Although the Chicago Blackhawks are exceeding expectations so far this season with their 6-5-3 record, one player that is not playing up to par is Patrick Kane. Although he is the team’s leading scorer with 12 points, he only has two goals on the season, and his shooting percentage is 5.3%, which is a career-low for him. In addition, he has not scored a goal in seven straight games, and his two goals in 14 games are a career-worst. Which begs the question: what is causing this slump? I believe there are a few things that are affecting his play.
1. Kane’s Linemates Are Not Connecting
Kane is known as a player that can play with anyone. It doesn’t matter who is on his line, he will find a way to produce at an elite level, which is like music to the Blackhawks organization’s ears as they scale into their full-blown rebuild and bring in new faces. But this season, Kane and his linemates haven’t hit it off as expected.
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Kane has been paired on the first line with Max Domi and Andreas Athanasiou, and that line has been hot or cold. Domi is the second-best goal scorer on the team with four goals, but three of those have come on the power play, and he is also in an eight-game scoring drought. Athanasiou went on a nice run with four points in six games, but he has since cooled off and has been in a five-game goal drought. The line has created the most scoring chances on the team, but they have also given up the most. Per Natural Stat Trick, the Athanasiou, Domi, and Kane line has 120 chances for to 167 chances against.
What is more troubling is that the line has four goals for and three against at five-on-five. Simply put, it hasn’t been as effective as a top line should be. Head coach Luke Richardson took notice of it, switched up the lines on Nov. 12 against the Anaheim Ducks, and switched Athanasiou with Philipp Kurashev. It seemed to have lit a bit of a spark as that line contributed to all three goals scored in the 3-2 win, with Kane getting two assists. It’s unclear whether coach Richardson will stick with Kurashev on the first line in the long term, but it was worth a try.
I believe the issue with the first line is not finishing chances. Athanasiou and Domi have gotten a lot of opportunities during the first 14 games on passes from Kane that haven’t ended up in the back of the net. On the flip side, Domi and Athanasiou are not always getting him the puck. When talking with Ben Pope of the Chicago Sun-Times, Kane said a solution for his production is to get more puck possession, but that is hard to do when his linemates are struggling to make plays.
Overall, they haven’t consistently clicked. Some nights, it looks better than others, but it doesn’t seem sustainable. Domi and Kane should stay together, but whoever ends up at left wing on that line is up in the air. Kane had so much chemistry with Dylan Strome and Alex DeBrincat last season that made the offense look effortless, and this season, that same connection is not there. Of course, there is still plenty of season left for them to find a rhythm, but the Blackhawks don’t have a lot of depth and many options to work with for “top-line” replacements, which makes trying to find the solution difficult. Moreover, the results show that Kane is not clicking with his new linemates as normally expected, which has certainly affected his production.
2. Trade Talk Surrounding Kane a Distraction
The NHL is a business, and trades are a part of the game, but there is also a human side to the game that affects players. Not knowing where you will play or live can take a toll, and Kane is no exception. He has been consistently asked what his plans are, considering he is a free agent at the end of the season, and with the Blackhawks in a rebuild, he is a prime trade candidate. He dismisses trade talk and consistently says he is not thinking about it, but it might be impossible not to. On Oct. 17, his agent Pat Brisson spoke with The Athletic and said that the plan is for him and general manager Kyle Davidson to follow up in December or January to see where both sides are at on the trade front (from ‘LeBrun rumblings: Potential timing on a Patrick Kane trade, plus could Bunting get 8 years?’ – The Athletic – 10/17/2022).
There are less than two weeks left in November, so that timeline is creeping closer. However, it would be understandable if the idea of a trade lingered in the back of Kane’s mind, even if he ultimately doesn’t want out of Chicago. With his no-movement clause, he gets the final call if he stays or goes, which is a major decision.
3. Blackhawks’ Direction Isn’t Ideal
Although the Blackhawks are better than expected to start the season, the hard truth is that the team is still far from being a contender. They are playing more cohesive hockey, are well-coached, and play with pride. But while all that is great to see for a rebuilding year, the point is that they don’t have elite talent or the pieces to make a deep playoff run.
The Blackhawks’ results of now are commendable and have great intentions. The team has bought into coach Richardson’s “hard to play against” mentality, and they genuinely enjoy playing together. While all of that is good for the long-term, it doesn’t take away from the fact that Kane likely sees that the team won’t contend any time soon. As much as he maybe doesn’t want that to be the case, it is. He knows he has to look elsewhere if he intends to get a fourth Stanley Cup. So while the Hawks’ start is a pleasant surprise, it likely still isn’t enough.
Overall, I believe there is an on-ice side to Kane’s production. His linemates aren’t producing as they should; hence, he is not. Yet, I think a lot of what is causing his slump is off-ice concerns. With the constant trade talk and knowing the Blackhawks’ short-term future, it is understandable to have that weigh heavily on your mind, especially for someone like Kane, who started a family, won three Stanley Cups, and has spent the last 16 years all in Chicago. However, there shouldn’t be alarm bells for his lack of production.
Kane did rebound against the Anaheim Ducks after going three games without a point, and he is still contributing, just not with goals. Elite players find a way, as he always does, but it is important to remember when analyzing his numbers this season that there is a human element to the game that some might overlook. His success is the team’s success, so fans are hoping he has gotten past the worst of the slump in Anaheim, and with that as a positive, he will be hungry for a goal against the Carolina Hurricanes on Nov. 14.
Just a small town girl with Midwestern charm; combined with a love of dogs, writing, frappuccinos, Chicago-isms, sports, and a whole lot of Blackhawks hockey. Twitter: @brooke_lofo.