Establishing Evander Kane’s market value Part 1

Posted by Richard Pollock in Columns,featured4,Featured4,Jets Columns,Roster Analysis,Winnipeg Jets on January 26, 2012 — No Comments

When previewing the Jets’ season this past summer, one player was the “key” to it all.  That player, Evander Kane, provided fans with the prospect of another superstar on the ice in the City of Winnipeg.  Not since Teemu Selanne and Keith Tkachuk had fans been lifted out of their seats for one particular player.

The intriguing element of Kane’s potential was the limited knowledge fans had of the 2009 fourth overall NHL Draft selection.  In usual cases, fans see their team draft a player in June and spend the remainder of the summer endlessly consuming information (both relevant and irrelevant) about him.  If the player is exceptional, the fans may luck out and catch a snippet of that particular player in the proceeding season.  If, instead, he resembles the majority of players his age, he is returned to the CHL, NCAA or Europe and followed by fans intensely for one, two or even three to four seasons.

In Evander Kane’s case, however, the British Columbia native was fairly unknown to Jets fans.  The NHL’s return to Winnipeg was only formalized at the end of May.  That left the remainder of the summer to get to know the entire Thrashers roster.  Fans did not have the luxury of two plus years to become familiar with Evander Kane; instead, they had a whole three months until training camp hit.  His goal totals, a simple yet indicative performance indicator, were more than respectable over the past two seasons (14 and 19 respectively), but just what was his ceiling?

Much has been gathered from the Jets’ season thus far; the team lacks depth and skill at forward, relies on Ondrej Pavelec significantly and has some stellar talent on the blue line.  However, one other aspect of the team has stood out most of all: Evander Kane, at 20 years old, is the team’s top forward and, arguably, top player.

So far this season, Kane has demonstrated he has a top ten NHL wrist shot, blazing speed and strength that matches up against any tough opposing defenseman.  This success (31 points in 46 games) has resulted in fan excitement but also a modicum of apprehension.  This apprehension is based upon Kane’s pending free agency.  Reassuringly, this free agency is restricted free agency which allows the Jets to match any free agent offer the former Vancouver Giant may receive on or after July 1.

While this article could point to some concern over the relationship between Jets coach Claude Noel and Evander Kane, or Kane’s reputation with the Winnipeg fan base, that is not so much the point.  Rather, the purpose of this article is to attempt to gauge Evander Kane’s value as a free agent.  More specifically, it is an attempt to estimate a realistic figure in terms of both term and salary for the potential 40-goal scorer.

(a)        Comparables

Evander Kane was drafted in 2009, as mentioned above, directly behind John Tavares, Victor Hedman and Matt Duchene.  Naturally, Tavares, a player who has also played just over two full NHL seasons, for a poor Eastern Conference squad serves as a comparable.  Importantly, at least from an analysis perspective is the fact that Tavares recently re-upped with the Islanders for a six-year, $33 million contract.  Of most concern is Tavares’s annual cap hit which is $5.5 million.

Now that we have seen Tavares’s extension, let’s examine his career production thus far:

By comparison, here are Kane’s numbers:

Tavares and Kane are comparable to the extent that they were drafted in the same year and have had a similar career course.  Their overall skill packages are both exceptional but particularly different.  Tavares is not a great skater (although his skating has improved significantly from his first season) but has tremendous hands, vision and passing skills.  Tavares is more of an east/west player, as opposed to Kane’s north/south style that allows him to utilize his speed to his and his team’s advantage.

It is hard to imagine Kane matching a contract both of the quantum and term of Tavares.  So, Kevin Cheveldayoff could easily reference Tavares as a far-fetched ceiling when sitting down with Kane’s agent, Craig Oster of Newport Sports Management.  Winnipeggers may find it interesting to note that Oster attended the University of Manitoba and graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce prior to securing his LLB (now JD) from the University of Western Ontario.

Now that we have established a ceiling to Kane’s value, at least over a four or five-year term, that leaves other comparables who are hopefully more similar in terms of both the type of player they are and their career course to this point.  The three most logical comparisons that come to mind are:

  1. Logan Couture;
  2. James Neal; and
  3. Phil Kessel

Couture is probably the least comparable of the bunch in terms of his style of play and the fact he is now relied on as primarily a center in San Jose.  However, for comparison’s sake, it does not hurt to include him in this analysis.

Neal and Kessel, on the other hand, seem to be very reasonable comparables; both players are shoot-first, ala Kane, play wing, skate well and have terrific shots.

Let’s examine their respective statistical output through their first three NHL seasons (as Kane is currently completing his third NHL season):

Logan Couture:

**All other advanced statistical categories included were based upon a minimum of 30 games played in that particular season.  For Couture’s first season, an exception was made for the above chart and adjusted to a minimum of 20 games to provide context (albeit limited) for his performance.

James Neal:

Phil Kessel:

Click here to read the 2nd part of Richard’s analysis of Evander Kane’s fair market value.