Early season results are great for overreactions to small sample sizes. Toronto putting Mitch Marner on the fourth line, Cam Talbot having a couple of bad games, Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin combining for fewer total points than Alex Ovechkin has goals. What do these things all have in common? They aren’t going to last a full season, that’s what. However, there are always some stats that we can try to pick out of the clutter at this point, and show something that could last. With the gaudy numbers that Evander Kane has amassed to start the season, many are brushing it off as just another over-performance in a small sample size, but there is reason to believe he may actually put together a standout season for a change.
*Through seven games
In previous years, Kane has shown himself to be quite the roller coaster of production, teasing us with stretches of excellence, sandwiched between an awful slump and an injury. Why would it be different this year? What is going to keep Kane interested enough to work through slumps and make him willing to push through a minor injury? His livelihood would make sense. Coming into a contract year, it is common for players to see a small uptick in production. The same holds true for this 26-year-old power-forward.
The 2011-2012 season was the last of Kane’s rookie contract, lining him up for his first big payday in the NHL. He certainly took full advantage. Career highs of 74 games, 30 goals, and 57 points highlight exactly how talented the then-third-year winger could be when he was on his game. The next season was the lockout shortened one, and Kane played the full 48 games, and was on track for equal or better numbers had the season gone 82 games. Looking ahead to the 75 games that remain, a motivated Kane appears set to threaten his career highs in most of the important statistical categories.
To top it all off, the Sabres’ top-line left winger has never had the opportunity to play a full season with anyone as talented as Jack Eichel on his line. Eichel is making an effort to follow the production of other rising young stars in today’s game, and has the talent to do so. The first line is completed with the return to Buffalo of Jason Pominville, who brings a steady presence to the line; and boy have they clicked. With a combined 27 points through the team’s first seven games, they have been one of the few brighter spots for Sabres fans thus far, and there is no reason that this can’t continue.
Sabres coach Phil Housley was a defenceman during his playing career, so he knows how tough it can be starting a shift against a top scoring line in your defensive zone. As a result, he seems keen to push that. Buffalo’s first line has started almost 60% of their shifts in the opposition’s end, which bodes well for keeping up the shot rates of the whole line. Kane alone has a whopping 39 shots in his first seven games, and is shooting an extremely sustainable 12.8% (his career average is only slightly lower at 9.1%). Other luck metrics are also in a very normal range, with a PDO of 1010, and a 5on5 SH% of 7.84%, to go along with an extra minute of powerplay time above what he had seen the four seasons prior.
This is all well and good, but it is fair to assume that Kane won’t keep up his current pace, and hit 55 goals with 465 shots on goal. However, the fact that he is even on pace for such totals demonstrates how high his ceiling could be in a season where everything comes together for him. Additionally, for those of you who want a little bit more than scoring out of the supporting forwards on your fantasy team, there are many more totals to reap rewards from. His full season average over the last five years shows numbers such as 318 shots, 208 hits, 118 PIMs.
Of players to score 50 points while hitting benchmarks of 200+ shots, 100+ hits and 90+ PIMs, only four other players have achieved the feat in the previous two seasons (Wayne Simmonds, Dustin Byfuglien, Nazem Kadri and Oliver Ekman-Larsson). This puts Kane in some rare company (even better now that Buffalo seems to be improving marginally, and with it so is Kane’s plus/minus). Coupling the above numbers with his injuries and streaky play in the past, there is a reason he is undervalued in fantasy leagues, especially in multi-category ones.
For the rest of this season, the full package that is Evander Kane is only going to cost you $5,250,000 against the salary cap. For a contender this year, that is a bargain price, and has the potential to work out exceptionally well if a decent long-term deal can be struck between Kane and the Sabres. Running some numbers (a little algorithm for contract predictions I have in the works), Kane’s predicted salary is right now coming out at an annual average of $6,130,197, on a six-year deal (so let’s round it to $6.2 million). The small uptick in price would continue to be a bargain in the future as the salary cap continues to rise. The ups and downs of Kane’s career should reel the cap hit back a bit, while he continues to produce high value in the peripheral categories. Maybe this isn’t the best time to buy on him, but if you can point to either the two scoreless games of his last four, or his career averages as a reason to get a bit of a discount, the reward by the end of the season should be worth it!
Thanks for reading. Feel free to take this all with a grain of salt, as I also think Kris Letang will be healthy this year. Either way, Kane should make a good buy in most leagues, for both the short and long term.
As always, you can find me on twitter @alexdmaclean where I post some of my other smaller musings that don’t make it into the articles.
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