Evander Kane turned out to be a great fit for the San Jose Sharks when they acquired him at the 2018 trade deadline. No one would deny that. But now they’re giving him enough money – and, more importantly term – that he has to be a lot more than just a great fit. Kane, 26, must become a borderline franchise player for the first time in his career. If he’s anything less, his reported seven-year, $49-million contract with a $7-million AAV will quickly become a disaster for the Sharks.
From a pure hockey standpoint, there’s reason for excitement over this signing, sure. Kane is still smack in the middle of his prime. Between 17 regular season games and nine playoff games as a Shark, Kane tallied 13 goals. That’s a 41-goal pace over an 82-game schedule. He played arguably the best hockey of his career after the trade and, given how emotional he is as a player, that hardly seemed like a coincidence. Kane got his first taste of the post-season and, not surprisingly, his fast, intense, physical brand of hockey translated ever better in April and May than it did in the regular season. It wouldn’t be remotely surprising to see Kane continue producing career-best work for several years as a Shark. He’ll have some variation of Logan Couture or Joe Pavelski or Tomas Hertl or maybe even Joe Thornton passing him the puck. This is the best collection of teammates Kane’s had to work with. The Sharks also have a seasoned veteran leadership group that will help keep Kane in line as, overblown or not, he does have a history of feuding with teammates.
The term and money, however, put pressure on Kane to reach a standard of play he may or may not be capable of reaching. At a $7-million AAV, Kane trails only Alex Ovechkin, Jamie Benn, Claude Giroux and Zach Parise in cap hit among left wingers for 2018-19. Over the past five seasons, Kane ranks 37th in goals among left wingers. It’s fair to expect better production from Kane now in a better environment than any other he’s played in, but at $7 million annually over seven years, the Sharks aren’t just optimistically projecting star-caliber output. They’re guaranteeing it.
That’s particularly problematic considering Kane, across the aforementioned five-year sample, averaged 63 games per year. His rugged style takes a toll on his body. His 78 games played in 2017-18 were easily a career high. He played all 48 games in lockout-shortened 2012-13 but lost double-digit games to injury in four consecutive seasons after that. There’s a real risk Kane’s deal follows the path of another once-coveted power forward: Nathan Horton. He inked a seven-year, $37.1-million deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets in July 2013 and only played parts of one season before a back injury ruined his career. That obviously doesn’t mean Kane ends up out of hockey like Horton within one season, but would it be surprising if, say, Kane ends up “an old 30,” broken down by injuries? And that point, he’d still have several seasons left with the hefty $7-million cap hit. And it’s not like you can plan to put a guy on LTIR years down the road.
Kane is an exciting player, an underrated player, someone who has and will continue to make a difference on this Sharks team. He deserved a rich, long-term pact. But a contract this rich and this long puts a ton of pressure on him and the Sharks. They’re telling a player with one 30-goal season, “Be better than the best you’ve ever been…do it for a long time…and be don’t get hurt.” Good luck.