So what have we seen change involving Kane’s and Toews’ linemate combos? Well, for starters, Kane has shifted from playing with all kinds of guys to sticking with a select few, while the opposite has been true for Toews.
Look at how many guys Kane had a point with in the 2013-14 season. And he was still on a point-per-game scoring rate before being injured. I think it’s safe to say he could have been doing far better than that if he wasn’t randomly on the ice with the likes of Nordstrom, Bollig, Morin and Smith, among others.
And what do you know — Kane settled in with regular linemates, and he went off last season.
Toews, meanwhile, was with Hossa and the now-departed Sharp at the start of this three-year period. That switched to Saad, and then to pretty much whoever Q liked on gameday. So it’s no surprise Toews’ scoring output has fallen the last three seasons, especially when you couple that with Hossa’s precipitous decline on offense last season.
Da Windy City
Looking at shooting percentages though, both guys have seen their marks rise each of the last three seasons. Little surprise for Kane considering he was slowly moving into more stability, but given what I just said about Toews, that’s a little interesting.
However, a closer look reveals it’s a bit of a mirage. Toews playing with a slightly younger Hossa and some combo of Sharp and Saad kept the percentage stable for two seasons with similar shot outputs for Toews (193 in 2013-14, 192 in 2014-15). But last season, Toews fired just 179 shots on net.
That may not seem like a huge deal, but for a Blackhawks outfit that was constantly considered a one-line team, that’s a major issue. And it stems at least partially from lack of consistent linemates for Toews.
The possession stats are even more troublesome. Kane’s Corsi-for has slightly dropped each of the last three seasons, but it was still at a really solid rate last season. But Toews’ possession stats have fallen through the floor, as he’s seen his Corsi-for rate drop more than 7 percent from 2013-14 to last season.
Toews doesn’t just suddenly suck at possessing the puck. This is a direct function of linemate issues. It’s not setting Toews up for success.
What this means now and moving forward
Now I know the Blackhawks are also trying to slot in new pieces, and with Kane part of a line that showed tons of success last season, he’s not going to be part of nearly as much experimental stuff as Toews.
But last season, the Blackhawks weren’t doing what they are now. The roster was mostly established from the outset. And Toews still couldn’t find multiple partners to keep him at his best.
Sure, if Hossa was a step or two faster last season (he already looks better this year after a longer offseason), that could have bumped Toews’ numbers and made this a non-issue. But we’re already seeing this same problem crop up early in 2016-17.
Kane has six points through four games. Toews has one and got in a fight with James Neal. These are the two guys you want to be getting the most out of offensively, and the Blackhawks are only getting that with one.
It’s easy for me to say “Find Toews someone who complements his on-ice skill set.” I’m a fan, not the coach. But this issue has been going on long enough now that there has to be some setup that gets more out of Toews offensively than what we’ve been seeing of late.