Will Patrick Kane still be good when the Blackhawks’ rebuild is complete?
Analyzing the careers of historical NHL stars with similar trajectories to Kane indicates there’s a decent chance he will be.
Patrick Kane, up to this point, has defied the typical NHL aging curve.
Despite having turned 33 in November, he’s still just as productive as he always has been. Through 56 games this season, he touts 68 points. That’s better than last season, when he tallied 66 points in 56 total games, and that pace of 1.21 points per game is better than his pace the season before last (1.20) and the four before that combined (1.17).
The fact he has been this effective on this bad a Blackhawks team, as well as the fact that he has actually improved as the season has gone on — he just set a new career with six points in one game last week against the Ducks, and his 43 points in 29 games since Jan. 2 are tied for second in the league — make it even more impressive.
“I’ve found a way to go through the season and feel pretty good, as far as my health, [and] that’s always a good thing,” Kane said recently. “I try to stay on top of that. [I’ll] just keep making the right play out there.”
But while Kane chugs along almost invincibly, the Hawks’ dynasty has not followed suit, leaving the two on seemingly divergent paths. New general manager Kyle Davidson’s declaration of an imminent rebuild has called into question the value of keeping around a 33-year-old superstar.
Might Kane still be an elite forward — or even a good forward — in three years, five years or whenever the Hawks’ rebuild is complete? Or should the Hawks approach him this summer about the possibility of a trade and try to move on without him, with a few top picks and prospects in his stead?
It’s obviously impossible to know for sure. Every player is different. But although logic might seem to favor the latter option, history shows the former option might be more plausible than one would expect.
Since 1993-94, when the NHL scoring rate stabilized around the modern-day norm, 15 players have recorded more than 150 points and averaged more than 1.0 points per game during their age 31, 32 and 33 seasons combined, as Kane has.
Six of them — Kane, Brad Marchand, Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, Blake Wheeler and Alex Ovechkin — are still active (and less than three seasons removed from doing so), so they’re not useful comparisons.
But of the other nine — Ron Francis, Adam Oates, Jaromir Jagr, Daniel Alfredsson, Joe Sakic, Brett Hull, Martin St. Louis, Alexander Mogilny and Mark Recchi — all but one (Mogilny) remained very productive players for quite a few years beyond 33.
Those nine guys averaged 1.13 points per game up through their age-30 seasons (slightly higher than Kane’s 1.04) and 1.15 points per game during their age 31-33 seasons (slightly below Kane’s 1.20).
They then averaged 1.02 points per game at age 34, 0.93 at age 35, 0.93 again at age 36, 0.92 at age 37, 0.87 at age 38 and 0.76 at age 39. Only after that point did major declines and retirements become frequent.
To be fair, almost half of them (Oates, Alfredsson, Hull and St. Louis) were late bloomers who turned 33 with many fewer games played, and therefore less wear and tear, than Kane. And Jagr, as arguably the most age-defying man in hockey history, is difficult to compare to anyone.
The precedent they collectively set is nonetheless encouraging when applied to Kane.
If Kane can follow in the footsteps of someone like Francis or Recchi (who scored 77 and 68 points, respectively, in their age-38 seasons), and avoid injuries like those that slowed late-career Sakic, it’s certainly possible he could contribute significantly to the rebuilt — not just rebuilding — Hawks.
Again, only time will tell for sure in Kane’s specific case. But he shouldn’t be written off yet.