Before the track suit issue, before the accusations of walking out on his tab, and even before “money phone” in
Back in 2010, Kane was coming off of a solid rookie season with 26 points (14+12) in 66 games and in the last game jaws dropped throughout the hockey world as he knocked out noted pest, Matt Cooke with a right-cross that woulda made Evander Holyfield (for whom he's named) proud. Down went Cooke. Up went Kane's confidence and reputation.
Kane would raise his level of play to the point where he posted a career-high 30 goals and 27 assists in 74 games 2011-12, the first season played in Winnipeg after the Le Thrash relocated. After that season there wasn't a fan in the NHL wouldn't take a 20 yr. old burgeoning power forward with a KO and 30-goal season under his belt.
Yet, it's his unflattering off-ice reputation for being "petulant, immature and lack[ing in] good judgment," as told by TSN's Bob McKenzie.
For all the grief Kane has been given about his off-ice antics, very little has been said about the city he played in. Back in February, 2012, Rory Boylen of The Hockey News wrote a piece on Kane's "fishbowl existence" in Winnipeg. He had 19 goals at that point of the season and he was well on his way to career highs in production.
With the return of the NHL to Winnipeg, Boylen called it a "profoundly unique" situation in Winnipeg. "The excitement and anticipation around the return of the Jets and the focus and fanfare towards their players has a completely different emotion than any other NHL team right now," he wrote.
"Kane is quickly learning that with this territory, wanted or not, comes some nasty mudslinging," continued Boylen. "Kane has already been accused of skipping out on a restaurant tab and tweeting for cash, none of which has been proven as fact. He’s been called 'immature' and 'arrogant' by fans and media, though any (real) minor missteps can understandably be attributed to his age.
"Kane is only 20 and has already been thrown under the bus by the source of these sharp rumors and by those who perpetuate them to paint a picture of the player."
Just a few weeks prior to the Boylen piece, Gary Lawless of the Winnipeg Free Press defended Kane, who he describes as "a big-time talent in a small town," despite the fact that Lawless claims "there's no love lost between Evander Kane and myself."
Lawless called out the restaurant "story," where Kane was accused of walking out on his tab, and described the inflammatory social media responses by the fans as "shameful" and "disgusting." Because of the responses, the comment-section of the Free Press was shut down.
All of this seems to go way beyond the usual reaction of a fanbase to the boldness and/or perceived arrogance of a star player in a small city as racial overtones became part of the conversation. Jason Kay of The Hockey News tweeted: "Evander Kane, in March 4, 2013 THN, on how he's perceived. 'I think a good portion of it is because I'm black and I'm not afraid to say that.' Of note, Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman called for a summit on racism as his city was named the most racist city in Canada by Maclean's magazine.
For all the turmoil that has surrounded Kane since the Thrashers moved to Winnipeg, what he was able to do on the ice before these incidents was impressive. Buffalo Sabres GM Tim Murray has spent his professional career as a scout and in the 20-plus years of combing the continent for talent he's probably heard anything and everything concerning players. So when he said, "I can tell you the best of the very best players have warts, but I can’t talk about them," there's no reason not to believe him. And like he said, "It’s just what it is in the past.”
"So," like Murray said, "it wasn’t all unicorns and rainbows and Jujus." It was the tremendous opportunity to the Buffalo land a premier player who, at 24 years old, is just entering his prime.
Although there are plenty of similarities between Winnipeg and Buffalo when it comes to the cities and their small-city status, Kane begins the 2015-16 season with a clean slate and expectations will be high. “He can be can be an important guy here [in Buffalo],” said Murray after the trade. “He’s going to be a big part of any success we have, I believe. You watch him play on the ice, he plays hard. He plays in traffic. He doesn’t play a perimeter game; he plays a heavy game. He scores goals from around the net. He plays the game right. He finishes checks. He’s a good fighter. I don’t know how much I want him fighting. That’s his character on the ice."
Kane gets the opportunity to do so besides Ryan O'Reilly on the top line. He should be 100% healthy after a recovering from shoulder surgery.
And Sabres fans are stoked.
Building the 2015-16 Buffalo Sabres Roster:
LW, Evander Kane; C, Ryan O'Reilly,