Thursday, February 23, 2017

What's with all the Evander Kane talk?

Published by, 2-22-2017

Nine months ago no NHL general manger would touch him, Sabres fans were ready to take a bag of pucks for him and derision spewed from those who "told us" that Evander Kane was nothing but a selfish piece of crap.

My, how things have changed. I guess that's what happens when you go on a streak of 21 goals in 36 games and look exactly like the player that scored 30 as a third-year player. Size, speed, skill, grit and moxie, that's what Buffalo GM Tim Murray traded for when he sent a package to the Winnipeg Jets to land Kane as the primary piece in a February, 2015 blockbuster deal. That Kane opted for surgery and was unavailable after the trade in the year of "McEichel" was a bonus.

Kane's tenure in Buffalo had been tenuous at best. That was up until he began his tear beginning December 3 with a goal vs. the Boston Bruins. Anyone who watched Kane in Atlanta playing for the Thrashers in his first few years knew what he had to offer and there wasn't a hockey fan on earth not envious of Le Thrash for having a power forward like him. Yet after Atlanta was relocated to Winnipeg, off-ice issues started cropping up with the Jets and continued in Buffalo. For a seven-month stretch beginning in December, 2015 and culminating with a bar room altercation in Buffalo while the Sabres and the city were hosting the 2016 NHL Draft, Kane caused consternation in Saberland to the point where, supposedly, owner Terry Pegula wanted him gone.

Pegula wasn't without reservations to begin with when it came to trading for Kane as he and his GM Murray were discussing the potential trade in early 2015. With the Winnipeg incidents still fresh in the minds of all involved, Murray laid it out pretty straight, like he always seems to do, for his boss. "[Pegula] asked questions and I answered them truthfully and to the best of my ability. It wasn't all unicorns and rainbows and juju's," said Murray of Kane's issues at the time of the trade. "it never is with any player. Players have warts. The best players have warts and I can tell you the best of the very best of players had warts. It's just what it is. He listened, asked questions, he wants to be informed and then he told me to do what I felt was best.

"I made a trade for Kane so I'm not worried about his character."

One can see Pegula seething in Murray's office after the organizationally embarrassing June, 2016 bar incident. Kane's were looking more like cancerous growths on the organization and I wouldn't be surprised if the rumors of Pegula wanting Kane gone were true. Unfortunately for Pegula, with Kane's off-ice track record and one decent 20-goal campaign, Kane's stock was at an all-time low and demand was even lower.

And it may have gotten lower, if that was possible. After breaking four ribs and missing 11 games then going goal-less for the next 10 games, not only was Kane chastised for his off-ice issues, but he was now getting a rep for being both injury-prone and overrated. However, luckily for Murray, who stuck with his guy, Kane turned it around. Then came the goal-surge and now the trade talk.

Everyone keeps bringing up trading Kane and I get that. I understand the concept "sell-high." But I'd also like to think that Murray didn't put his ass on the line from the beginning until now just to trade Kane away while he's performing exactly like the player Murray traded for. From that perspective it makes absolutely no sense.

Neither does it make sense from a roster perspective. Other than defense, left wing is the weakest position on the team with Kane being the only bona fide top-six winger on the team. Nor does it make sense from a line perspective as Kane and franchise center Jack Eichel are just beginning to click. To use a quote from head coach Dan Bylsma talking to the press about a Kane/Eichel possibility, "imagine [that] coming at you."

Kane and Eichel are bringing the heat and they have helped put the team in the playoff mix, as of this juncture. The Sabres seem to be a team that's tired of losing and even if the odds are further stacked against them, from my perspective, this group deserves the opportunity to take it as far as it will go and trading Kane will send them right back to where they were--Loserville.

The Kane situation is a tough one. He's still on probation from the draft incident and he'll be a free agent at the end of next season. Perhaps he's playing nice off-ice and those warts will come through again. O, perhaps he's maturing. Maybe he'll continue scoring like a banshee or may settle into that 20-25 goal range. In fact, with him certainty is anything but.

What it will come down to for Kane and those in Sabreland is his preference. Does he want to stay in Buffalo? Does he like the direction the team is headed in? And is there a contract extension in his future? The only one's who know are Kane, his agent, and possibly Murray.

I posed a question to a colleague asking, on a scale of 1-10 (with 10 being highest,) what kind of mark would Kane give Buffalo and the Sabres? I gave it a 7, to which he replied, "that seems fair."

Kane could be moved at the trade deadline, but the odds are long. Save for an incredible haul in return come next week, the only time I believe Murray will seriously entertain moving Kane is this off season. And even that would depend upon one thing, whether or not Kane will sign an extension, with a caveat that it will also be a reasonable one for the team moving forward.

That, in my opinion, should be the only real conversation right now.

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