Kane v. Toews: Cap Hit Does Not Equal Value

The newly signed contracts for Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews ensure that Chicago will have it’s two main pieces in the organization for at least another eight years. Kane and Toews signed identical 8-year contract extensions carrying $10.5 million cap hits a piece that will kick in for the 2015-16 season. This is the second identical contract for the duo who share the same agent, Pat Brisson. While many have mentioned that the cap hits are well deserved (hint: they probably are), no one has seemed to bring up the fact that both players are being compensated evenly for their talents. Both players are elite talents, but to assume they are equal is a mistake.

Stephen Burtch brought up the idea that Kane was most likely not worth the $10.5 million cap hit, or that, at least, other players are worth more than that now. While I’m not sure if Kane is worth less than his cap hit, although it’s entirely possible since him and Toews are now the highest paid players in terms of cap hit. I would argue that if Kane is worth his contract, then Toews is worth at least a few million dollars more. Tyler Dellow (@mc79hockey) wrote about how Toews makes all the players around him better, and his led me to believe that there is a clear difference in how the talents of Kane and Toews should be categorized.

I would say it is possible to categorize elite talent into two broad categories: those who drive possession and those who don’t. Simply put, there are elite players who make their linemates better and those who don’t. It isn’t always easy to see by just watching the games however. Kane is a dynamic player who can make incredible plays out of seemingly nothing.

His creativity and athleticism are incredible to witness, but they may be blinding our judgement.

A good proxy for determining how much a certain player influences his teammates is by using a method called WOWY, which stands for “without you, with you”. (Professional hockey doesn’t have a way to measure WAR [wins above replacement] like Major League Baseball so analytics is the key to measuring players against each other.) The premise is simple: by breaking down a player’s stats while playing with Kane and without Kane, we can see if Kane has a positive or negative impact on the specific player. For example, if we wanted to know how Kane affected the Corsi-for % of Brandon Saad, WOWY would show us Saad’s CF% playing with Kane and his CF% playing without Kane. We could then determine the effect Kane had on Saad. There are a few caveats to this method, as with every stat, but it still serves as a good proxy for driving possession, especially with a large sample.

Based on what we know about WOWY, we should assume that Kane’s WOWY’s would show that players have better numbers when playing with him if he truly drives possession. To test this, I looked at Kane’s WOWY’s from his entire career. I eliminated every player who played with Kane less than 500 minutes. All numbers are are 5 on 5.

Kane Career WOWY

Significant difference between playing with Kane and without Kane. t-value of 2.74, t-crit of 2.042

Kane’s career WOWY’s don’t look terrible, he does drive possession with a few players, and the results are statistically significant to a confidence level of 95%. But, compare this to the career WOWY’s of Toews.

Toews Career WOWY

Significant when using independent samples t-test

Toews clearly makes his teammates better. Every single player who has played with Toews over 500 minutes has seen an increase in CF%. His t-value is a whopping 9.09. For reference, for this to be statistically significant, Toews’ t-value has to be greater than 2.048. Kane and Toews both have positive effects on their teammates from a career perspective, but investigating more recent numbers tell a different story.

Career numbers can be slightly incorrect when dealing with 8-year samples only because the roles Kane and Toews play have increased as their careers have grown. Looking at 3-year samples helps keep the data large enough to be significant, and also ensures that the data is more recent, thus, more relevant. This time, I eliminated any player who played less than 100 minutes with either Kane or Toews. (Interestingly, Kane has played with many more linemates than Toews over the last 3 years. I think this is mainly due to the fact that Toews has always been on the first line, while Kane has moved between the first and second line with a plethora of different centers and wingers. I do not think this has any effect on each player’s WOWY’s).

Kane 3 year WOWY

No significant difference between playing with and without Kane. t-value of 0.8344, t-crit of 2.021

Toews 3-year WOWY

Significant difference between playing with and without Toews. t-value of 6.68, t-crit of 2.021

Kane’s 3-year WOWY’s don’t look promising. A few players have better CF percentages when he is off the ice, but it is not a significant difference. Compare this to Toews’ 3-year WOWY’s. Again, he has a clear positive effect on his teammates.

Finally, I wanted to look at just last year’s WOWY’s for Kane and Toews. A single season is rarely, if ever, enough to come to a consensus on a player, especially when looking at a singular stat like WOWY without looking at quality of competition, zone starts, and other helpful stats. Despite this, I thought the WOWY’s from last season would provide a good insight into how Kane and Toews performed most recently.

Kane 13-14 WOWY

No significant difference between playing with and without Kane. t-value of -0.373, t-crit of 2.048

Toews 13-14 WOWY

Significant difference between playing with and without Toews. t-value of 4.81, t-crit of 2.086

At this point, last year’s WOWY’s come as no surprise. Kane has relatively low effect on his teammates CF% while Toews has an overwhelming positive effect. It is possible to come to the conclusion that Kane still helps his teammates because their numbers don’t get worse with him. While this is partially true, it doesn’t really tell the real story. Kane is an elite player, but he does not make the other players around him better. He is no Jonathan Toews.

Finally, taking a look at the 2013-14 player usage chart for Kane and Toews helps provide context for each player’s WOWY’s. Toews played tougher competition while taking relatively more difficult zone starts. Further, he had a better CF% in about the same amount of ice-time.

Screen shot 2014-07-15 at 9.57.12 PM

via Extra Skater

Most of us already knew that Kane and Toews were not equal players. Kane is an offensive force who utilizes speed and creativity to create chances. Toews has always been praised as a great two-way center, but the numbers show that Toews should also be given credit as a true offensive talent. He plays the toughest competition every game, and still manages to produce positive possession numbers to a point that is almost unbelievable. So, while both players may have identical cap hits for the Blackhawks, they do not have the same value on the team.

*Usage chart is from Extra Skater

*WOWY numbers from Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com

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