Canadiens left wing Max Pacioretty has struggled to put up points so far this season. Pacioretty is a young power forward who shoots a lot and dominates possession.
Jets left wing Evander Kane has struggled to put up points so far this season. Kane is a young power forward who shoots a lot and dominates possession.
Logically since these two are struggling their teams should swap them, agree? I'm assuming that this is all that went into Michel Villeneauve's thought process when he trafficked this "rumour" on 98.5 Sports last night, because I really don't see how this deal benefits either team.
Pacioretty is almost three years older than Kane, so logic would dictate that since both players are very similar, Kane should end up being the better player, but that's far from certain. What is certain is that Pacioretty is locked up for 6 more years at $4.5M per season, and is Montreal's best forward by a mile.
Evander Kane is locked up for 5 more years at $5.25M per season, and is the Jets' best forward offensively by a mile. Notice the subtle difference.
Kane is more expensive now, and he's going to become more exponentially more so one year sooner than Pacioretty. With the Habs in cap trouble in the near future, needing to pay big dollars to P.K. Subban and Lars Eller, not to mention new contracts to Andrei Markov and Raphael Diaz, Kane would have to supply significantly more value than Pacioretty does for this deal to make any kind of sense, so will he?
Breaking it down
This is one of those times where fancy stats come in real handy, and we're going to use them, but to start with we need to look over the regular stats. Pacioretty broke out in 2010-11, but Kane broke out in 2011-12, so we're going to start from there and use a two season sample, including the lockout shortened 2013 season. This gives us more data to draw from.
The scoring stats
Pacioretty has a clear advantage at even strength producing more in total, and significantly more per unit of ice time. The biggest difference is in first assists, which seems to suggest that Pacioretty is an appreciably better playmaker.
Kane has produced more goals per minute, which has been a weakness in Pacioretty's powerplay work over the last two seasons, but he more than doubles Kane's assist numbers, and produced more first assists than Kane assisted on goals period. Once again that leaves us with an advantage for Pacioretty.
But that's just surface level analysis, we're going to have to go deeper than that to find the differences in these two very similar players.
The shooting stats
Shooting the puck is extremely important in the NHL, and both of these guys do it a lot. In fact, over the last two seasons, no top six forward in the NHL shoots more often at even strength than these two players. This is also where we're going to bring in a couple fancy stats, as instead of just counting up shots, we'll count up shots+missed shots (Fenwick), and shots+missed shots+shots that were blocked (Corsi). This allows us to see not only how often the player is shooting, but how often those shots get through. It's important to note that in this data set, Fenwick and Corsi are individual, not team events, so they will be shown as iFenwick and iCorsi. They're not cool new Apple products.
At even strength the advantage goes to Kane in nearly every category, although the difference is minor. Kane even manages to get more of his shots through shot blockers, but misses the net a bit more often. I'm guessing as he gets older he hits the net at a slightly higher rate, however Pacioretty scores on a higher percentage of his shots. A two year sample isn't enough to know what a player's career shooting percentage is going to be, but looking at their careers thus far, Pacioretty is the better finisher, even if that might change.
Kane comes out ahead overall here as well, though again he's getting fewer of his attempts on net. What's surprising though is that a criticism of Pacioretty is that he doesn't shoot as much on the powerplay as he does at even strength, even though most players get a significant bump there, Kane experiences the same phenomenon. Both players also get a smaller percent of their shot attempts on net, which makes even less sense. Kane's big bump in shooting percentage makes it look like he's holding out a little for quality shots, but Pacioretty stays relatively even.
The deployment stats
Before we get into possession metrics, we've got to give them some context. To do that, we have to look how each player is used, and to do that I'm going to use zone starts.
|Player||Offensive zone start %||Neutral zone start %||Defensive zone start %|
Neither player has played a tough defensive role for their team in the previous two seasons, and their usage is actually extremely similar. Pacioretty has a slight edge here, but it's so slight that I don't think it's really worth mentioning.
The possession stats
Pacioretty's playmaking ability so far is much better than Kane's, but Kane is the better shooter. But that's not all a player is, so we're going to have to look at the effect each player has on their teammates both offensively and defensively. We're going to use Fenwick and Corsi again here, but we're going to be using team statistics now, meaning the numbers will reflect the team's performance while each player is on, or off the ice.
For the purposes of the following table: team shots for per 60 = SF/60, with the player in question = W, without the player in question = WO, and the differential the player causes = Diff. Fenwick and Corsi will be abbreviated the same way as shots.
|Player||SF/60 W||SF/60 WO||SF/60 Diff||FF/60 W||FF/60 WO||FF/60 Diff||CF/60 W||CF/60 WO||CF/60 Diff|
Pacioretty owns this, and it's really not close. Part of this may be being older, but even though Evander Kane shoots more often than Pacioretty does, he doesn't pull his teammates up around him to nearly the same level. Pacioretty's effect is nearly double what Kane's is in terms of generating team shots, and almost quadruple the effect in generating team shot attempts.
Kane is so awesome that his own shot production makes the team around him better, but the overall effect is small, which makes me think that he may be a bit of a puck hog.
It's also worthwhile to note that Pacioretty's teammates away from him are worse than Kane's but with him they're better than Kane's. His effect on his teammates isn't just better, he's making worse players better than superior players. But we also have to look at the defensive side of the game, because this is an overall evaluation.
For the purposes of the following table, we're looking at shots against, so instead of for = F, against = A. Simple change, hope you're still with me. If the player's team is allowing fewer shots against with them than without them, the differential will be shown as positive.
|Player||SA/60 W||SA/60 WO||SA/60 Diff||FA/60 W||FA/60 WO||FA/60 Diff||CA/60 W||CA/60 WO||CA/60 Diff|
Once again, when we look at the effect the players are having on their linemates, Pacioretty comes out clearly ahead. Max is having less than half the effect on the game defensively that he has offensively, but the effect is a notably positive one. Meanwhile Kane has an extremely mild negative effect on his team defensively, which is something I would expect to change as he ages.
I find it very interesting to separate possession statistics out like this so that we can see which end of the ice a player is having their impact, but it also serves to put it back together and get the whole picture.
|Player||Shot +/- per 60 differential||Fenwick +/- per 60 differential||Corsi +/- per 60 differential|
Represented in a plus/minus format, you can see the direct impact each player has on their team's shot differential every 60 minutes of even strength ice time. Kane's impact is nothing to be scoffed at, he's a fantastic hockey player, but Pacioretty at this point is on another level entirely, and is an absolutely phenomenal possession player.
These stats don't tell the whole story, no stats ever do, but the picture we can paint from the facts that we know, show Pacioretty as a special player. Will Kane end up being the better player? He could. That's well within his grasp, but he isn't right now, and it's still an if.
The myth of the power forward
I'm really not sure what most people believe a power forward is, but I hear constantly that Pacioretty isn't one. If you want more body checks, well go look for Brandon Prust. If you want someone who uses their size and skill to get in scoring position then Pacioretty is your guy.
Using the NHL's shot location data, which we know is iffy, but let's just make a point here, we can see that Pacioretty has taken 33 shots this year, 17 of which fall in the scoring chance area. Of those 17 shots from prime areas, Pacioretty has one goal, a conversion rate of 5.9% from an average of 18 feet out. Last season on 62 shots from scoring areas, he scored 12 times, a conversion rate of 19.4% from an average of 19.7 feet out. The season before, on 160 shots from scoring areas, he notched 27 goals, a conversion rate of 16.9% from an average of 19.1 feet out. The season before that one on 70 shots from scoring areas, he scored 13 goals, a conversion rate of 18.6%.
Pacioretty is shooting more often from scoring areas. He's shooting from closer to the net. He's converting on fewer shots than normal in a tiny sample size, half of which he was bothered by a wrist injury.
Does anyone honestly believe that at 24, nearing 25, Pacioretty has gone from regularly converting about 17% of his scoring chances into goals to only 6%? Do you think the Habs will continue to score on just 1.6% of their shots while Pacioretty is on the ice? Do you believe Marc Bergevin does? Come on.
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