Why the Early Return of Patrick Kane Is Critical for the Chicago Blackhawks

With Patrick Kane's impending return, let's take a look at his effect on the Chicago Blackhawks and what it could mean to their potential playoff run.

It's being reported that Patrick Kane has been cleared for contact, and is now probable to return for the Blackhawks' first game of the playoffs. Kane has been out since February 24th, and his initial timeline for recovery pegged him for a mid-to-late May return. That timetable would have had him missing all of the first -- and likely most of the second -- playoff rounds. Granted, it's no guarantee that Chicago would have even still been in the playoffs without one of their best players.

Chicago plays in the most competitive division in hockey, the Central Division. Every single team had a winning record, and five of the teams within the division made the playoffs. As a refresher, last year's realignment means that the 1 seed of each division plays a wildcard team from their conference, and the 2 seed and 3 seed of each division play each other.

Given the strength of the Central Division, it shouldn't surprise you the Blackhawks rank third in our power rankings. Unfortunately, their first-round matchup is against the Nashville Predators, our eighth-ranked team. Chicago does have a 3-1-0 record against the Predators this season, although one win was in overtime, and another was decided via the shootout. Chicago's second-round opponent would either be St. Louis or Minnesota, who finished second and sixth on our rankings, respectively. The Blackhawks had less success against those teams, with a 2-3-0 record against St. Louis, and a 3-2-0 record against Minnesota. It won't be an easy path.

But anything can happen over a seven-game series, and you need your top players anchoring your lineup.

Chicago is definitely one of the most skilled teams in hockey, with household names like Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, and Duncan Keith -- it's easy to see why they are perennial contenders for the Stanley Cup.

With that being said, Kane easily outpaces the others when it comes to scoring. He's averaged 1.05 points per game this season, which would have put him in the race for the Art Ross trophy had he been healthy.

It should come as no surprise, then, that Blackhawks saw a dip in their record during Kane's absence. Over the first 61 games of the season, Kane and the Blackhawks had a 36-20-5 record, taking 63.1% of the possible points. Since his injury, the Blackhawks have gone 12-8-1, which saw them take only 59.5% of the possible points. Obviously removing a point-per-game player will hurt any team, and it's testament to the Blackhawks' depth that they were able to keep up a winning record without him.

It wouldn't be a numberFire article, though, if we didn't dig deeper into the stats.

Turning to Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com, we will look at Kane's WOWY (with you or without you), which is a way to see how teammates perform alongside Kane to when Kane isn't on the ice. When comparing hockey players, I personally prefer Corsi values. A player's Corsi For (CF) is the sum of shots on goal, missed shots, and blocked shots taken by their team while that player is on the ice. Their Corsi Against (CA) would be the sum of shots on goal, missed shots, and blocked shots taken by the other team while they are on the ice. Specifically, we'll be comparing Corsi For Percentage (CF%), which is simply CF / (CF + CA). I like this metric, as you generally win hockey games by putting shots on net, and preventing your opponent from taking shots. Obviously this doesn't account for shot quality, but until that sort of data is publicly available, CF% will have to do.

Kane has played 908 even strength minutes this season, and his most common forward partners have been Brad Richards and Kris Versteeg.

PlayerTOI - TogetherCF%TOI - ApartCF%CF% Difference
Brad Richards495:3154.1458:1353.80.3
Kris Versteeg386:3555.3433:4053.51.8

Any time a player's CF% is greater than 50, that means they're creating more shots than they allow. In the case of Richards and Versteeg, they both still perform well without Kane, but Versteeg in particular sees a large drop-off.

While we've shown that Kane is certainly an elite talent in today's NHL, so far our analysis has centered around the regular season. Though it's certainly easier to score against the bottom dwellers of the league, in the playoffs, you're going up against the best of the best. In the postseason, Kane continues to score at will, at a 0.978 points-per-game. That's the sixth-best career playoff points-per-game among active players with at least 50 points.

I know I'm definitely excited to see how the Central Division playoff bracket plays out, as I'm fairly confident its winner will be in the Stanley Cup Finals, facing off against the winner of the Eastern Conference. With Kane, the Blackhawks make a strong case to be that team.