Evander Kane was at the top of most NHL trade lists for much of the season, but Buffalo didn’t get a very big return from San Jose for the power winger. The Sharks, meanwhile, add a gunner-grinder for the playoffs who’s looking to prove he’s worth a big UFA contract this summer.
There are really only two possibilities to consider when you look at the return the Buffalo Sabres got for Evander Kane, and only one of them applies. The first is that rookie GM Jason Botterill got taken to the cleaners by one of the shrewdest veteran horse traders in the business and he still has much to learn. The other is that despite the fact he has abundant talent and has been on his best behavior of late, Kane is so badly tainted by his past that there were few takers for his services.
The fact that Kane was dealt at the deadline is no surprise. In fact, for much of this season, he has been at the top of almost every trade list. As a pending unrestricted free agent, Kane was one of the most prominent rental players on the market. And the fact that he already has 20 goals and 40 points this season makes him all that more tantalizing to a team looking to add talent and toughness for a playoff run.
All of which makes the return for Kane that much more head-scratching. In getting a conditional first-rounder in 2019, a conditional fourth-rounder in 2020 and middling prospect Dan O’Regan, there’s a real possibility the Sabres will ultimately have nothing to show for Kane. The Sabres got zero certainty in terms of a draft pick or a player.
The condition attached to the 2019 first-round hinges on whether or not Kane re-signs with the Sharks after this season. So essentially, Sharks GM Doug Wilson got both the player and a sense of certainty because he holds the cards here. If Kane is a bust in San Jose, Wilson simply opts to not sign him and doesn’t have to give up a first-round pick for a rental – the Sabres would receive San Jose’s second-round selection in 2019 instead. And if the Sharks find a good fit and productive player, he’ll be worth the first-rounder. And already having him in their system will be a boon to their chances of doing just that.
Fans in Buffalo who have displayed perhaps more patience than any other fan base in the league will not be happy with this return. All season they’ve been led to believe that their suffering would be assuaged by the fact the team would get a great return on Kane, a player the previous administration gave up Tyler Myers and a first-round pick to get from Winnipeg in a massive deal three years ago. (The Jets used that pick to select Jack Roslovic, who is showing to be a promising rookie this season. The Sabres also got Zach Bogosian, who has never been able to stay healthy, and goalie Jason Kasdorf, who has an .891 save percentage in the ECHL this season.) Crunch the numbers on second- and fourth-round picks making impacts in the NHL. The chances are not great. And while O’Regan has put up pretty good numbers in college and the AHL and is Jack Eichel’s pal from their season together at Boston University, O’Regan is 24 and has yet to prove he can play in the NHL. The notion that O’Regan will come in and ultimately be any more than a role player for Sabres is a stretch to say the least.
The Sharks, on the other hand, have a player who will almost certainly help them in the playoffs. Even though Kane has not played a single playoff game in his career, he has the kinds of attributes that translate well to the post-season. He’s big and he’s fast and he can score. And just as importantly, he can play the kind of physical, grinding game that is required of Western Conference teams. The wild card here is the potential for a disruption to team chemistry, but the Sharks have a very strong, veteran-laden dressing room that will be able to keep Kane in line if needed. And if there is a disruption, the Sharks will simply be able to turn the page and move on.
Kane has been on good behavior for the better part of the past year. Being in a contract season tends to have that effect on people. He automatically becomes the highest-scoring left winger the Sharks have and he gives them some offensive options. If he can fit in with the Sharks and be a contributor to a long playoff run, he’ll be in a better position to cash in, either with the Sharks or elsewhere. If not, he’ll move on at a reduced price and the Sabres will be left with almost nothing.