Is Evander Kane a Bad Linemate?

Travis Hrubeniuk
December 09 2013 12:56AM

Evander Kane has taken a lot of heat lately. Based on his personality and the market he plays in here, that is to be expected. There’s been a new angle taken by some of the local media lately (Gary Lawless in particular from what I have heard), attacking Kane by saying that he doesn’t work with his teammates. That he’s a selfish player. That he makes his teammates worse. These statements have been given increased “fuel” lately with the sudden improvement in play from Olli Jokinen and Devin Setoguchi correlating with his removal from the lineup. Thus begs the question, does Evander Kane really make his teammates worse?

What I’m Using

The best way I could think of to examine this was looking at what really matters most in my eyes: puck possession and goals scored. It’s what Evander is expected to do, and what people look at most when making these statements. I could have also included shooting locations, penalty kill time, power play issues, etc. in this article, but I wanted to look more directly at how the people Evander plays with change on a fundamental level with and without him.

Therefore, in each of the following charts you will see the amount of time spent on the ice (TOI), what percentage of the goals scored were by the Jets (GF%), and what percentage of the shot attempts were by the Jets – an indicator of possession (CF%) in various time periods (either the last five years, or this season). All my data came from stats.hockeyanalysis.com.

We will look at the numbers while Evander is on the ice with some of the forwards/centers he has spent time with, while Evander is away from those same players, and while those players are away from Evander. This will give us an idea as to the effects that Evander has on the players he is with, and the effect that these players have on Evander.

Historical Numbers

The Data (excluding this season)

With Evander Kane 5 v 5 2009-13

Player

TOI

GF%

CF%

Kane

3653:23

49.1

49.9

Burmistrov

863:46

58.3

53.1

Antropov

844:46

42.1

47.7

Little

773:26

60.0

50.4

Wheeler

575:17

54.4

51.8

Jokinen

471:35

37.2

50.1

Wellwood

445:00

56.1

56.8

Setoguchi

-

-

-

Without Evander Kane 5 v 5 2009-13

Player

TOI

GF%

CF%

Kane

0:00

0.0

0.0

Burmistrov

1536:50

40.7

48.8

Antropov

2531:35

56.3

48.6

Little

3021:50

49.1

51.9

Wheeler

3398:58

49.7

52.6

Jokinen

3544:41

46.6

48.8

Wellwood

2300:19

58.2

53.0

Setoguchi

3299:28

50.6

50.3

Evander Kane Apart From 5 v 5 2009-13

Player

TOI

GF%

CF%

Kane

0:00

0.0

0.0

Burmistrov

2789:37

46.6

49.0

Antropov

2808:37

51.1

50.6

Little

2879:57

46.5

49.8

Wheeler

3078:06

48.1

49.6

Jokinen

3181:48

50.8

49.9

Wellwood

3208:23

48.2

48.9

Setoguchi

-

-

-

Interpretation

Let’s start with the obvious. Evander Kane spent more time with Alex Burmistrov than any other forward during this time period. Remember him? That cast-off who Claude Noel chased away because Olli Jokinen was clearly a superior second line guy to play with Evander? Well the stats (and anyone with eyes) speak otherwise. In fact, Burmi and Kane worked very well together. While playing with Evander, Burmistrov’s numbers rose quite substantially in both aspects, indicating to me that Kane made him a better player. That’s not to say Burmistrov contributed nothing to the relationship, as Kane’s numbers were actually among their lowest totals when he was away from him as well. That seems like the kind of pairing and production that the Jets really could use, does it not?

How about Evander’s history with the man who is unquestionably the Jets best center in Bryan Little? Sixty percent of the goals scored with those two on the ice together over the last five years have belonged to the Jets. That’s insanely high. In fact, it’s about 11% higher than when Bryan Little has played without Evander. It’s also about 14% higher than the time Evander has spent away from Little. Granted the Corsi-for percentage slightly drops for Bryan when the two are together, but we know that Andrew Ladd was a corsi monster last year and that goal production is hard to ignore. So clearly, Evander Kane doesn’t make the Jets best center worse at the very least. I would argue he makes him even better. Yet since Olli Jokinen arrived, the two have barely seen any time together (less than 50 minutes total 5 on 5 last season).

What about Kyle Wellwood? He saw among the lowest total of players who still saw a reasonable amount of time with Kane. They must not have worked well together. After all, Kyle was forced into retirement this year because nobody (the Jets included) wanted to see him come back. Well, take a look. The possession time when those two were together was spectacular. Both players benefitted from this situation. Evander even more so. Yet Wellwood was the odd man out this year.

Now let's take a look at Olli Jokinen (who saw the most time with Evander last year), and Nik Antropov (who saw the second most). In these two cases, Lawless’ statements are somewhat justified. These two do see their production drop when they are on the ice with Evander Kane, just as Kane’s production drops when he is with them. So the question now arises, why did he spend so much time with them last year?

Let me get this straight. Two of the players who Evander played best with, and helped make BETTER, are no longer with the team because of an issue with the coach, and a decision by management.  Instead he plays almost exclusively with the two players that he has historically played the worst with. But somehow this is the player’s fault?

That’s ridiculous.

Those decisions and mistakes fall directly on poor coaching, and bad decisions by the management. The players were there last year to help the Jets succeed and play better, but poor decision-making and a stubborn attitude prevented them from happening. 

This Season

The Data

With Evander Kane 5 v 5 2013-14

Player

TOI

GF%

CF%

Kane

398:51

46.7

52.0

Jokinen

200:00

43.8

54.2

Setoguchi

185:11

60.0

55.2

Wheeler

133:42

36.4

49.1

Scheifele

106:30

50.0

48.8

Little

75:13

57.1

52.5

Without Evander Kane 5 v 5 2013-14

Player

TOI

GF%

CF%

Kane

0:00

0.0

0.0

Jokinen

195:36

60.0

50.7

Setoguchi

176:03

63.6

52.4

Wheeler

265:57

54.5

51.5

Scheifele

260:49

50.0

45.4

Little

328:55

50.0

50.4

Evander Kane Apart From 5 v 5 2013-14

Player

TOI

GF%

CF%

Kane

0:00

0.0

0.0

Jokinen

198:51

50.0

49.9

Setoguchi

213:40

33.3

49.2

Wheeler

265:09

52.6

53.5

Scheifele

292:21

45.8

53.2

Little

323:38

43.5

51.9

Interpretation

Just like last season, Evander has spent most of his time with Olli Jokinen. And just as it has been in the past, of all the potential centers available, this is the worst choice Claude Noel could be making. Again, Lawless is indeed correct here. Olli Jokinen has played a lot better when he isn’t with Evander. I guess we can throw Blake Wheeler in there too, but that is pretty much where it ends.

Mark Scheifele’s GF% numbers stay the same with or without Evander, but his Corsi-For% increases by 3%. Devin Setoguchi even has his CF% increase with Evander, and despite the drop in the GF%, the two of them together still result in 60% of the goals going the Jets way.

The jump though, comes with Bryan Little. Understandably the sample size for this season is quite low, but it is very meaningful. Similar to what has been shown in the past, Little’s play improves when he is with Evander Kane. Yet, he has only seen 75 minutes of ice time with Kane this season. The top line of Little Ladd and Wheeler hasn’t been as consistently dominant this season, so why not try something new? Why not see what a line of Kane – Little – Setoguchi could do? Then we would see how Evander could, in fact, make his line mates better.

In Summary

In no way am I blaming Olli Jokinen for this. He is not the type of player that meshes well with Evander Kane. He is a big-bodied, shoot first center. What about Bryan Little and Mark Scheifele? Historically, Bryan Little has been a much better puck distributor and playmaker. Mark Scheifele is a highly skilled playmaker. Alex Burmistrov? Great hands, and can move the puck. Kyle Wellwood? Same thing.

Claude Noel has Evander Kane playing with the worst possible person for him. He is trying to make a square piece fit in a circle slot, and instead of looking at himself as the problem, has simply grabbed a bigger hammer in an attempt to force this to work. The Jets had the answer internally, but Coach Noel was too stubborn to use it. Management then decided to go elsewhere to try to find that solution. Heck, they still have at least a better answer internally. Will Claude try to fix this? Or will he continue to try to make this situation work despite the overwhelming evidence against it, no matter the cost?

It’s no surprise to me that Evander spoke out about Claude’s decision making earlier this season. I would be pissed at what’s going on as well. So the next time you hear that Evander Kane is the problem, that he makes his teammates worse, or that he causes the Jets more problems than he does good, I want you to remember this article. I want you to remember that Claude Noel has options that have worked previously, and I want you to remember the following statements:

Evander’s numbers are suffering because of Claude’s decisions.

The team is suffering because of them.

Evander can make players better.

He CAN succeed with his teammates. His past has shown that.

He just needs to be given the chance to play with the right ones.

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I write things, you read them. Then tend to yell at me for them. It's okay though, I'm from Winnipeg. I can take it. If you actually do like what I write, give me a twitter follow here (@thrubeniuk): https://twitter.com/thrubeniuk
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#1 Kevin McCartney
December 09 2013, 01:15AM
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I know Jets fans threw around a lot of 'what if' rosters back in the summer when Burmistrov left, but I think your article shows just how incredible the distance is between this roster and the very attainable one they let slip away.

Ladd - Little - Wheeler Frolik - Jokinen - Setoguchi Kane - Burmistrov - Wellwood (Milage may vary on the fourth line)

That means Scheifele plays a scoring role in the AHL where he should be (as the first call up).

It also means the Jets have three lines that can play both ways without meaningful gaps in the roster, like Halischuk's defence or Scheifele's neutral zone play.

It's great that Jokinen and Setoguchi have some chemistry, but it is absolutely insane to drum out Kane in favour of Olli Jokinen. That's the kind of things terrible, bottom-feeding, perpetual rebuilders do. I really appreciate seeing just how well he does with everyone EXCEPT! this one two-year UFA signing that for some reason has come to define the roster.

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#3 Dan
December 09 2013, 08:26AM
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Terrific article, Travis. Important article. As uni-dimensional a player as Kane might be at this point in his career, his athleticism is 99th percentile and he can be exciting as hell to watch. We need that. Especially while this team fails to give us many reasons to stay interested.

And I also happen to agree that as long as Scheifele stays with the team, you could do far worse than to have him centre Kane (and possibly Frolik?). In the very brief time that those three were together toward the beginning of the season, I liked what I saw and thought the playmaking abilities of the two worked well to support Kane. It remains a mystery to me why the team didn't allow that experiment to play out.

Unfortunately, the coach just doesn't seem to believe in anything resembling a scientific method for evaluating his players. I'd like a reporter in the scrum to ask him about his player evaluation methods. And his use of statistics. And his opinion on evolution.

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#5 Dan
December 09 2013, 10:09AM
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@Travis Hrubeniuk

Obviously, if that strategy were working we wouldn't be having this conversation, but it seems awfully negligent that management hasn't stepped in to try and correct things on this level. In my mind, this says unfavorable things about management on a number of levels and makes me consider words like "arrogance" and "incompetence". These aren't new thoughts; I just feel like speaking them out loud in possibly mixed company.

Further to that, do you think it's possible--as some have speculated--that coach's decision-making around Jokinen is influenced by direction from management (implicit, explicit, or anticipated) about the need to prominently play their expensive UFA pickup? I'd love to have some understanding of what goes on behind the curtain (as opposed to pretending to have this information, as I truly suspect our Free Press writer often does).

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#7 X
December 09 2013, 12:47PM
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KSF please! Good God I would love to see Kane, Scheif, and Frolik play on a regular line with an absurdly high Oz start deployment bias. Keep LLW together to start in the Dz against the toughs and let Olli and Seto play which whoever you want on the wing, if they can do something with Thorburn there they will play well with anybody - yes, that means even James Wright.

If I were the Jets management I have to admit I would be tempted to go for a little pump-and-dump on my pending UFAs to try to increase their rental value. I mean, assuming that the playoffs are no longer a realistic goal for this team. (Not quite true yet, but maybe soon.)

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#8 X
December 10 2013, 09:51AM
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Begging the question: I didn't want to seem like a jerk, but now I am back here and I can't help myself. Misuse of "begs the question" makes me crazy, ergo - you have made me crazy.

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#9 Kevin McCartney
December 10 2013, 10:00AM
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haha As long as you're thinking about us, X. Serotonin levels during periods of infatuation can be as high as in people with OCD. And if we're not here to raise people's serotonin levels, really, why are we here?

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#11 X
December 10 2013, 10:11AM
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@Kevin McCartney

Infatuation! So presumptuous! If you want to increase my serotonin levels go read what I wrote here and reassure me that I am smart! http://jetsnation.ca/2013/12/3/jetstream-podcast-ep-9-rogers-wins-big#comments

After some flattery then we can start talking about infatuation!

Keep up the good work, gentlemen.

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#12 Kevin McCartney
December 11 2013, 11:57AM
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Well, get prepared for a spike in your dopamine levels too, X, because this is going to feel like sweet love to your brain.

Honestly, I wish I'd seen your comment on the podcast sooner. I think that's really insightful analysis. I had certainly been on the side of the players/former players in terms of the perceived legitimacy of their claim. But you pointed out a hole in the mainstream narrative about it that had been bugging me but gone without a label.

The argument that their job is desirable and thus not subject to workplace safety is really messed up, and involves all sorts of baggage from a society where most people don't like their jobs. It also starts to shine a light on the expectations attached to our idolatry - namely, obedience and sacrifice. "I'm unhappy, so my heroes must enact my inner pain as a drama for my eyes!"

You're smart, X, and I enjoyed reading it.

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#13 Fan by default
December 11 2013, 01:08PM
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Thanks for the article, I appreciate your analysis.

Speaking of Burmistrov he currently has 27 points in 35 games in the KHL and is leading his team in points. Not sure how helpful it is to compare stats between the KHL and NHL, but I think it suggests that perhaps Burmistrov's struggles in the NHL has more to do with Noel than his skill.

I guess it should also be mentioned that Tim Stapleton plays on the same team, has 23 points and leads the team with 10 goals.

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#14 X
December 11 2013, 01:56PM
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@Kevin McCartney

Mr. McCartney, Nice that someone read it, shouting down the well that is the internet feels better when someone shouts back. I find that when sports and ethics collide the narrative of the morality play that we imagine sports to be overtakes the genuine ethical implications of something (be it a lawsuit or a safety rule change). Where the idolatry you mention and reality collide, so to speak. It can be a bit of a downer tough, certainly heavier stuff than Corsi and zone-entries or "toughness" and "grit".

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#15 X
December 11 2013, 02:05PM
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@Fan by default

I've heard the number for KHL->NHL points is supposed to be around .6*, so Burmi's 27 points in the K would probably be around 16 points. That would put him on a better pace than 2011-12 by a pretty good margin, almost a .5 per game in fact.

My uninformed opinion is that in the Jets lineup this year I think that is around what he would be doing for the Jets.

(*I have no idea where I read that.)

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#18 X
December 12 2013, 09:48AM
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Travis Hrubeniuk wrote:

I agree it's subject to safety. I also think that if they can show the NHL is in the wrong, then they should be subject to something.

My issue right now is that the NHL is trying to change things, and you still have a lot of players fighting these rules (no pun intended).

I also have a hard time believing that IF the NHL had told them of the risks of concussions, that they would have just up and stopped playing. It's also next to impossible to identify that it was the NHL that caused the problems. Kids are just as prone to suffering concussions and not report it, so with the small number of games some of the ex-players in this case had played, I question if damage occurred in a different league.

Of course they do not need to have stopped playing because there are an infinite number of decisions they could have made differently on or off the ice based on information that might have been withheld. The threshold is not choosing to play or not it is doing so with informed consent.

The players fighting rule changes is, to me, mind-boggling but the scientific literature on people being incapable of properly assessing or understanding risk probably stacks higher than 87's salary piled up in 20's so I suppose it really should not actually be all that surprising.

The ins-and-outs of all this of course seems like a wonderful topic for an article on some sort of hockey-related digital publishing platform...

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