Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Does the signpost for Evander Kane point to Vancouver?

When Buffalo Sabres LW Evander Kane is on the ice, his power forward game is enviable. He's an extremely fast north/south skater who's not afraid of contact. He's also a very gifted pugilist as we saw when he knocked out noted pest Matt Cooke back in 2011 with a stunning right cross.

Sabres fans saw first-hand what he brought to the table in his first season in Buffalo as he racked up 20 goals and added 15 assists in 65 games. Although it's not eye-popping numbers, he was coming off of season-ending shoulder surgery in February 2015, plus six months of rehab, not to mention he was starting fresh with a new team, a new coach and system and different linemates on almost a nightly basis early in the season.

In an end of season impression and questions piece concerning Kane I wrote of a "duality" with him and that it will always be there with the real question being "how much can he keep his off-ice image, and the baggage that comes along with it, in check?" Well, apparently not that long as two months later he was in the midst of an altercation at a Buffalo bar in which he would eventually be face non-criminal charges.

Kane has all the skills to be a perennial 25-30 goal scorer in this league. He's already hit the 30 goal mark once and last year he hit 20. He also had two 19-goal seasons. He has the size (6' 2" 195 lbs.,) the skating ability, the grit and the powerforward game. A very intriguing package that any team would be interested in acquiring. That would be any team willing to deal with the off-ice issues that have cropped up twice in the span of the last six months.

Are the Sabres done with Kane? He was the center piece of a deal between the Winnipeg Jets and the Sabres and had been on Buffalo GM Tim Murray's radar leading up to his 2009 draft year. Rumors are that the briefly untouchable Kane now could be on the move and the signpost up ahead might have Vancouver written on it.

Pro Hockey Talk's Cam Tucker published a piece titled, Canucks would like to ‘add a proven scorer,’ so cue the Evander Kane speculation.

Tucker guides us through his speculation by quoting Canucks GM Jim Benning, who was with the Sabres from 1994-2006, as saying, “We’d like to add a proven scorer who brings some grit to take the pressure off (youngin) Sven [Baertschi] so he can keep developing at his own pace,”  This, according to Tucker really kicked in the Kane speculation as he provides a link to the Vancouver Sun and it's sports panel. On the panel was Jason Botchford who had this to say about glaring holes in the lineup including a lack of size and physical toughness up-front, "who's gonna hit on the team right now?

"Who's gonna intimidate, who's gonna push back when the other teams are taking advantage of the Sedins, raking the back of Jannik Hansen's legs, poking guys and elbowing guys? Who's gonna come back (at them)?"

If that's what they're looking at acquiring, Kane's their guy. And he's a hometown boy ta boot.

There's a little glitch in any potential trade of Kane to the Canucks--Vancouver's salary cap. There's not a lot of room so the Sabres would need to take salary back or retain some which doesn't help their tightening cap situation either.

From a Buffalo standpoint, although a trade would relieve some of the headaches created by Kane's off-ice immaturity, on the ice it would create a top-six hole. Fans might be inclined to think that if Jimmy Vesey eventually signs in Buffalo, he could fill that role. Or if Matt Moulson comes out of the deep funk he was in last year, he could do it. Or they could do what they've been doing using centers on the wing.

Also, prior to the 2016 NHL Draft left wing was the weakest position in the organization but with the 8th overall pick the Sabres selected highly-skilled left-winger Alexander Nylander and just signed him to his entry-level contract yesterday. Should he be expected to shoulder the responsibility of being the answer were Kane to be traded?

In this blogger's eyes, no. Like Benning said about Baertschi, players should be left to develop at their own pace and based upon what we've seen thus far, which is very little, Nylander needs some time to figure out the nuances of the pro game other than the shootout.

Murray could get rid of his off-ice headache but would create an on-ice headache trying to fill the void left by a potential trade of Kane. He may have a number of options, including a trade for the NY Rangers' Rick Nash which, if not handled with the cap in mind, would create a cap-headache.

It's probably best to stick with Kane for at least another year. It would give the younger players time to grow while also giving Buffalo the opportunity of a better return should Kane have a season worthy of his talents. And if worse came to worse, they could always wait until next year's expansion draft and leave him unprotected. Kane, who has a place in Las Vegas, would surely attract the attention of the new franchise there.

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