Friday, September 1, 2017

Building the 2017-18 Buffalo Sabres roster--LW, Evander Kane

Published by, 8-31-2017

Evander Kane
6'2" 211 lbs.
26 yrs. old
2009, 4th overall, Atlanta Thrashers
Acquired by Buffalo from Winnipeg Jets, February 11, 2015

Career Stats:  496 games  |  157 goals  |  143 assists  |  300 points  |  -41

As of right now, Evander Kane is entering the final year of a 6yr./$31.5 million contract he signed with the Winnipeg Jets. What the Sabres do concerning a possible contract extension with Kane will say plenty about how he fits into the future plans of the team.

Kane was coveted by former Sabres GM Tim Murray and when he became available, Murray grabbed him in a blockbuster trade that totaled four players, two prospects and a first round pick. Why Murray traded for Kane is rather simple as he's a multi-faceted player with speed, size and scoring ability who plays an aggressive north/south game with a driving on-ice work-ethic. And he's a pretty good pugilist as well.

Why Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff wanted to trade a then 24 yr. old with those attributes is why we're still talking about his future in Buffalo and why there are rumors (although faint right now) that he's still on the trading block. It's the dichotomy of Evander Kane--star qualities on the ice, questionable decisions off the ice, even if it's only far enough off the ice to reach the dressing room.

Kane's off-ice troubles have followed him since Winnipeg. Some of them are true while others may have been fabricated. Although we in Buffalo are not privy to the entire story of Kane's time with the Jets, we do know that he had three headline-grabbing incidents as a member of the Sabres culminating with an altercation while the 2016 NHL Draft was being held in Buffalo. That incident was an embarrassment for the organization and landed him on probation for six months at the beginning of the 2016-17 season. On May 3, 2017 all charges were dropped.

What was an embarrassment for the Buffalo Sabres, and hopefully for player himself, may have been a God-send in that Kane kept his antics to a minimum, or at the very least out of the limelight and he posted his best goal total since scoring 30 in 2011-12, the year prior to signing his six-year deal. Kane's 28 goals came in only 70 games (.4 goals/game) which was right on track with his career best 30-goal season (.405 g/gm.) It was the second year in a row that he scored 20+ goals for the Sabres but more importantly it showed that when he dumped the off-ice stuff, he could fill the net rather well.

Kane was bounced around up and down the left side last season as former bench-boss Dan Bylsma did the Disco with the lineup.  But he showed he could produce whether Jack Eichel, Johan Larsson or Zemgus Girgensons was his center. He got off to a rough start and missed the first 11 games after crashing heavily into the boards in the season opener. Kane broke ribs in the crash and may have come back a bit too soon as he came off of his injury with no goals and four assists in 11 games. He got his first goal on December 3 when the Sabres were already 24 games into the season. However, he would light things up as he finished the season with 28 goals in the final 62 games for Buffalo with a team-leading 25 goals scored at even strength.

Maturity is the operative word with Kane. He showed maturity on the ice with his play this past season, most notably using his linemates more and taking less stupid shots that ended up with the opposition headed the other way. And as mentioned, there were no off-ice incidents last season either. Although he's still going to be, or rather, is still going to promote himself as, "Mr. MoneyPhone," if he can either get over that schitck, or at least separate it from himself as a professional hockey player, he could be a force on the ice knocking in around 30 goals and adding 20+ assists per season while also becoming a key part of the Sabres core going forward. Stats like that could put him in the $6+ million AAV range for his next contract on a longer term basis.

However, the dichotomy of Kane makes it questionable as to whether he could reach and/or sustain those 50-60 point seasons. He has the talent, but after eight NHL seasons he hasn't been able to separate the hindrance of his off-ice persona from a skill set that could make him one of the better wingers in the league.

New Sabres GM Jason Botterill has seen a lot of players come and go throughout his years as an NHL executive and even more during his eight years as a player. Kane represents a big test for him. It also represents a big test for new head coach Phil Housley and his coaching staff.  It's very possible that Botterill wants Kane on a shorter-term, "show me" contract to see how, or if, he fits into the future.

Regardless of an extension or not, Kane has the speed and the skill to hang with, and produce on a line with Eichel. He could also offer protection should anyone get stupid with the face of the franchise.

And for at least one more year, or until the trade deadline if an extension can't be hammered out, Kane will be in the Blue and Gold and there's no reason to believe that he'll take a step back from his 28-goal season if he remains healthy this season. Of note, in his last contract year he scored 30 goals 57 points in 74 games.

Building the 2017-18 Buffalo Sabres roster:

LW, Evander Kane / C, Jack Eichel

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