals in 20 games so far (a 49-goal pace). Dylan Larkin is doing that thing again where he teases being a genuine No. 1 center for a real team (over a point per game), before fading just enough in the second half that everyone goes back into training camp asking, “Is this guy a lead or rhythm guitarist?” Maybe in Year 10 we’ll finally get an answer. J.T. Compher has been solid.
And the Wings are in third place, the last automatic playoff spot, in the Atlantic. The Tampa Bay Lightning, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Buffalo Sabres are all bubbling right behind them, but all of them have some major worries as well. They’re only two points behind the Florida Panthers. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than it’s been.
Their flaws are pretty obvious. The goaltending is wonky, and while James Reimer and Alex Lyon have played well, they’re also James Reimer and Alex Lyon. The defense isn’t great, and beyond Moritz Seider, there’s a bunch of vets who long ago proved themselves icky. You trust Shane Gostsishere at your own risk. Ben Chiarot has somehow conned the whole hockey world for years into thinking he isn’t a giant suckfest, and Jeff Petry is a million years old.
So to solve all that, GM Steve Yzerman signed today….Patrick Kane. Or what’s left of him.
You may remember Kane from such films as “Looking Totally Cooked With The Rangers Last Spring,” or “Coming Off The Same Surgery That Nicklas Backstrom Just Retired Because Of.” Kane only just came back into the league seven weeks into the season due to having hip-resurfacing surgery over the summer. The history of NHL players who have had that procedure and attempted to come back isn’t exactly glorious. Ed Jovanovsky played 36 games. Ryan Kesler never made it back to the ice. Backstrom played 47 games before leaving the Capitals eight games into this season and likely not coming back. Should Kane make it through the rest of the slate and be productive, well, he’d be the first.
And Kane has been declining for a few years now. The numbers still look good, because then-Hawks coach and world-class clod Jeremy Colliton played him 25 minutes a night to keep him happy. At his peak, Kane was at or over one goal per 60 minutes at even-strength. In ‘20-21 that dropped to 0.71. In ‘21-22 (throw ‘20-21 out for pandemic reasons) that was 0.69. It jumped to 0.94 in two-thirds of a season with the Hawks last year in his bid to get traded, and then plummeted upon arrival in New York to 0.67.
Kane’s other metrics aren’t any more pleasing. His individual expected goals per 60 has sunk in recent years, so too have his attempts, and so have his scoring chances. He’s just not that guy anymore, and is slowing down in a league that’s always speeding up.
Certainly, Kane’s hip was deteriorating during that time, but how much was health and how much was aging is not anything anyone is going to know until he gets on the ice at Pizza!PizzArena!
The Wings will hope that Kane can soup up a power play that’s already clicking at a 22 percent rate. They’ll also hope he can rekindle the magic he had with DeBrincat in Chicago. The latter had two 40-goal seasons playing on the opposite wing from Kane, and without him saw his total drop to 27 last year in Ottawa. Funny thing though, Kane and DeBrincat played in exactly 0 games that mattered in Chicago. It was a lot of empty calories.
Neither DeBrincat nor Kane have been known for their defensive play. Maybe Compher can iron that out in the middle of them, but that’s a huge ask. And Kane doesn’t do much about the crease or the blue line. But hey, Detroit is nice and close to Buffalo so his weirdo father can make every home game.
It’s low-risk. Kane is only signing for one year and at $2.7 million. While the Wings would like to make the playoffs this year, no one was expecting them to be true challengers and Kane won’t be expected to make them so. He only has to be a second-line contributor, though he found that difficult in New York last year, and that was one major surgery ago.
Yzerman is probably looking at the Sabres missing their best player, the Senators being a total mess, the Lightning being old, and the Leafs playing most nights with both hands wrapped around their neck and thinking there’s a door to break through. Kane doesn’t solve their major problems, but he might not have to for them to get back to the playoffs.
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