Friday, February 10, 2017

On Evander Kane

Published by, 2-9-2017

Sabres winger Evander Kane is back in the spotlight again, this time for the right reasons. The former fourth-overall pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft took 11 games to recover from four broken ribs suffered in the season opener but since then has been racking up goals, while making life miserable for the opposition defense. With his two goals on Tuesday, capped off by the overtime winner, Kane has upped his season goal total to 16, all of them coming in the last 30 games.

That's great news for the Sabres, but of course there are always lingering questions concerning the 25 yr. old Kane.

Off-ice issues have plagued him since his days in Winnipeg and he didn't necessarily endear himself to Sabreland with a series of issues that grabbed the headlines in Buffalo. In matter of seven months he was accused of a sex offense, overslept and missed practice after hanging with the NBA All-Stars in Toronto and had a number of charges place against him after bar incident in Buffalo while the Sabres and the city were hosting the NHL Draft.

Then came the injury in the opener vs. Montreal where he slammed into the boards full speed and broke four ribs. Upon his return, which was probably too early at just under a month, Kane struggled mightily recording only four assists in 11 games.

Kane was never wholeheartedly welcomed by the entire Buffalo hockey fan-base as there were plenty of detractors listing negatives like the troubles he encountered in Winnipeg, his off-ice issues, and the fact that he had only one 20-goal season since scoring 30 in his third NHL season. From the get-go GM Tim Murray was heavily scrutinized for the blockbuster deal he made with Winnipeg and even after Kane hit 20 goals in 65 games for the Sabres in his first season, it still wasn't enough as he was thought to be injury-prone. Add that to the off-ice issues and rumors began swirling that Kane was on the trading-block.

Rumor had it that no teams were interested in Kane save for his hometown Vancouver Canucks and even they weren't that interested in him enough to give up anything of significance. As the summer went on the rumors still lingered and on opening night Kane crashed into the boards and during the 11 games he skated in upon his return fans grew increasingly restless with him but were resigned to the fact that he was immovable.

Some on the "inside" were adamant that Murray wasn't looking to trade Kane which in hindsight is a good move. Kane began his run on December 3rd against Boston but two games later he started resembling the powerforward Tim Murray traded for as he scored two goals, including the game-tying goal with 19 seconds left in the third period against Edmonton. Buffalo went on to beat the Oilers in overtime and slowly but surely Kane began rounding into form.

Instead of a problem child scoring at a modest rate who's troubles far outweighed his production and possibly even his value to the team, Kane has turned it around to the point where it would be a very tough decision to trade him right now and it would take a very significant offer for Murray to move him.

That's where we stand.

Right now Kane is still on probation from the June, 2016 bar incident and may be playing choir-boy while under the watchful eye of the courts. He'll also be a free agent at the end of next season when he'll be 26 yrs. old and perhaps he's starting to play like a player looking for that big long-term deal and maybe those are the reasons he's performing like the player he was drafted for over the course of the last two-plus months.

Or maybe he was just starting to feel fully healthy again. Maybe he feels comfortable in head coach Dan Bylsma's system and enjoys having some big-time talent around him with Jack Eichel and Ryan O'Reilly, among others on a team that's on the rise.

That's the problem with him. You just don't know what his motivation is.

With tools like size, speed, skill grit and the ability to fight, Kane should be a highly sought after powerforward, the type of player you can put in the top-six on the wing knowing that the opposition will need to game-plan for him. He's the type of player the Sabres have been after for years. And they have him.

So why trade him away?

Sell high! is the mantra and his return may never be higher. However trading him right now leaves a gaping hole on the left side. Sure, the Sabres might get a top-four d-man in return and maybe even a higher draft pick for him, but does anyone thing that Marcus Foligno, Tyler Ennis or rookie Alexander Nylander could come close to filling that role?

I'm of the opinion that the Sabres woes on defense will get better. Right now Ramus Ristolainen anchors the top-pair and Dmitry Kulikov is getting better as his health gets better. He's looking more and more like the type of player that might fill that d-slot opposite Ristolainen. Zach Bogosian, when healthy, and Jake McCabe have made a solid second pairing since McCabe's rookie season last year and the Sabres will be adding Brendan Guhle to the mix next year with visions of a potential top-four d-man.

I'm not for trading Kane, in fact I'd rather talk extension.

In knowing full well that he will become an unrestricted free agent next season, I'd see if I could get him to sign an extension in the off season, preferably a two or three year one.

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